Not Coming to a Theater Near You Two-Thousand Twelve In Review


Dorothy Arzner
USA, 1933

Christopher Strong

by Victoria Large


I’m not sure that any film unsettled me quite as much this year as Christopher Strong did. The 1933 curio features Katharine Hepburn as Cynthia Darrington, a fearless pilot who falls in love for the first time in her life. Colin Clive plays the title character and object of Cynthia’s affections, a married and morally upright, if slightly repressed, member of Parliament who gambles his reputation by pursuing a love affair with Cynthia. Directed with surprising frankness by Dorothy Arzner (perhaps the only well-known female director to work under the studio system) and featuring Hepburn in a prototypically bold Hepburn role, Christopher Strong possesses moments where it feels truly radical. And, perhaps because Hepburn and Clive are both favorites of mine, I found myself rooting for Cynthia and Christopher, even as Christopher’s saccharine-sweet wife (played by a dewy-eyed Billie Burke) stood wringing her hands.

Yes, this is thirties melodrama, and yes, I should have known that the illicit affair at the film's heart would end in tragedy. But as much as I would like to argue that Hepburn’s powerful presence throughout undermines the conservative finale – an ending that forces Cynthia (and not Christopher) to pay for transgressing – the film has stayed on my mind because that isn’t quite the case. Ironically, Arzner is too good a director for us to dismiss the climactic sequence—she infuses it with real horror, and what may come across as a pat and dated cautionary tale on paper plays as something considerably more shattering onscreen.


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