Movie Journal – 2/14/2012

Christopher Strong (1933)    4/5

Directed by Dorothy Arzner (RKO)

As a dedicated aviatrix who has never been in love, Katharine Hepburn gives a solid performance in her second onscreen role. Christopher Strong, a film that was not highly acclaimed upon an initial 1933 release, is significant not only for its showcase of the emerging actress, but also the way it portrays a genuinely feminine point-of-view. As Hepburn falls for a wealthy, married (and until now, resolutely loyal), aristocrat (played by Colin Clive), love softens her ability to have a record-breaking career, yet strengthens her courage to not let personal happiness (or a sense of obligation) destroy the lives of others. Meanwhile, her lover’s wife, Lady Strong (Billie Burke), is hopelessly caught in the middle. Not knowing about the affair, she does, however, question the relationship of her daughter (Helen Chandler) to a man who also happens to be married (Ralph Forbes).

Unfortunately, female directors are hard to come by, even in today’s industry. Dorothy Arzner, who began as an editor, would become a great talent behind the camera, and here, she clearly foreshadows how film may advocate feminism, especially considering a resolution that remains as “courageous” as her protagonist. Having been made before the Production Code Administration of 1934, Christopher Strong clearly benefits from a lack of censorship, Zoe Akins’ screenplay relying on elements of sex, adultery, and swinging lifestyle that are essential to the plot. With all these emerging aspects, the film remains an overlooked, historical document, demonstrating both the birth of the studio era and sound filmmaking, in addition to controversial topics that would not be fully explored until several decades later.

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