Cast & Crew
In 1632, after her father, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, dies on the battlefield, six-year-old Christina is crowned ruler. Reared by her father as a boy, Christina accepts the crown as the "king" of Sweden and then vows to her court, which is headed by Chancellor Oxenstierna, that Sweden will fight until it wins the war. Many years later, however, the now-grown Christina, who regularly dresses in men's clothing, confers with her council about the still-raging war and declares that, for the good of the country, peace must be negotiated. Christina then argues with Oxenstierna about marrying her Swedish-born cousin, Prince Palatine Charles Gustavus, a popular war hero. Determined that she will not marry a man she does not love, Christina rejects Oxenstierna's demands that she do her royal duty and wed the much older Charles. Instead, the book- and art-loving Christina flirts with Count Magnus, her handsome and ambitious treasury secretary. When even Magnus begins to tax her patience, however, Christina flees from her Stockholm palace to hunt with her devoted servant Aage. Then while riding in a remote forest, Christina comes across a coach filled with Spaniards, which has become stuck in a snow-covered ditch. Because she is dressed in heavy male clothing, Christina is not recognized and is instead treated as a male servant by the coach's prominent passenger, diplomatic envoy Don Antonio de la Prada. Later, Christina and Aage seek shelter in the only inn in the area and once again encounter Antonio and his party. Embarrassed to discover that Christina is a "gentleman" of means, Antonio apologizes and engages his social "equal" in conversation. Christina impresses Antonio with her lively, intelligent talk, then insists that he take her room, the best and last in the inn. After some polite argument, the couple decide to share the room and head upstairs to bed. While Antonio casually undresses, Christina hesitates, made shy by Antonio's direct glances, but finally reveals her sex by removing her jacket. Although at first stunned, Antonio soon revels in the unmasking and takes Christina in his arms. For the next several days, Christina and Antonio, who is still unaware of her royal identity, make love in their inn room and pledge their lasting devotion to each other. Finally remembering his diplomatic mission, Antonio leaves the inn but arranges to rendezvous with Christina in Stockholm. Back at the palace, Christina is confronted by Magnus, who is angry and suspicious about his queen's absence. Christina, however, is concerned only with her reunion with Antonio and dresses up in her most feminine gown to greet him at court. When Antonio is presented to Christina, he again is stunned but struggles to maintain his composure. Later, Antonio meets privately with Christina and, after chastizing her for playing with his affections, presents her with his king's portrait and proposal of marriage. Christina dismisses the official proposal, however, and ignores her royal duties to spend time with Antonio. Enraged with jealousy, Magnus hires two men to spread rumors throughout Stockholm about the queen's scandalous conduct, and one night Christina is met outside the palace by an indignant mob. After calming the angry crowd, Christina confronts Magnus with his subterfuge, but he threatens to use his political power to have Antonio killed. For his protection, Christina orders Antonio back to Spain, unaware that the Spaniard has challenged Magnus to a duel. Christina then confers with Oxenstierna about her future and, after calling together her court, announces that she is abdicating the throne to her cousin Charles. While Christina bids a sad farewell to her heartbroken court, Antonio and Magnus duel at sword point in a border forest. The liberated Christina finally reaches Antonio's ship but finds him dying from wounds inflicted by Magnus. After Antonio dies in her arms, Christina bravely announces to Aage that they are still sailing to Spain to see first her lover's cliffside home and then the world.
C. Aubrey Smith
Gustav Von Seyffertitz
Cora Sue Collins
S. N. Behrman
H. M. Harwood
Margaret P. Levino
United Costumers, Inc.
Edwin B. Willis
None of that got into the press of course. MGM's publicity department was too busy heralding Garbo's return to the screen in the role she was born to play. As a fictional character, the Christina in the film was indeed perfect casting for Garbo. The aloof, independent queen in the film gives up her throne for love of a Spanish nobleman and, when he dies, leaves Sweden to take her slain lover back to his native land. The real Christina was a lesbian, who gave up the throne to pursue artistic studies in Italy, where she lived as a man under the name Count Dohma. Ironically, the character Garbo played in her first big film, The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924), was named Countess Dohma. The only concession to the real Christina's sexuality were some subtle hints that the film character was romantically attracted to one of her ladies in waiting and scenes of Garbo hunting and meeting with advisors dressed as a man - which only added to the star's glamour.
