The Pioneering Female Director Who Broke into the Hollywood Boy’s Club

No filmmaker blazed more trails than Dorothy Arzner. In 1928, after making a handful of silents, Arzner became the first woman to direct a Hollywood sound film (Manhattan Cocktail), and a decade later she joined the Directors Guild of America as its first female member; for the majority of her filmmaking career, the openly gay Arzner was the only woman directing movies in Hollywood. Right now, the Criterion Channel is celebrating the underappreciated Arzner’s extraordinary career by bringing together three of her best films—the illicit-love story Christopher Strong (1933), the domestic melodrama Craig’s Wife (1936), and the backstage musical Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)—along with an introduction by film scholar B. Ruby Rich. In this clip from her overview, Rich pays tribute to the feminist perspective that Arzner brought to the woman’s-picture genre, and the important role she played in shaping the screen personae of such stars as Katharine Hepburn (the daring pilot at the center of Christopher Strong), Rosalind Russell (the domineering title character of Craig’s Wife), and Lucille Ball (the burlesque-performer protagonist of Dance, Girl, Dance).

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