This week’s mystery movie has been the 1933 RKO picture “Christopher Strong,” Katharine Hepburn’s second film and her first in a leading role. It starred Colin Clive and Billie Burke (also in Hepburn’s film debut, “Bill of Divorcement”), with a screenplay by Zoe Akins from a novel by Gilbert Frankau. The photography was by Bert Glennon, settings by Van Nest Polglase and Charles Kirk, music by Max Steiner and transitions by Slavko Vorkapich.
I picked “Christopher Strong” to feature the director, Dorothy Arzner, often described as the only woman director of Hollywood’s golden age.
Ann Harding was originally cast as Lady Cynthia Darrington (New York Times Nov. 20, 1932), the role that eventually went to Hepburn. According to the New York Times (Dec. 11, 1932), “Miss Harding felt that she was miscast in her part and the studio felt that a better part should be given its newest star than was possible in ‘Three Came Unarmed,” which, they believed would be merely ‘another motion picture.’ So Miss Hepburn was switched to Miss Harding’s story… and negotiations were started for ‘Virgie Winters’ (‘The Life of Vergie Winters’) for Miss Harding, Gregory La Cava to direct.”
Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote of Hepburn (May 15, 1933): “A slim, gaunt-featured nymph, this actress, with her sharp, pleasantly unpleasant voice and a penchant for the bizarre in outfits. True star material, she dominates each scene in which she figures.”
…. “Dorothy Arzner directed understandingly — a qualification which women will be quick to note and appreciate — from the script by Zoe Akins.”
Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times said (March 19, 1933): “Magnificently produced, with a splendid cast headed by the talented Katharine Hepburn and the efficient Colin Clive, the film transcription of Gilbert Frankau’s novel ‘Christopher Strong,’ which was at the Radio City Music Hall last week, is another gratifying example of the forward strides made in motion pictures since the linking of the microphone with the camera.”
Hall said: “It is a film that can be seen several times without becoming tedious, for Miss Hepburn and other performers are enormously interesting in their respective roles.”
“Christopher Strong” is available on DVD from Warner Archive for $12.50.