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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SUSAN LENOX (1931)

Subtitled ‘Her Fall and Rise,’ you can add in a couple more Falls & Rises for good measure. All that really matters is that Greta Garbo’s fourth Talkie finds M-G-M still playing footsie with CAMILLE, the classic courtesan story she’ll finally film in ‘36. In this variation, she runs away from a cruel father & a forced marriage to find protection & kindness in young Clark Gable. But fate sends her back on the road: to a traveling circus; as a pampered penthouse mistress to the rich & powerful; finally to some swampy Sin City in South America. It ought to make a lively 76 minutes, but the film goes to sleep after its stylish opening reel, shot by William Daniels & helmed by Robert Z. Leonard with the flair & economy of late silent film. Alas, the starry pairing of Garbo & Gable never finds a working rhythm, though it’s fun to watch Garbo laboriously come to grips with acting thru dialogue. (And there’s a parallel struggle going on with Garbo’s hair.) Things come fully to grief with an ending that shows the micro-managing ways of M-G-M production chief Irving Thalberg at their worst. Editing nips & tucks to make mincemeat of a scene that was never going to come off in the first place. Not Garbo’s worst pic, but possibly her most needlessly disappointing.

DOUBLE-BILL: Garbo’s next had her playing CAMILLE as SPY in MATA HARI/’31 before finally letting her matriculate via toe shoes & John Barrymore for GRAND HOTEL/’32.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: There’s a hilarious montage to cover Garbo’s search for Gable. Churning train wheels fill the screen as town names are super-imposed: PHILADELPHIA . . . . ST LOUIS . . . . NEW ORLEANS . .. PUERTO SACATE.

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