According to Hollywood legend, MGM hired the young Laurence Olivier to play Christina's fictional lover, Don Pedro, but she insisted they hire Gilbert instead. That's not exactly what happened, however. Garbo had complete approval on every person hired for her films. That's why she insisted that people she trusted, like cameraman William Daniels and character actor Lewis Stone, work on so many of her pictures. Before she met Olivier, she had seen his early film work and knew of his growing reputation as a stage star. Some sources even suggest that she was the one who suggested him for the role.
During rehearsals, however, Garbo found herself unable to relax with him. In fact, every time he touched her, she froze. Frustrated, director Rouben Mamoulian asked nobody in particular, "Is there any man this woman will warm up to?" Out of the darkness came a voice, "John Gilbert!" So, producer Walter Wanger called Gilbert in, ostensibly for some rehearsals, but Mamoulian had the cameras rolling. The results were magical, and Garbo demanded that Louis B. Mayer hire him for the role.
That Garbo got her way is a testament to her power at MGM. Mayer hated Gilbert and had done everything in his power to sabotage his career back when he was the studio's biggest star. In part, Garbo was repaying her old friend for all the help he had given her when she was just starting out in film. She may also have realized that Gilbert's biggest battles with Mayer had been over the stars' romantic relationship. Gilbert signed a seven-year contract at one tenth of the salary he'd commanded as an MGM star in the silent era. He also was promised that if his comeback role scored with fans, the studio would build up his career once more.
Unfortunately, Queen Christina was not a big winner at the box office. By 1933, audiences were more interested in gritty images of Depression life. Garbo's romantic tragedies played well in the big cities, but died elsewhere. As a result, the film only grossed $632,000 on an investment of $1.4 million. It would be years before foreign revenues and reissues brought the film into the profit column. In addition, the studio publicity department virtually ignored Gilbert's performance. In some previews for the film, he wasn?t even mentioned.
And yet both Garbo and Gilbert were in top form. Critics have often hailed the film as her best ever, while Gilbert received very strong notices on its premiere. Queen Christina's box-office failure ended Gilbert's hopes of a career comeback. He died three years later, a victim of alcohol and the city of broken dreams. For Garbo, the picture pointed to the gradual decline in her career. Though she would continue to make great films: Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1937) and Ninotchka (1939) chief among them, dwindling box-office returns in the U.S. coupled with the loss of the European market during World War II, would end her reign as queen of MGM.
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Producer: Walter Wanger
Screenplay: H.M. Harwood, Salka Viertel, S.N. Behrman
Based on the Story by Viertel, Margaret Levino
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Alexander Toluboff, Edwin B. Willis
Music: Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Greta Garbo (Queen Christina), John Gilbert (Don Antonio de la Prada), Ian Keith (Magnus), Lewis Stone (Chancellor Oxenstierna), Elizabeth Young (Egga Sparre), C. Aubrey Smith (Aage), Reginald Owen (Prince Charles).
BW-100m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
I have been memorizing this room. In the future, in my memory, I shall live a great deal in this room.- Queen Christina
I shall die a bachelor.- Queen Christina
There are rumors that your Majesty is planning a foreign marriage.- Chancellor
They are baseless.- Christina
But your Majesty, you cannot die an old maid.- Chancellor
I have no intention to, Chancellor. I shall die a bachelor!- Christina
As depicted in the film and confirmed by modern biographical sources, from 1632, when she was crowned queen of Sweden at the age of six, to 1644, Christina ruled under the regency of five crown officers, headed by Axel Oxenstierna. When she obtained her majority, Christina began to oppose Oxenstierna, especially in regard to Sweden's participation in the Thirty Years' War. Although she was responsible for engineering a peace settlement with Germany, she failed to overcome the financial problems brought on by years of war and was plagued by attempted revolts and dissension in the Swedish Diet. As depicted in the film, Christina, who was known as the "Minerva of the North," was an avid reader and supporter of the arts. Descartes taught her philosophy. In 1654, Christina abdicated to her cousin Charles. Although she cited poor health as her reason for stepping down, her real motivation was her secret conversion to Roman Catholicism, which had been outlawed in Sweden, and her aversion to marriage. Immediately after abdicating, Christina left Sweden and years later attempted to gain the thrones of Naples and Poland. She never married.
