Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, June 23, 2017


John Hansen 
THE CHRISTINE JORGENSEN STORY (1970). Director: Irving Rapper.

From his early childhood on, George Jorgensen (John Hansen) has felt like he was different, and identified much more as a girl than as a boy. Mistaken for being gay, he decides to discover more on his "condition" and is told that he has an excess of estrogen. George travels to Denmark where he is given permission to have what today we would call sexual realignment surgery. His story makes headlines in the New York Daily News ("Ex-GI Becomes Beautiful Blonde") and both he and his family have to deal with the fall-out of the disclosure. Christine Jorgensen was a true pioneer, and this fictionalized version of her story is interesting, but not all that well done, with a cheap look and tedious exposition. John Hansen is an effective lead, portraying both George and Christine equally well, although at times he's somewhat amateurish. Quinn K. Redeker (of The Young and the Restless) plays a reporter who falls for Christine and gives her her first kiss (which is actually a male-male kiss since Hansen was only playing a woman); Pamelyn Ferdin [The Beguiled] is George's sympathetic sister as a child; Elaine Joyce is a bitchy, homophobic model; Joyce Meadows [The Girl in Lovers Lane] is another, friendlier model; Joan Tompkins is George's ahead-of-her time Aunt Thora; and Will Kuluva [To Trap a Spy] is Professor Estabrook, who sets George on the correct path.

Another character is George's boss, Jess (Rod McCary), who turns out to be gay and gets angry when George denies his homosexuality. Jess nearly winds up assaulting George. A scene that could have been positive, showing a bond between two sexual minorities (however different), is instead thrown away for a bit of ugly, almost homophobic sensationalism. It's especially egregious because Jess is a likable character who tells George of many well-known gay men throughout history.

Irving Rapper also directed another famous movie about an amazing transformation: Bette Davis' Now, Voyager.

NOTE: Chistine Jorgensen's operation was not the first of its kind, but the first that was heavily publicized. There were some differences from earlier operations, and I've no doubt attitudes towards transsexualism and its origins have changed since this film was made nearly fifty years ago.

Verdict: Compelling at first, with a sensitive lead performance, but it drags a bit and, surprisingly, lacks dramatic intensity. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

I have read about this one, but had no idea it was directed by Irving Rapper! Need to see it. I am always fascinated to see how this subject matter was treated back in the 1960s and early 70s...

William said...

It is handled sensitively and sympathetically for the most part, aside from the one sequence I mention. Rapper was seen in the golden age as a "women's director" so may have gotten the assignment for that reason.