In a Nutshell: Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1931)
Directed by: Robert Z. Leonard
Co-stars: Greta Garbo
Synopsis: Garbo is Susan (born Helga), an illegitimate orphan raised in shame by her aunt and her cruel husband, who treats her like a slave. He picks a man for her to marry “so you won’t be without a wedding ring like your mother”. When the man tries to rape her, she runs away in a rainstorm, seeking shelter in a barn owned by architect Rodney (Gable). Rodney lets her stay with him and soon they are in love. When he leaves for a business trip, her uncle finds her and she runs away again, to Lenoxville, where she happens upon a traveling circus. She adopts the new name of Susan Lenox and becomes part of the act and can’t fend off the advances of the circus manager. When Rodney finds her, he is furious that she has become a fallen woman and leaves her. They run into each other again in New York, where she is now the mistress of a politician. Susan becomes determined to get Rodney back and prove to him she can be a one-man woman
Best Gable Quote: “Never mind. We won’t talk about you at all. No sir. You know what we’ll do? We’ll talk about me. You know who I am? No? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m Rodney, Mr. Spencer’s little boy. I’m thirty, white and unmarried. I’m really a very fine fellow–never unkind to animals, never kick babies in the teeth, always courteous when drunk.” (I love this little speech of his)
Fun Fact: Garbo requested that Gable be her costar for the film because he was an up and coming star and wouldn’t overshadow her. She later became dissatisfied with the script and with him and did not show up to the set for several days. L.B. Mayer convinced her to come back after numerous script revisions. Gable found her behavior extremely unprofessional and did not like her aloof attitude. After that their relationship was frosty through the rest of filming.
My Verdict: I remember years ago, before I saw the film, I was skeptical of it because I just couldn’t imagine Clark Gable paired with Greta Garbo; it seemed like such a desperate mismatch. I was very wrong. They actually do have some pretty good chemistry in this film. And I would say that this film is where Clark really starts to look, pardon me, HUNKY. It’s a very sweet little love story and of course, being a pre-code, has to have those scandalous sexual elements. I suppose it hasn’t aged well, as Greta’s character being illegitimate and later sleeping with several men isn’t exactly a scandal nowadays. This one’s worth it to see Clark with the Great Garbo.
In a Nutshell: Possessed (1931)
Directed by: Clarence Brown
Co-stars: Joan Crawford
Synopsis: Crawford is Marion Martin, a disillusioned small town factory worker looking for something better. After a chance meeting with Wallace Stewart (Skeets Gallagher), a drunk Park Avenue man on a train, she heads to New York to fulfill her dreams. He advises her to meet a rich man or she’ll never get along in the city. She takes his advice to heart and when two of Stewart’s friends show up, she squeezes her way into meeting them. Gable appears about fifteen minutes in the film as Mark Whitney, a distinguished attorney. He takes a shining to her almost immediately, despite the fact that she admits to him that she is only after his money. A few years pass and she is Mark’s “kept” lover, taking on all the responsibilities of a wife but without a ring. She has smoothed her rough edges and is now sophisticated and elegant. But Mark is hesitant to marry her because he already went through a nasty divorce some years prior and doesn’t want another scandal while he is trying to enter politics. She becomes ashamed to be his mistress and when she realizes that she is standing in his way of becoming governor, she unselfishly leaves him, letting him believe that she isn’t in love with him anymore.
Best Gable Quote: “Losing a sweetheart is a private misfortune. Losing a wife is a public scandal.”
Fun Fact: Gable and Crawford were in the midst of an affair during the production of the film, despite Gable’s recent marriage to Ria and Crawford’s to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Crawford said, “In the picture we were madly in love. When the scenes ended, the emotion didn’t.” Both would arrive early to the set and stay long after shooting had completed for the day.
My Verdict: Joan Crawford has her detractors, that is certain, but in this film there’s no denying the heat between her and Clark. This role is no stretch for her, always playing the shopgirl who makes good. But this one is actually a good little film—dramatic, sexy and with a good script. Joan’s gowns are whistle-inducing and Clark is mind-numbingly suave and handsome. My personal favorite of Clark and Joan’s pairings.