The working title of the film was Christina. News items in Motion Picture Daily, Hollywood Reporter and Film Daily give the following information about the film's production: In August 1932, Clarence Brown was announced as the film's director, and Bess Meredyth was announced as adaptor. While Brown never worked as director on the production, it is not known if Meredyth actually contributed to the final script. A January 1933 Film Daily news item stated that M-G-M was going to send a production unit to Sweden to make the film. No other indications that any scenes were made on location have been found, however. In the spring of 1933, Motion Picture Daily reported that Ernst Lubitsch would not be directing the picture. Around the same time, a large number of actors, including Bruce Cabot, were tested for the role of "Antonio." After months of delay, Laurence Olivier was selected for the lead, and in July 1933, the actor sailed from Britain to play the part. (Modern sources state that Franchot Tone and Nils Asther, who had co-starred with Garbo in several silent pictures, were also considered for the role.) However, in mid-August 1933, John Gilbert was awarded the part over Olivier. M-G-M reportedly compensated Olivier with a generous cash settlement. Although C. Henry Gordon was announced as a "featured" cast member, the actor did not appear in the final film. Edward Cooper is mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter news item as a cast member, and the following actors are listed in Hollywood Reporter production charts: Edward Gargan, Tiny Sandford and Muriel Evans. Lawrence Grant is described in news items as playing the only "English" role in the film, but this role has not been identified. A Film Daily news item indicates that the final scenes for the production were not completed until mid-December 1933, but Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items list the end of production as late October 1933. Queen Christina was the first and only sound film that Garbo made with Gilbert, her most famous silent film co-star. Its release came eighteen months after her previous starring vehicle, As You Desire Me.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: Just before Garbo was to sail to Stockholm on a vacation, writer Salka Viertel gave her a biography of Christina and suggested that she consider the queen as her next film role. Garbo liked the idea and, with Viertel, met with M-G-M's Irving Thalberg. Viertel and a collaborator prepared a treatment and sent it to Garbo in Sweden for approval. Excited by the story, Garbo notified Thalberg that she would re-sign with his studio if he agreed to make Queen Christina as her next starring picture. Thalberg consented, and Garbo returned to Hollywood loaded with research material about the queen. Some modern sources claim that Garbo requested Mamoulian as director, while others say that he was assigned by the studio. Although Garbo herself approved the casting of Olivier, whose screen tests she had viewed, she had difficulty performing love scenes with him, causing producer Walter Wanger to call on Gilbert. Gilbert, whose contract with M-G-M recently had expired and whose career was foundering, was given an impromptu screen test and, after Garbo applied pressure on the reluctant Louis B. Mayer, was cast. In a filmography in the biographical file on Edgar G. Ulmer at the AMPAS Library, he is listed as production designer for this film.
According to files in the MPPA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS Library, on January 8, 1934, Joseph I. Breen, director of Studio Relations of the AMPP, objected strenuously to the film's bedroom scene and suggested many deletions. Breen felt that "sex immorality" is presented in the story as "attractive and beautiful and made to appear 'right and permissible,'" a definite violation of the Code. In addition, Breen and several state censors objected to the line, "This is how the Lord must have felt when he first beheld the finished world," which is spoken by Garbo in the bedroom scene. A review board consisting of Carl Laemmle, Jr. of Universal, Jesse Lasky of Paramount and B. B. Kahane of RKO screened the picture, however, and deemed it acceptable.
Tickets for the film's New York run cost two dollars. In spite of generally favorable reviews, the film did not do well at the box office in America and failed to revive Gilbert's career. Modern sources complete the above cast list as follows: Edward Norris (Count Jacob) and Edward Gargan (Drinker at inn), and add Wade Boteler (Rabble-rouser). In a modern interview, Mamoulian recalled that to make Garbo laugh in one scene, he instructed Gilbert, Akim Tamiroff and two other actors to make silly faces at her off-screen. As hoped, she laughed spontaneously on camera, reportedly for the first time in her career.
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States March 20, 1992
Released in United States 1933
Shown at the Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition's "Out on the Screen" festival March 20, 1992.
Released in United States March 20, 1992 (Shown at the Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition's "Out on the Screen" festival March 20, 1992.)