In the same year Greta Garbo played the title role in both a German and an English version of Eugene O'Neill's play about the daughter of an immigrant sailor. Both films follow the play rather closely except the German version leaves out the comment by the Irish Catholic Matt Burke that he is damned, because Anna was raised Lutheran.
Anna's father Chris (George Marion) blames the old devil sea for making him an alcoholic as he tells his ladyfriend Marthy (Marie Dressler) about his daughter's letter from Minnesota, where she has been brought up on a farm by relatives after he abandoned her fifteen years ago. Marthy decides to stop living with Chris on his coal barge to make room for Anna, having made friends with her while Chris is off eating. The bartender calls them both tramps, and Anna orders whisky. (Garbo talks!) The audience learns that Anna had a wretched childhood, was raped by a cousin, and worked as a prostitute in St. Paul to earn money. She was put in jail for thirty days, got sick, and has come to New York for a "rest cure" with her father. She hates men but recovers on the barge when she falls in love with the sailor Matt (Charles Bickford) they rescue at sea. Thinking she is pure, he wants to marry her; but she has to tell him about her past. He says nothing would matter, but she is ready to bet him. Her sordid story drives her father and him to drink even though she says to Matt, "Loving you has made me clean." They separately stagger back to the barge, each having signed up to ship out to Capetown on the Londonderry. Finally Anna swears that she has never really loved anyone but Matt, and they are reconciled even though the life they have to look forward to is the very one her father feared for her if she married a sailor.
O'Neill's story has exposed a more realistic version of the Cinderella tale when the exploited poor relation instead of finding a prince meets someone similar to the father who abandoned her. "What's the use?" repeats Anna. Perhaps in a way the old devil sea is to blame for separating sailors from women so much that they have little opportunity to care for women and so turn to prostitutes. The age-old double standard blames women for the same promiscuity that is believed to make "real men." The sad story of Anna Christie gives the woman's view so that perhaps someday women will not have to be victimized by that old devil pattern.