Greta Garbo Appears as Queen Christina of Sweden in Her First Film in More Than Eighteen Months.
Soon after entering the Astor Theatre last night for the presentation of Greta Garbo’s first picture in eighteen months, the spectators were transported by the evanescent shadows from the snow of New York in 1933 to the snows of Sweden in 1650. The current offering, known as “Queen Christina,” is a skillful blend of history and fiction in which the Nordic star, looking as alluring as ever, gives a performance which merits nothing but the highest praise. She appears every inch a queen.
S. N. Behrman, the playwright, is responsible for the dialogue, which is a bright and smooth piece of writing, and Rouben Mamoulian did the direction. Mr. Mamoulian still has a penchant for asking the audience to fasten their gaze on his work with lights and shades rather than continuing the story, but here he does it less frequently than hitherto, and his scenes are, without a doubt, entrancing compositions.
It is an easy flowing romance in which there are several pleasingly humorous situations. As Queen Christina, Miss Garbo reveals her sense of humor and she handles some of the reticent levity in a superb fashion. She is forceful as Her Majesty and charming as Christina the woman. She is effectively supported in the romance by John Gilbert, who acts Don Antonio, an emissary from the King of Spain.
When Christina was born one is informed that her father Gustavus Adolphus regretted that she was not a boy. He persuaded her as a child to wear knickerbockers and it can be assumed that Oxenstierna, Chancellor of Sweden, insisted that she continue dressing as a boy after she was crowned Queen. This penchant for male attire is the result of a beguiling incident and the producers take the opportunity of giving Christina an elderly valet instead of a maid.
Christina has a dominant personality and in the film she is beloved of her people. She goes dashing on horseback over the snow-covered countryside escorted only by her valet Aage, who is played by C. Aubrey Smith. They do not spare their horses in riding and it chances that some miles distant from town they come across a coach, the front wheels of which are caught in the deep snow. Christina tells the driver how to get the vehicle freed and one of the passengers is so relieved at being able to continue his journey that he presents to the Queen a silver piece, one adorned by her own profile. This passenger, who is none other than Don Antonio, thinks the Queen is quite an intelligent young man.
It is in a lovely wayside inn a few hours later that Don Antonio next sets eyes on the “intelligent young man,” who, to digress for an instant, insists to one member of her court that she will not die an old maid, but “a bachelor.” Christina has reserved for herself the last room at the inn. By this time Don Antonio appreciates that the “intelligent young man” is evidently well born and wealthy. They chat together and become unusually interested in each other. Eventually, Don Antonio suggests that they share the room and — after some hesitation — Christina agrees.
In course of time Don Antonio realizes that his companion is a woman. It is a case of love and they spend the night together. Subsequently it is an abashed and bewildered Spaniard who presents his credentials to the Queen and discovers in the gorgeously clad creature on the throne his companion of the wayside inn. The fact that he comes to the Swedish ruler with a proposal of marriage from the King of Spain adds considerably to the emissary’s confusion.
How the film ends is best left untold here. And if history has been gilded it is accomplished neatly and intelligently. Mr. Mamoulian’s glimpses and vistas of the Queen’s palace are extraordinarily striking and as a contrast to them there is the rugged simplicity of the tap room in the inn.
The conflict of the narrative is simple but effective. Besides the fascinating Swedish performer, there are several players who contribute good work. Mr. Gilbert is far more restrained than he was in his silent films. Ian Keith is splendid as the artful Magnus. Lewis Stone is admirable as sensible old Oxenstierna. C. Aubrey Smith is splendid as Aage. The other performers also acquit themselves favorably.
Mordaunt Hall New York Times, December 27, 1933
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