Both Rouben Mamoulian’s Queen Christina (1933) and next week’s Asheville Film Society showing of Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus (1932)—both fine in their own right—were deliberately placed as lead-ins to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003). Certain aspects of The Dreamers will have more resonance if seen after the two earlier films. But on its own merits, Queen Christina is probably the best film the legendary Greta Garbo ever made. It’s certainly in the running, and has two of the most iconic Garbo moments in her entire filmography. The film is more or less a biopic of the 17th-century queen of Sweden, but it’s not that interested in history. Its interest lies in being a romance, and it certainly succeeds at that. It also succeeds in making Garbo a much more human figure than was usually the case. But there’s more to the film than that and Mamoulian’s brilliant stylistic approach. The film—taking advantage of its pre-code freedom—actually manages to not only touch on Christina’s bisexuality, but does some even more subversive gender-bending of its own. That’s certainly a surprise coming from conservative MGM.
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