Susan Lennox: Her Rise and Fall (1931)

MGM

In “Susan Lennox: Her Rise and Fall,” Garbo's seventeenth film and her only feature with the then rising star, Clark Gable, she plays one of her characteristic roles, that of a suffering, victimized, and misunderstood woman.

Garbo plays Helga, the illegitimate daughter of Ohlin (Jean Hersholt), a brutish farmer, who wants to marry her off to another brute, Monstrum (Alan Hale). Fleeing for her life, Helga stumbles upon a mountain cabin owned by a construction engineer, Rodney Spencer (Clark Gable).

Rodney promises to help her, and one thing leads to another, and the duo falls in love, spending idyllic time by the lake, fishing. (Just watch the way that Garbo caresses the fish she just caught despite her clumsiness).

Rodney leaves for business, but promises to marry her. Meanwhile, Ohlin continues to search for Helga and she escapes, this time taking a carnival train. In order to stay with the carnival, she consents to the advancements of the owner, Burlington (John Miljan).

When Rodney returns and finds out about her affair, he walks out on her–despite her pleas. Helga then becomes the mistress of a rich politician named Mike Kelly (Hale Hamilton), changing look, identity and name to Susan Lenox. Unfazed by Rodney's rejection, she follows him all the way to South America, where he's now a downtrodden man working at a jungle construction camp. After a series of misunderstanding, and another quasi-affair with the rich Robert Lane (Ian Keith), Susan convinces Rodney of her true love for him, and the couple reconciles.

Based on David Graham Phillips novel, the screenplay was penned by Wanda Tuchock, with dialogue scripted by Zelda Sears and Edith Fitzgerald. Though photographed and edited by pros like William Daniels and Margaret Booth, respectively, Robert Z. Leonard directed this potboiler in what can only be described as primitive and awkward manner, with rough transition from sequence to sequence.

Even critics at the time pointed out that this 1931 feature was more in line with old silent film techniques that the new emerging form of talkies, evident in the crudely written dialogue, exaggerated physical movement, and poorly developed narrative that's truly preposterous.

Perhaps the Photoplay reviewers said it best, when he wrote: “If you like your romance spread thick, your passion strong, and your Garbo hot, don't miss this. And take notice, you Garboites! If you were made about her before, just wait until you see her teamed up with this manifestation of masculine S.A. called Clark Gable.”

Garbo, of course, got star billing and the young Gable is listed below the title in smaller letters. However, even in this disappointing feature, Gable shows the natural charm, physical charisma and likable macho attitude that would become his trademarks in a couple of years.

Cast

Helga/Susan Lenox (Greta Garbo)
Rodney Spencer (Clark Gable)
Ohlin (Jean Hersholt)
Monstrum (Alan Hale)
Mike Kelly (Hale Hamilton)
Robert Lane (Ian Keith)

Credits

Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.
Screenplay: Wanda Tuchock, from the novel by David Graham Phillips; dialogue by Zelda Sears and Edith Fitzgerald.
Camera: William Daniels
Editing: Margaret Booth