Christopher Strong: Dorothy Arzner Directs Katharine Hepburn

In Christopher Strong, Katharine Hepburn’s second film (after “A Bill of Divorcement”), she receives her first starring role as Lady Cynthia Darrington, a wealthy aviatrix who gives up flying for the love of sir Christopher Strong, a married man.

As a result of a treasure hunt,” a young woman named Cynthia Darrington, who’s still virginal, and a married man, Dir Christopher Strong (Colin Clive), who’s has always been faithful to his wife, are introduced. At first, the enthusiastic aviatrix claims she has “no time for love.” For his part, String is also immersed in his political career and also duties as husband and father of a marriageable daughter, who is Cynthia’s age.

But the scenarist Zoe Akins, who adapted Gilbert Frankau’s novel, and we know better, and soon the couple embark on a passionate, hopeless affair. Then rather than hurt his wife, they decide to separate, and Cynthia goes on a world tour, while String goes to New York City on business. As fate would have it, the couple meets again in Gotham, thus rekindling their flamboyant romance.

Cynthia promises Strong to give up her risky career, but when she finds out she’s pregnant, she decides to accept the biggest challenge of her career, trying to break the world altitude record.

The camera follows her aircraft as it soars to 30,000 feet, and then her courageous decision to remove her oxygen mask, thus losing control of the planeand her life.

Director Dorothy Arzner felt a need to reassure her audience that this “new woman” was still recognizably a “real woman’ for all the bold courageously ambitious self-sufficiency that would suggest otherwise.” Hence, the mal-a-propos elegant lame dress that Hepburn was forced to wear, in what’s one of the few occasions the otherwise stubborn star consented to her producers’ demand.

The film put Dorothy Arzner, the only woman director in Hollywood, at the forefront of filmmakers of the 1930s. The production, however, was problematic from the very beginning. The husband of screenwriter Zoe Akin was dying.

Additionally, Arzner did not get along with her star, Katharine Hepburn, who got sick days after filming began; the shoot had to stop while she recovered. To make things worse, Arzner did not like the rushes she was getting from her director of cinematography, Bert Glennon. Midway, she decided to fire him and replace him with Sid Hickox.

At the time, “Christopher Strong” was not received particularly well, but over the years, it has been re-evaluated by feminist critics and even acquire a minor status as a cult movie, not least of which due to Hepburn’s performanceand outrageously campy appearance in one scene, dressed in shiny lame gown that reveals her slender, sexy body.