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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!)
Actually, I thought the movie was the opposite of the title - this film
"rose" high at the start and just slowly fell to the bottom.
It started off great, especially in the cinematography department. Greta Garbo looked very pretty and captivating and there was Clark Gable, sans famous mustache. This was Gable's first starring role.
The start of the second half signaled the decline as the film turned into a sappy melodrama and finished with an incredibly bad last 15 minutes, ruining what looked like a really promising film. Jean Hersholt and John Miljan provided able supporting help but, in the end, the film was disappointment.
Or was that the publicity line for some other MGM picture with the king
of their lot?
Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise is taken from the David Graham Phillips novel of the same name and in this 77 minute film hardly any of the story gets to be told. Probably a lot was left on the cutting room floor of MGM and you have to be able to bridge some gaps if you haven't read the book.
The book itself was published posthumously in 1917 six years after its author was killed by a disgruntled reader of his work. I'm guessing it was written years earlier because it's attitudes and subject matter were distinctly Victorian. Greta Garbo plays the daughter of Jean Hersholt who wants to sell her in marriage to the local lout played by Alan Hale. One thing that was interesting was seeing both of those players in unlikely unsympathetic parts.
She flees Hersholt's farm in the rain and gets taken in by Clark Gable who's renting the cabin on the lake down the road. The romance kindles, but Gable has to make a quick trip to town, meanwhile Hersholt and Hale come looking for Garbo and she flees again.
Garbo gets taken by some carnival people including the wolfish owner, John Miljan, whom she submits to. When Gable finds her, his attitude is most Victorian. In fact the rest of the film through their respective ups and downs Gable and Garbo do a lot to hurt each other.
Susan Lenox is one heavy handed melodrama and no one would remember it at all today, but for the fact it was the one and only teaming of Gable and Garbo. Being paired with Garbo was a big milestone for Clark Gable. Also he was not paying thugs any longer, charismatic thugs, but thugs nonetheless. He was leading man material after this film.
It only gets as much as six stars from me because of the cast.
This film is noteworthy because of the unique, mysterious, and wonderful screen presence of Greta Garbo. She is thoroughly convincing as the vulnerable young woman at the beginning of the film, and as her character becomes more worldly but still vulnerable she remains convincing. Occasionally she might lapse into acting that would seem to the modern viewer to be overly dramatic, but overall she is brilliant. Clark Gable is okay, but the construction of the film from a plot standpoint left something to be desired. Some things needed to be explained better. This seems to be a common problem with many early sound films as most of the 1928-31 sound films that I have seen are at times disjointed, leaving the viewer wondering why something occurred. That said, I recommend this film because of Garbo.
The first twenty or so minutes of this film is about as good as you can find for Greta Garbo and Clark Gable. When poor little Greta is forced to run from her abusive and cold home, the movie really becomes marvelous as the relationship between Garbo and Gable begins. During all this time, the cinematography is tops, with wonderful camera-work, lighting and composition. And, the romance between the leads is really compelling and beautiful. However, after this wonderful start, the film quickly falls apart. Through a series of misunderstandings, the lovers inexplicably become cold and angry towards each other--and after such a great start, this really makes no sense at all! Then, for the rest of the film, we see Clark and Greta periodically "stumbling upon each other" and then mistreating each other even though EVERYONE watching the film knows they really love each other and KNOWS they will ultimately admit this to each other. So, you KNOW what will happen and there is no suspense at all--NONE! It's really sad when a film starts off so well and then fizzles into a dull and predictable mess that could have simply been handled if either Garbo or Gable had just said "let's stop the bickering and marry--after all, YOU know and I know that it's meant to be!". But, for some odd reason, the writers want us to just assume the leads are too stupid and too proud to admit it. Gimme a break!
Although this film is often ignored in documentaries and facts about
Greta Garbo, SUSAN LENOX foremost boasts of her magnificent, magical
presence. While Garbo's filmography would surely be equally great
without this film, SUSAN LENOX without Garbo would be forgotten now.
Yet, it still remains one of the films of the silver screen worth
viewing...in what way?
