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  Christopher Strong Never Mind Him, What About Lady Cynthia?
Year: 1933
Director: Dorothy Arzner
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Colin Clive, Billie Burke, Helen Chandler, Ralph Forbes, Irene Browne, Jack La Rue, Desmond Roberts
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's a game being held by these young gadabouts tonight where the competitors must find a selection of objects from a list, and Monica Strong (Helen Chandler) is one of those who gets her hands on the full complement, which leads the organiser to step things up a gear. Now the partygoers must find two sorts of people: a man who has been married for over five years and never strayed, and a woman who is over twenty and has never had a love affair. Monica chooses her father, M.P. Sir Christopher (Colin Clive), and goes off to fetch him...

But what of the woman? Although you wouldn't know it from the title, she was actually the lead character, played by Katharine Hepburn in her second film in a career filled with hype that already the public had decided wasn't worth it, hence the "Box Office Poison" tag she never quite escaped until she achieved legendary status later in life when her great talent was recognised. Mind you, it's is possible to see why Christopher Strong never really took off, as it was a particularly spiky film for what would have been a weepie in other hands, but these hands were director Dorothy Arzner's, herself a legend in her own, not quite as famous, way.

Arzner was the only significant female director of Hollywood's Golden Age, and worked regularly there for a number of years from the twenties to the forties, which has made her the subject of much scrutiny by those fascinated by such a groundbreaking concept: a woman who had broken into the traditionally male preserve of film directing, and making such a success of it as well. However, aside from perhaps Dance, Girl, Dance not many of her works went on to be all that well known outside of the film buffs' interests, though that did not stop not only the feminists but the gay rights champions claiming her for one of their own and seeking relevant themes in her oeuvre.

However, she tended to reject these later reassessments: yes, she was a woman, yes, she was a lesbian, but first and foremost she was a person with a job to do and she carried that out regardless of her gender. In this case, the fact that Hepburn played such an independent-minded, strong willed lady was pounced upon by viewers of future generations as evidence Arzner saw herself in such a character, but given she and her star had lengthy and heated arguments in the process of shooting the movie this would not appear to have been foremost in Arzner's mind at the time. Besides, although the lead character Lady Cynthia Darrington was independent and all that, it did not stop her being soundly punished before the story was complete.

This played out as Sir Christopher and Lady Cynthia meet at the party and what seems like a polite encounter grows into a friendship, then an affair which they try to keep from his sweet wife (Billie Burke, best known as the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz) for fear of hurting her fragile feelings, which they do anyway. Even Monica, who is having an affair herself with a married man, is none too pleased when she finds out because she cannot consider her mother being put through that suffering, which tends to paint Cynthia as the bad guy. Not that the film quite sees her that way, as she remained sympathetic, though that did not stop the then-social expectation of her inevitable downfall. When you learn that she is an Amy Johnson-style aviatrix who relishes breaking flying records you can well imagine how she'll end up, which for all the connections to pioneering women both by association and in actuality, made it hard to argue such histrionic melodrama was as progressive as many would like. Nice silver moth costume, though. Music by Max Steiner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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