Release Date(s)1933 (May 30, 2023)
Studio(s)MGM (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Greta Garbo is perhaps the most legendary actor in the history of motion pictures. Her radiant beauty, abruptly-ended career, and decades as a reclusive New Yorker have contributed to the mythos. After her retirement in 1941, rumors of her return to the screen arose frequently, but that was never to happen. In 1933, a film she had wanted to make for years finally was realized with the production of Queen Christina.
In a prologue, we see how Christina becomes queen as a young child following the death of her father, King Gustav, in battle during the Thirty Years War. Years later, Christina (Greta Garbo) is the pawn in a politically planned marriage to Prince Charles (Reginald Owen), hero of the armies. Her former lover, Magnus (Ian Keith), wants the marriage arranged, knowing that she does not love Charles. Christina refuses, declaring she’s not yet ready for marriage.
On learning that an ambassador from Spain, Don Antonio (John Gilbert), is to arrive, Christina dons male clothing and goes to the inn where he will stop. Antonio is told there’s no vacancy and agrees to share a room with Christina, believing she’s a man. He soon realizes she’s not and in the next few days they fall in love. She wants to marry him and go to Spain, but he discovers she’s the queen and confesses that he was sent to arrange a marriage between her and the King of Spain. After Don Antonio meets Christina officially at court, he visits her frequently and Magnus stirs up the populace against her.
Garbo plays Christina as an independent, strong monarch who’s tired of the cost in lives and money of lengthy wars and wants peace for her subjects. Garbo’s star power translates perfectly to Christina’s royal status. Her air of mystery intact, she provides a sympathetic, often witty portrayal of a monarch balancing her official and personal lives. She manages to make the queen relatable and human rather than a distant figurehead. A woman torn between personal feelings and duty to country, she values tradition but doesn’t want to sacrifice personal happiness. The dialogue by S.N. Behrman is intelligent and nicely illustrates the monarch’s conflict. This was a passion project for Garbo, and she turns in a memorable performance.
Beautifully photographed by William Daniels, Garbo is radiant and literally glows in her exquisitely lit close-ups. One extreme close-up, in particular, is breathtaking.
Queen Christina was Garbo’s twenty-first film—her first in over a year—and her first sound film with John Gilbert. A huge star in silents, often with Garbo, he was foundering in sound pictures. Garbo insisted that he be cast as Antonio and he acquits himself exceptionally well in the role. Early sound recording rendered his voice high-pitched and far from masculine, but he sounds just fine here. There’s definite screen chemistry between Garbo and him.
Director Ruben Mamoulian had the benefit of MGM’s biggest star, a solid screenplay, a huge budget, an excellent supporting cast and his own considerable talent, so it’s no wonder the final result was a success. He staged many memorable moments, such as the child Christina (Cora Sue Collins) walking into a massive hall lined by the royal court and climbing up onto the throne; Christina dismissing her guards and admitting an angry mob to confront them alone; Antonio mistaking Christina for a man; and Christina getting out of bed in the morning, going out onto the palace balcony in the frigid morning air, and washing her face in snow. There’s also a lovely scene of the queen’s horse-drawn sled making its way through the streets, two torches on the front of the sled to light the way.
Queen Christina combines history and fiction into a lavish costume picture in the same league as Marie Antoinette, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Jezebel. With the resources of MGM, the film’s production values are resplendent.
Queen Christina was shot by director of photography William Daniels with spherical lenses on 35 mm black-and-white film and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. MGM looked after its films very well over the years, and Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release reflects that care. The picture is pristine, with a silvery sheen and extremely good detail. Sets are opulent in the MGM style and the costumes, especially Garbo’s, are fashioned of luxurious velvets, silks, and lace. Production design, too, is impressive with its attention to detail. The camera is very flattering to Garbo, and close-ups capture her beauty and mystery. Movie snow appears in many scenes, suggesting the frigid temperatures of Sweden. Process photography gives the impression that Christina’s sled is traveling through streets.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Garbo’s slight Swedish accent is perfect for the role and adds credibility. Herbert Stothart’s score emphasizes with triumphal music Christina’s entrances, in full queenly regalia, into the throne room. The image, early in the film, of the child Christina walking the same route, accompanied by such regal music, adds a note of humor. The clashing of swords during a dramatic duel and the sounds of a mob are other key sound effects. A sled’s runners on snow provide a soft, powdery note.
Bonus materials include the following:
- MGM Parade TV Series Episode (29:22)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:18)
Episode 31 of the TV series MGM Parade is narrated by Walter Pidgeon, and was first aired in 1956. The entire program is devoted to Greta Garbo’s career. Scenes from Anna Karenina, Camille, Conquest, and Ninotchka are shown, and Pidgeon interviews George Cukor, who directed Garbo in Camille. A scene from MGM’s latest film at the time, Gaby, starring Leslie Caron, is shown. The program’s commercials for Pall Mall cigarettes are included.
Queen Christina represents a style of filmmaking that relied on a star’s appeal. Movie stars were not necessarily the greatest actors, but their talent, personality, and charm kept them on top. Garbo had that unique allure, whatever the story. Her mystique has spanned decades, from her active career to the present day.
- Dennis Seuling