Monday, October 1, 2012

#777. Queen Christina (1933)

Directed By: Rouben Mamoulian

Starring: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith

Trivia: Greta Garbo initially requested that Laurence Olivier play the lead, Don Antonio, since she was impressed by his performance in Westward Passage

Ah, Garbo! 

Arguably the most enigmatic performer ever to grace the silver screen, a strong, independent woman who rejected marriage proposals from powerful men, yet shied away from the spotlight, demanding her privacy in an era when movie stars were treated like royalty. It was an attitude that extended beyond her private life, encompassing the actress’s screen persona as well, and nowhere is her dichotomy better represented than in 1933’s Queen Christina, the story of a strong-willed ruler who allows her heart to be governed by love.

Based on the life of a 17th century Swedish monarch, Garbo stars as the title character, Christina, who ascended to the throne at the age of five, her country engaged at the time in a costly war. But as she grew, Christina favored the classroom over the battlefield, and her policies would reflect her beliefs, leading to a period of peace that many in her kingdom did not desire. 

Once of age, the Queen was expected to marry her cousin, to whom she was betrothed as a child. Instead, she fell in love with Antonio (John Gilbert), a Spanish diplomat, sparking an affair that would change not only her opinion of men, but her very future as Queen.

As happened with a good many films in the early ‘30s, Will Hays, President of the MPPDA, kept a close eye on Queen Christina right from the get-go, warning MGM to avoid making any references, veiled or otherwise, to the real Queen’s alleged bisexuality. As was usually the case in 1933, the studio ignored these warnings, and while no overtly bisexual references are made in Queen Christina, such relationships are, at times, implied. Christina wears men's clothing through a fair portion of the film, and in what might be the movie's most memorable scene, she greets Countess Ebba Sparre (Elizabeth Young) one morning with a full kiss on the mouth.

Aside from the main character’s sexual orientation, the Hays office objected to a scene set in a bedroom, where Christina and Antonio had just spent the night together. Acting like a starry-eyed adolescent, Christina slinks seductively around the room, ‘memorizing’ every picture, shelf and bedpost so that she will always remember her romantic evening. The final straw, however, came when Christina, still on cloud nine as a result of this tryst, says, “This is how the Lord must have felt when he beheld the finished world”. While some chose to ignore Queen Christina’s more ’decadent’ moments, this line of dialogue, due to its ‘blasphemous’ nature, didn’t make it past state censors.

Controversy aside, Queen Christina remains a highly-regarded classic, and Greta Garbo is the reason why. A performer of incredible ability, she could evoke strength and frailty in equal portions, and quite often within the same scene. Garbo would shine in a number of films over the years, including Anna Christie, Grand Hotel, and Ninotchka, a rare comedy appearance directed by Ernst Lubitsch. When it comes to her defining performance, however, one need look no further than Queen Christina

1 comment:

Klaus said...

It's been a couple of years since I watched Queen Christina, but its still pretty fresh in my memory - largely because of Garbo. I recently began watching some of her silent films and was equally taken by her screen presence. Definitely makes me want to explore more of her work.