Not the most thought-provoking start to my blog, and I apologise for that. But The Evil Queen off Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has mesmerised me since I was a child, and even more so as an adult. I think she is the evillest out of Disney’s wonderful cast of villains for she is the most terrifying, for example the scene where she orders the huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart, is chilling, especially when she says it so coldly. There is no humour in her lines, unlike other villains like Cruella DeVil and Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s evil stepmother). Her voice is again, cold and hard, voiced immaculately by Lucille La Verne. She breathes real life into the Evil Queen, giving her a presence and authority that, considering this film was made in 1937, audiences probably didn’t believe was possible for an animation. Her costume mirrors her power and sternness with its dark colours, dominating collar and the way her hair is covered (we never see her hair until she turns into the hag), creates a feeling of not knowing what dark thoughts lurk in her mind. All we see is this strikingly beautiful, (but very harsh) pale face, angrily glaring back at us.
The blank yet severe look in Garbo's face is very similar to those of the Evil Queen, as well as Garbo’s costume in Queen Christina. Garbo in Mata Hari, where her hair is scraped back tightly, so all you see is her face. As for Dietrich, although many actresses in Hollywood (Harlow, Lombard) had the baby doll eyebrows, highly arched, I’d say the inspiration was from Dietrich, particularly in The Devil is a Woman. One, because Dietrich’s eyes had a sultry but cruel quality- Harlow and Lombard's appearance was always sexy but funny and happy. Dietrich could give men the eye but she could also give some of the nastiest glares in cinema, second only to Davis and Crawford. The Queen's heavy-lidded make-up along with prominent cheekbones is also very Dietrich inspired I’d like to think. For me, combine Crawford, Garbo and Dietrich, and you have the Evil Queen. Ironically, Louis B. Mayer stated on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs release, “Who’d pay to see a drawing of a fairy princess when you can watch Joan Crawford’s boobs for the same price?” because although you didn’t see what Mayer was referencing too, audiences did get to see a Joan Crawford, more or less.
|Helen Gahagan in She (1935)|
Who knows why the Evil Queen, although she already had a character from a previous film to be based on, was given traits and qualities belonging to the biggest female stars of its time. Maybe it was because the Evil Queen’s harsh beauty fitted their features, maybe it was because all three were starting to age and as goddesses of the screen, still hung on to their looks hoping to maintain their former beauty and youth (like the Evil Queen).
Don’t get me wrong Crawford, Garbo and Dietrich were not old by any means, but in an industry where image is paramount like Hollywood, and when fresh, new beauties like Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner were being groomed for stardom, the fight to be the fairest of all Tinseltown was a big part in their career’s, as it is for any actress who hits the age where she can play mother parts. The most likely reason for Disney using screen goddesses as inspiration, I believe, was that this was the first feature length animation in the U. S., therefore Disney and his animators wanted to give the characters qualities and appearances that were already very familiar with their audience.