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Susan, an orphan, lives the life of Cinderella with rustic relatives. She escapes one stormy night when the fiance her relatives chose tries to force his attentions. Rodney, an architecht, is the prince who rescues her, but he has to take a trip and the wicked relatives catch up with her again. Her next rescuer is a tatooed lady in a circus who can't save her from the circus manager. Rodney shows up and dismisses her as a fallen woman. Susan moves up in the world to the penthouse of a politician who can offer a construction contract to Rodney. Rodney says no and flees to the jungle with Susan in pursuit. Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
When MGM chief Irving Thalberg found that three secretaries in his outer office remembered the 1917 David Graham Phillips novel well even though it had been missing from bookstores for over ten years, he decided to purchase the screen rights as a vehicle for Garbo. See more »
[Referring to Susan]
I wish she'd marry me. She's fine.
Marry! Say, listen, all you need is the price of a marriage license - just the price, not the wedding - just the price.
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I had to watch SUSAN LENOX - HER FALL AND RISE several times because I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. It's such an odd film, mostly because it was obviously cut here and there, down to a paltry 75 minutes long film, and because what occurs in the movie is such a smorgasborg of melodramatic situations squeezed in in such a brief amount of time, that the film becomes truly surreal.
The film starts broodingly enough, with the illegitimate birth of Helga (soon to be Susan Lenox, of Lenoxville) seen in shadows. We see her grow in her miserable life in shadows and the next thing we see is Helga is sent to live/marry a man she doesn't know. She runs away from the creepy ugly man and ends up with Rodney (Clark Gable) and the two fall in love overnight(!). When Rodney leaves for a business trip, Helga comes across her evil family and runs away from town, only to end up in circus, where Helga becomes known as Susan Lenox, is forced to work as a performer (a belly dancer of sorts) and is under the control of the circus boss Burlingham. After an ill-fated meeting with Rodney at the circus, Holga runs away (yes, again) and becomes a socialite in New York. After another ill-fated meeting with Rodney at a party, the two fight and separate again. Holga still goes after him, all the way down to South America(!) where she works in a seedy bar (keeping men company)and where she waits for him.
Got that? Anyway, the movie is like one of those action packed serials, but instead of showing a hero going from one pitfall to another, SUSAN LENOX is a melodramatic serial, where our heroine goes from one melodramatic pitfall to another, with very little time to digest one situation from the next.
The fast pace and wonky style is actually endearing, keeping the sometimes questionable subject matter light and airy. Notice the scene when Garbo undresses at the circus when she meets Rodney again, with the kooky music, giving a cartoony feel to the whole moment.
If there was a theme in SUSAN LENOX, it's how women are constantly used and abused in society. But the film never becomes too depressing because Garbo gives weight and importance to a character that's not easy to play, a character forced to do unpleasant things. Susan is hopelessly naive yet determined, all this beautifully played by Garbo.
Gable is good too but his character is a little too dense to be likable. I don't hate Rodney but he should have been a bit more understanding about Susan's circumstances or her background.
There are some great bits of dialogue in SUSAN LENOX. My favorite line (and one of my favorite lines in any movie)is uttered by Garbo: "This hurt we have inflicted upon each other. It's become a bound. Nothing can break it. We're just like two cripples. Twisted. Only together can we ever become straight." Brilliant. That lines basically surmises the whole movie: two beautiful losers, miserable in the company of others and only happy with each other, yet they can't seem to be able to live together because of wonky circumstances.
And to think that the two only met each other for one night. Arf! Is SUSAN LENOX a great movie? No, it's not. But in its odd way (sorta like Susan and Rodney), it's infinitely watchable and endearing.
I'm usually against remakes but I believe they should remake SUSAN LENOX. Obviously, no one can top Garbo as Susan Lenox of Lenoxville, but this odd story, in the hands of a director like David Lynch, would be amazing.
(update: I recently read the Taschen book Icon series on Garbo and according to it, this film had 21 writers! No wonder it's so wonky!)
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