Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Queen Christina (1933) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

The first of the 16 films I saw at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival was QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933), shown in a sparkling 35mm print.

Previously I'd only seen Garbo's last two films, the comedies NINOTCHKA (1939) and TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941). I've wanted to try more of her movies, and in fact I put her silent FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1927) on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015. Seeing a Garbo film on the big screen was thus a wonderful opportunity.

Garbo plays the titular queen of Sweden, who has adopted a rather mannish personality as she copes with ruling her country, international intrigue, and dealing forcefully with her many male courtiers.

While traveling in the guise of a male, Christina meets an envoy from Spain, Don Antonio (John Gilbert) at an inn. She reveals herself to be a woman and they fall in love, spending a brief blissful time together.

Political machinations in Sweden result in the people being turned against Christina's love for Antonio. Christina, tired of being the figurehead of a nation, determines she will abdicate in favor of a relative (Reginald Owen) and marry her love, but fate may intervene.

I found watching QUEEN CHRISTINA to be an enjoyable and interesting experience, a very different type of film. While made with MGM's typical polished care, featuring a fine cast, the movie was completely dominated by Garbo and her star power.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Christina in the earlier scenes of the film, where she acts in such a "male" way that she refers to herself as a "bachelor" and gives her lady-in-waiting Ebba (Elizabeth Young) a lingering kiss on the lips. At the same time, while she was dressed as a man while traveling, it was a bit far-fetched that she was actually perceived as a male, but that's the movies for you.

As Christina reveals her true inner self thanks to falling in love with Antonio, it becomes apparent that the male mannerisms have been a sort of protective outer shell to help fortify her as she leads a nation, standing up for herself amidst all the politics and diplomatic machinations. Love gives her the confidence to explore another side of her personality, and for the first time we begin to see her in beautiful gowns.

While Garbo's best-remembered scenes in this film are those where she walks around a room "memorizing" where her love affair began, and later her blank face as she sails away from Sweden in the film's final moments, for me the most powerful scene was when the peasants storm the palace. Garbo as Christina is quite remarkable as she refuses to cower behind bolted doors but insists on going out to meet her angry citizens, ultimately completely winning them over.

I was also quite moved by the abdication scene, which was stunningly staged and acted.

For me the film's one drawback was John Gilbert as Antonio. It's an old story that Gilbert had trouble transitioning from silent films to talkies because of his voice, and that aspect isn't true in the least; his voice was fine. I simply found him a little too goofy, even hammy, in a role I wished had been played by someone I found a little more dashing. Others I respect like Gilbert just fine, so like many things it may come down to personal taste, and he simply didn't work for me in the role.

Cora Sue Collins, who plays Christina as a child (seen at right), appeared at an event at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on the eve of the TCM Festival. I wish I'd seen her speak! A lovely woman, she just turned 88 on April 19th.

Lewis Stone and Sir C. Aubrey Smith, who both always add so much to any film, are among the supporting cast. Also in the film are Ian Keith and David Torrence.

QUEEN CHRISTINA was directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It was filmed in black and white by William Daniels. It runs 99 minutes.

QUEEN CHRISTINA is available on DVD in the Greta Garbo Signature Collection.


OpenID vienna said...

I haven't watched this film for years but I do agree that Garbo completely dominated it. I also agree that John Gilbert didn't come over well and never seemed a match for Garbo's majestic queen.
But that final shot on the ship of THAT face never ceases to mesmorise.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Vienna!

Was very interested to hear that you weren't big on John Gilbert either -- you're right, they seem like a mismatch. He's so goofy, and while opposites attract, it seems like someone who seems to have more substance or dash would have been better in the role.

Some of those famous shots were pretty amazing to experience for the first time on a theater screen!

Best wishes,

10:31 AM  

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