A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 1933)

A year later, with the Production Code in full enforcement, this would have been a very different movie, though probably not a better one. It certainly wouldn't have shown Christina (Greta Garbo) and Antonio (John Gilbert) sharing a room, not to mention a bed, in an inn. It probably wouldn't have suggested so strongly that before Antonio became her lover, Christina had a thing going with Countess Ebba (Elizabeth Young), and almost certainly wouldn't have had Christina kiss Ebba on the mouth. Unfortunately, those little touches of mild naughtiness are pretty much all Queen Christina has going for it, especially if you're looking for some faint resemblance to historical fact. But maybe Garbo is enough. She certainly gives this pseudo-historical melodrama more commitment than it deserves. It was her fourth film with Gilbert, their only talkie, and their last. At least it dispels the myth that Gilbert failed to make the move into sound films because of his voice, which is perfectly fine -- the real reason was alcoholism, which made him unemployable and destroyed his health. The screenplay was by Salka Viertel and H.M. Harwood, but the number of uncredited hands that worked on it, including Ben Hecht, Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, and director Rouben Mamoulian, suggests that it became a problem no one ever quite solved. Today, it is mostly remembered for the final shot of Garbo alone at the prow of a ship that is taking her away from Sweden. The story has it that Mamoulian directed her to empty her mind and think of nothing during the long closeup, to allow audiences to project their own emotions on her character. William H. Daniels was the cinematographer.