SUSAN LENOX based upon the novel by David Graham Phillips marks a significant aspect of cinematic history and of the old contract Greta Garbo had signed with MGM. Filmed in the period when the budget was considerably low, there is hardly any opulence nor grandeur. As a matter of fact, the story does not require lavishness which, meanwhile, appears more in MATA HARI (1931). Here, it seems to be enough we have Garbo...she speaks for all the merits of the film because...her performance becomes quite distinct and very genuine.
She is no longer any spy, vamp nor femme fatale but a peasant girl, Helga, a novel buff who flees from the monstrosity of hardship, from marrying a monstrous Mondstrum (Alan Hale) into the 'unknown' where she meets the love of her life, Rodney Spencer (Clark Gable). The servant Helga transforms into independent Susan. Their genuine feeling will, however, need to experience a harsh test before she will finally make him believe in her...
This is a film which, in a way, occurs to be similar to many other Garbo films because of the wonderful wardrobe by Adrian and subtle cinematography by William H. Daniels...old staff seemingly, many similarities, almost identical details. However, the major difference and a real revelation appears to be Garbo's leading man - a rising star of the time whose greatest roles were still ahead of him - Clark Gable. This is the first and the only movie where Ms Garbo plays opposite Mr Gable - what are the impressions?
According to the audience of the time and many critics, it was rather a successful pairing. MGM even prepared for the couple another project, RED DUST...yet, Garbo's answer was quite unpredictable...she refused and, as a result, she never again appeared with Mr Gable. The role was taken by Jean Harlow. And since then, the opinions have differed. People who have not been a particular fans of Greta Garbo tend to say that they are a very fine couple on screen. They even do not hesitate to say that there IS a chemistry between the 'Swedish Sphinx' and the 'King.' Garbo's fans see it a bit differently and tend to say that this pairing was not very successful. Why? Because truly the 'King' considered the 'SPHINX' a 'SNOB' while the 'Sphinx' considered the 'KING'---'WOODEN.' Anyway...
...there are some very nice moments they have together on the screen where there is wit, where there is tension and attention achieved. The scene of fishing is one of them when Rodney's lovely, charming dog called Boy comes in between them and 'a little fish'... Yet, what we find in many Garbo biographies, the two did not like each other very much...their pairing is a revelation as a fact; yet the mutual acting is flawed, in my opinion. While Ms Garbo holds a great power in MYSTERIOUS EXPRESSIVE FACE, Mr Gable holds a power of TALKATIVE LONGSTREAM CHAT. Quite diverse...
The film being not that long is a nice and a memorable cinema production thanks to some wonderful attention viewers pay to the character of Susan. The film is in no way any intense psychological insight where you would be left with many reflections (sometimes too many) but a pleasant linear story which, in the long run, becomes a nice thought provoking picture. The events of Susan, her final decision make us like her, sympathize with her and help us, unlike in Susan's cruel upbringing, get memorable notions in our heads - significant decisions, forgiveness, treatment of life as an ongoing process of changes.
Therefore, I rate this film 7/10 - despite some flaws, it is a nice choice for a calm afternoon to view once again after all these years, and let oneself be mesmerized by Greta Garbo whose screen presence is always breathtaking no matter what movie we view and what generation of movie buffs. Recommended from a Garbo fan as I am.
Maybe the novel had substance, but as boiled down by a team of MGM hacks the
script comes off as silly women's-magazine stuff. Garbo escapes an arranged
marriage to a brute, meets Gable, is forced to run away and join the circus
(!), is spurned by Gable through a misunderstanding, swears revenge on him
but still loves him, just happens to run into him again in a hard-drinking
south-of-the-border backwater... you get the idea. There's never any doubt
as to the outcome, but surely they could have come up with more of an ending
than the one here, where both characters give in to each other more out of
exhaustion than anything else.
Garbo is, as expected, faultless -- intuitive, honest, and at the peak of her beauty. Lovingly lit by her favorite cameraman, William Daniels, she's magnetic even when forced into hackneyed situations and purple dialogue. The director, Robert Z. Leonard, plays some interesting Freudian tricks -- the shadows are deep and symbolic, and most of the male characters seem to be carrying sticks of one sort or another. Without Garbo it would be typical early-talkie MGM junk, but she lends dignity and distinctiveness even to boilerplate stuff like this.
