“I’m a very reckless person, Chris — and you’re a very cautious one.”
An aviatrix (Katharine Hepburn) falls in love with a happily married man (Colin Clive), who hesitates to hurt his loving wife (Billie Burke) and adoring daughter (Helen Chandler).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Airplanes and Pilots
- Colin Clive Films
- Dorothy Arzner Films
- Katharine Hepburn Films
- Strong Females
Despite its oddly masculine title, this early melodrama (based on a novel by Gilbert Frankau and directed by Dorothy Arzner) very much belongs to Lady Cynthia Darrington, the female protagonist played by Katharine Hepburn — who, in her second screen role, easily carries the film, exuding all the intelligence and strength required of her nonconformist character. It’s been noted by many that Owen (not the most charismatic or handsome of actors) seems like an unlikely romantic match for Hepburn, but I found it easy to believe that the sexually inexperienced Lady Cynthia might make such an unconventional choice:
Less convincing is Clive’s sudden shift in allegiance from wholehearted devotion to his wife (a typically fluttery Billie Burke) to adulterous impulses. Of special note is the way in which Arzner manages to infuse Christopher Strong with quietly subversive material, ranging from Lady Cynthia’s mannish outfits and independent lifestyle to the fey demeanor of Ralph Forbes (who plays Clive’s daughter’s married love interest).
Unfortunately, moral strictures of the time mandated that Lady Cynthia “pay” for her crime of loving a married man (while Strong — naturally — gets off scot-free), thus leading to the film’s infamous tragic ending. As a narrative, Christopher Strong leaves much to be desired — but as a vehicle for both Hepburn and Arzner, it’s worth a one-time look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Katharine Hepburn as Lady Cynthia
- Hepburn emerging in her infamous “moth” outfit
- Atmospheric cinematography
No, though it’s worth a look for its historical significance as Hepburn’s second major role, and one of Arzner’s best-known films.