An interesting role for Hepburn early in her career
This film is Katharine Hepburn's second film and her first in a starring role. In her first film, 1932's "A Bill of Divorcement", Billie Burke had starred with Hepburn fourth billed. Here the situation has reversed itself, and Hepburn supplants Burke in more ways than one. Hepburn plays Lady Cynthia Darrington, a member of the British gentry whose family has lost its money. As a result, she pursues aviation for both her love of it and for money to try and restore the family fortune. She has forsaken love up to this point in her life, and as the result of a human scavenger hunt at a party attended by one of her friends, she winds up at the party because she is a virgin, and Christopher Strong (Colin Clive) winds up there because he is a faithful husband to Billie Burke's character. The two meet, fall in love, and eventually this leads to the loss of what distinguished both of them in the first place.
There are several things that make this film interesting - not the least of which being that Hepburn's role turns out to be semi-autobiographical. In actuality Hepburn was an athletic and independent woman of aristocratic roots who fell for a married Spencer Tracy who also never technically divorced his wife. Then there's that metallic moth suit complete with antennae that Cynthia wears to a party - yikes! And the middle-aged Lord Strong doesn't even do a double take when she walks in wearing this outfit. So much for the stuffy image of the British aristocracy. The ending is odd since it doesn't seem consistent with Cynthia's strong independent streak. Her solution to her dilemma when she realizes that, although Strong loves her, he would only actually leave his wife out of a sense of duty to Cynthia, seems completely out of character. Also, Billie Burke does such a good job of playing the wronged wife who suffers in silence and dignity that it is really hard to sympathize with anyone but her. Finally, the title is a bit of a mystery. The title character, Christopher Strong, is really secondary to Hepburn's Cynthia Darrington, and I can't help but wonder why the film wasn't titled after Hepburn's character instead.
Director Dorothy Arzner, the only female director in Hollywood during this time, certainly took some chances with this one. Some of the film worked and some of it didn't, but I don't think it would have had a chance without Hepburn in the lead. I recommend this film to anyone interested in the evolution of Hepburn's acting style.
Reviewed by funkyfry6 / 10
B+ grade melodrama
None too subtle story of a famous aviatrix (Hepburn -- the movie calls her a "girl flier") in love with a married nobleman (Clive). They put off consumating their affair, even muttering to each other in one ridiculous scene about how "special" they are. Burke turns in a quality performance given a very standard mother role, giving her character the convincing quality it needs to withstand the transition from anger to frustration to final acceptance of the situation. A story that could not have been filmed this way 2 or 3 years later. Includes Hepburn in her infamous "moth suit." Clive does well, and Hepburn is great, but given how it's written and (especially) how she plays it, it's no surprise this film did nothing to improve her standing in the eyes of the more prurient elements in the audience. Perhaps, even, some of their later vindictiveness (including placing her on the list of so-called "box-office poison") could be seen as their own reaction to her character transferred onto Katherine Hepburn. Well directed and photographed. Unconvincing ending unhinges the movie in its final reel, but I guess last reel reconciliations by way of death were soon to be the rule in Hollywood (as they always had been in more conservative film centers), so it's good Selznick got in fairly early in the game. Will be remembered more by Hepburn's fans than by fans of good, solid movies, because she provides many of its most memorable moments.
Reviewed by bkoganbing7 / 10
Title Should Have Been Cynthia Darrington
I'm not quite sure why the title of this film is not Lady Cynthia Darrington since the film rises and falls on the action of Hepburn's character and not on Colin Clive's title role of Christopher Strong.
Clive is a most proper member of Parliament, probably a Tory, who through a treasure hunt, a la My Man Godfrey, he meets Hepburn who is a young titled woman who has an interest in aviation. In fact she's the British version of Amelia Earhart.
Clive and wife Billie Burke have a daughter, Helen Chandler, who is something of a wild child. She's having an affair with the unhappily married Ralph Forbes. But before long it's Clive and Hepburn who get involved.
Colin Clive gives us a perfect portrayal of a man going through midlife crisis when everything just seems to settle in a dull routine. He's so taken by Hepburn's vitality and independence that their affair has an inevitability about it.
Dorothy Arzner one of the few women directors around at that point also gives us one of Kate's very first feminist icon roles. Her first film, A Bill of Divorcement, had Kate as a dutiful daughter who gives up her man to care for an insane father. Kate has some critical choices to make in Christopher Strong as well.
What she does might not make sense to today's audience, but made perfectly good sense in post Victorian Great Britain. She and Clive make a wonderful pair of tragic lovers in a drama that while old fashioned still holds up.