This was Gable's reward from MGM for being a good boy - to star with Garbo. Unfortunately the script is a mess and at 76 minutes a poor adaptation of the gargantuan 600 page plus novel. The script is very misogynistic with Gable's character completely incapable of understanding Garbo's fallen plight and refusing to forgive. Helga escapes her brutish home, falls in love with Gable and then must flee again when her father discovers her in Gable's absence. She joins a circus (as Susan Lenox) and is forced to accept the protection of its manager. Gable discovers and rejects her. Later she has risen to the top of society as a kept woman and upon encountering her again, Gable again rejects her. She gives it all up and follows him around the country and the globe. She is so shamed by something that wasn't her fault that we can't really respect or care for Susan Lenox. Gable's character is thoroughly detestable in every way - the absolute worst of all macho men's traits are exhibited here. The way Susan lowers herself to seek him out is pitiful. The stars' chemistry is excellent but the film itself is quite poor - episodic and unpalatable. Only for fans of the two stars.
The bastard orphan Helga Ohlin (Greta Garbo) has been abused by her
uncle since she was a child. When she becomes a woman, he arranges her
marriage with the alcoholic Jeb Mondstrum (Alan Hale). In a stormy
night, Jed tries to rape Helga but she flees from home and hides in a
garage to protect from the rain. The engineer Rodney Spencer (Clark
Gable) meets Helga and brings her home. They have a love affair but
when Rodney travels to Detroit in a six-day trip, her uncle and Jeb
find her. Helga escapes again and hides in a train, where she meets an
itinerant circus troupe and is invited to join the group. Without any
money and with the police seeking her, Helga accepts the invitation
adopting the alias Susan Lenox. She is forced by the circus manager
Wayne Burlingham (John Miljan) to have a love affair with him. When
Rodney finally finds her, he discovers that Wayne is her lover. He
calls her gutter girl and leaves Helga. She travels to New York and
becomes the mistress of the politician Mike Kelly (Hale Hamilton).
Meanwhile Rodney is invited to a dinner party in Mike's house and Susan
humiliates him. Rodney leaves the apartment and Susan regrets and tries
to fond him. However he has left New York and Susan seeks him out? Will
they meet each other again?
"Susan Lenox" is a Pre-Code film with a heartbreaking story of a woman that is forced to separate from her true love and becomes an easy woman to survive. Greta Garbo has another wonderful performance and shows a great chemistry with Clark Gable. The conclusion with an open end is a great moment of this film. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Susan Lenox"
GRETA GARBO fans will undoubtedly forgive the screenplay which has
Greta and CLARK GABLE romantically involved in an on again/off again
relationship that is the basis for the whole movie. And, of course,
Garbo's favorite cinematographer, William Daniels, is behind the camera
making sure that she gets her fair share of lush close-ups.
It starts out promisingly enough as a Gothic melodrama with Garbo fleeing the advances of a drunken fiancé ALAN HALE and rushing out into the storm. She seeks shelter in a barn but is discovered by CLARK GABLE who promptly takes a shine to her and invites her to take shelter under his roof. The opening scenes with Garbo and Gable have an innocent charm that makes them delightful to watch, with Gable giving a more natural performance than Garbo who already has a bag of transparent acting tricks.
The plot thickens when Susan Lenox is forced to flee Gable's residence when her strict father and fiancé show up to bring her home. She ends up taking refuge on a circus train and ends up being "kept" by one of the managers. When she's reunited with Gable, it begins a series of misunderstandings. Garbo plays her role like the real diva she was, even pronouncing Gable's name--"Rodney"--in a melodramatic way.
It's strictly downhill into pulp romance territory for the rest of the way. It's Gable who gives one of his most likable performances and sustains interest in the story's development--not Garbo.
Summing up: Only for die-hard Garbo fans. Noteworthy for a very fine beginning which soon lapses into mediocrity.
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