- Rouben Mamoulian
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, November 17, 2005
The film begins with little Christina (Cora Sue Collins) being crowned after the King’s death. Then we fast-forward to Christina’s (Garbo) revolutionary and practical ideas, as well as her current romance with Count Magnus (Ian Keith). We get to know much of Sweden’s situation at the time, but our focus is constantly on the Queen, a constantly imposing but adored figure around her subjects. She has a special link not only to Magnus, but also to her lady-in-waiting Countess Ebba Sparre (Elizabeth Young). Bored, like most people in her privileged position, Christina longs for an escapade and has her way one day when she goes undercover with a small party and ends up at a small inn by following a Spaniard that catches her attention. The man, Don Antonio de la Prada (John Gilbert), is an envoy from his King to send a message to Queen Christina. The latter, pretending to be a man, befriends Antonio and they end up sharing a large room at the inn. That night, she reveals her gender, if not her true identity, and Antonio falls in love. That’s probably the most special day in Christina’s life, and certainly one of the most unforgettable moments in cinema, as Christina surveys the room, touching everything around, trying to stick it to her mind to be able to come back at will.
That’s when I knew the movie was special. I had found Christina’s story interesting but now I was completely absorbed by the way it was handled. Her chemistry with Antonio is implacable and her personality is clearly defined. We become accomplices of her secret romance and her next (public) encounter with the Spaniard is enchanting. The whole romantic subplot is dealt with in such an admirable manner that it’s beyond words.
In addition to Garbo’s parallelism to her character, Gilbert’s casting is also a stroke of genius. He had been her co-star in a couple of silent movies, as well as her real-life lover and fiancée, and his fading star could only be resuscitated by this great woman. It didn’t last long though, since he died not long later, but their onscreen romance will never be forgotten, and I’d say there’s no clearer example than Queen Christina. Besides the chemistry, Gilbert is up for the challenge as the dashing Spaniard who claims “life is so gloriously improbable” when Christina reveals herself as a woman. Much of her motivation revolves around him, and even though Laurence Olivier was considered (and even hired at first) for the part, I cannot think of anyone more appropriate than Gilbert.
As big a fan as I am of Grand Hotel (1932) and Anna Karenina (1935), I must say this is indeed the best Garbo showcase I’ve ever seen. She’s absolutely riveting and haunting, and so appropriate for the role it’s unbelievable.
A music score by Herbert Stothart, the cinematography by William H. Daniels, and every other aspect (costume design, art direction, sound, etc.) aid Mamoulian’s direction in a spectacular way. Watch out for the last scene, which includes what’s probably Garbo’s most famous shot. Films can’t get better than this.
“I have been memorizing the room. In the future, in my memory, I shall live a great deal in this room.”
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