Six years before ads heralded Ninotchka (1939) with the line “Garbo laughs,” the reclusive Swede did so for the first time on-screen in this fictionalized account of Sweden’s most famous queen. The film was far from historically accurate. It includes the queen’s habit of dressing as a man and hints at her romantic attachment to one of her ladies-in-waiting (Elizabeth Young), but the main plot about her romance with a Spanish envoy (John Gilbert) was a complete fabrication, as was the use of it to motivate her abdication. In truth, Christina abdicated to avoid marriage and to convert to Catholicism. The film made Hollywood history when Garbo rejected leading man Laurence Olivier during rehearsals and insisted MGM cast her former fiancé, and frequent co-star, Gilbert. The real offscreen fireworks, however, were between Garbo and director Rouben Mamoulian, whose approach was unorthodox. For the scene in which Christina bids farewell to the room where she has fallen in love with Gilbert, he had her perform to the beat of a metronome. For the final shot, where the camera moves from long shot to a tight-close-up of Garbo’s face, he told her to make her mind a blank. The result was what many critics consider one of her best performances.
(d. Rouben Mamoulian, 99m, 35mm)