085. The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936)
Following up The 39 Steps, considered today to be his first “major” film, Hitchcock made yet another “traveling” thriller. Hitch had a big thing for trains. From The Lady Vanishes to North by Northwest to Strangers on the Train, it was one of his favorite settings for mischief and mayhem. In this film, nearly all of the story unfolds on a train. The film is also notable for having a female leading the way in the plot. Margaret Lockwood is charming, lovely, and all around watchable. Her eagerness to uncover the truth is totally believable, and at her side is the equally charming and sometimes endearingly irritating Michael Redgrave. The pair try to discover what’s happened to a woman who Lockwood swears she talked to on the train who seems to have vanished without a trace. The plot has been copied in various ways many times since (most notable in Flightplan, perhaps most successfully in Bunny Lake Is Missing.) Knowing someone who has vanished, and then being led to believe that maybe they didn’t exist at all, is the stuff psychological thrillers are made of.

084. Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931)
The Pre-Code era was the golden age of the mobster film. Not only were filmmakers much more free to make their films violent and their villains sympathetic, but America was also in the midst of the Depression, and people were looking to unconventional movie characters to idolize. So filmmakers were able to make their gangsters into not just sympathetic hoodlums, but even into tragic anti-heroes. Perhaps the most sympathetic of the bunch is Edward G. Robinson’s Rico. In 1931, his rise to power could be seen as almost inspiration, despite the illegal and quite violent way he did it, and despite the fact that the character is something of a monster, loyalty and friendship aside. There’s also some of that wonderful pre-code homosexual subtext, and an amazing final line from Robinson.

083. Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)
1939 is considered Hollywood’s Golden Year because so many amazing movies were released, but the only two that really get any attention these days are Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, while other films, like Wuthering Heights, which I think is better than both of those other movies, are hardly ever discussed. Wuthering Heights is kind of the grand-daddy of messed up love stories. It’s the story of how a strong and passionate love can sometimes destroy two people rather than save them. It’s dark, it’s not happy, but it’s has its own dark beauty, and this film captures it so well. It’s true, it only tells part of the story, but if you’re going to make a feature length film version of the story, I’d personally rather have a part of the story cut out to allow what’s there to fully develop as it should, rather than trying to cram it all into a two hour running time and rushing things, like that mess that was the 1992 version.

082. Possessed (Clarence Brown, 1931)
Kept woman films were popular in the romantic melodrama genre during the pre-code era. Naturally the idea of a kept woman was something that would have to be done away with completely when enforcement of the code began. But while it was allowed, the subgenre allowed for some very interesting romances. One of them paired Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, one of the all time great pairings (on and off screen) as the kept woman and the man who keeps her. A lot of these stories are about the woman falling in love with a poor man, a man who isn’t the one keeping her. This one is different because it’s about the love between the two characters. It’s not about them falling in love, it’s about their love changing and their acceptance of it.

081. Employees’ Entrance (Roy Del Ruth, 1933)
One of the sexiest movies of the decade, Employees’ Entrance is about all manner of workplace indiscretions, and it crams just about all the pre-code you can get into one movie. Loretta Young is charming as always as the sweet girl who sleeps her way into a job at a department store by way of sleazy yet oh-so-sexy Warren William, but then falls in love with good guy Wallace Ford.  Watching it now with 70+ years of history, it’s an interesting look back at the way life was back in the 1930s. But even without the historical context, it works remarkably well as a romantic drama, with an entertaining supporting ensemble. But the show belongs to the often forgotten but always awesome Warren William. He completely owns this movie in every way. It takes quite an actor to play such a horrible character with so much commitment.

By Katie Richardson

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I’ve been kind of an updating machine lately. Wasn’t really planning anything for today, but that’s what insomnia does to you.

We talk about a lot of actors nobody has ever head of on this site, but I always love talking about the lesser known films of the really well known actors. Those hidden gems among the Some Like It Hots and the Casablancas.

Clark Gable is an actor who everyone knows, for Gone With the Wind alone, if for nothing else. He had a really long career as a leading man, spanning over three decades, working with almost every leading lady imaginable. He has so many, many movies that are remembered as classics. It Happened One Night, The Misfits, and Mogambo. But, this being Obscure Classics, I want to talk about those movies that aren’t widely known. And really, I want to talk about some of his movies that don’t really get a lot of talk here. There are a lot of posts that mention movies like Men In White and Possessed, so I’m going to try to spotlight just a few that haven’t gotten so much attention here.

Laughing  Sinners (Harry Beaumont, 1931)
This movie has a criminally low rating on IMDb. It’s not any kind of masterpiece, but it’s certainly not as bad as that 4.9/10 would suggest. It actually is really good. Gable costars here with his frequent leading lady (and sometimes bedmate) Joan Crawford. This is definitely not a light movie, dealing with issues like suicide. Gable and Crawford are always wonderful together, and can say so much without actually saying anything.  Their onscreen relationship, as it always did, feels intense and genuine. Gable is really good here, but it is Crawford’s movie. She gives a very vulnerable performance.

Sporting Blood (Charles Brabin, 1931)
Despite the presence of Gable and the lovely Madge Evans, I really didn’t think I was going to like this one the first time I watched it.  The whole story of race horses and gambling sounded a little silly to me. But the movie is surprisingly gripping and really well told story.  It’s got that struggle and redemption aspect that always gets me. There’s also a genuine affection for horses and horse racing present in the film that’s really effective, even if you’re not really into that whole scene. Gable and Evans are fantastic together. They have chemistry to spare, which is why it’s a huge shame that didn’t work together again.

After Office Hours (Robert Z. Leonard, 1935)
In this fun and light mystery/drama, Gable plays a reporter trying to solve the murder of a socialite. He gets in with wealthy Constance Bennett, an acquaintance of the victim, and he falls for her, but he can’t help himself from using her to get the scoop for his story. It’s not really a comedy, so don’t go in expecting something like The Thin Man, because it’s not very funny. But it is a light and somewhat breezy murder mystery. Gable and Bennett are good together, and their romance is actually convincing instead of feeling tacked on for convention’s sake. It also sports an impressive supporting cast which includes Billie Burke, Henry Travers, and William Demarest.

Somewhere I’ll Find You (Wesley Ruggles, 1942)
I’m actually kind of surprised I don’t talk about this movie more here because it’s one of my very favorite Gable movies. Clark Gable and Lana Turner really are one of the most underrated pairings in classic film. They made a few good movies together, they looked gorgeous when they shared the screen, and they had chemistry. Somewhere I’ll Find You is probably the heaviest of all their movies. It’s set during WWII, and has two brothers (Gable is one of them, Robert Sterling is the other) trying to attract Turner’s attention.  The movie does kind of have Carole Lombard’s death hanging over it, as it was the only movie Gable did between the passing of his wife and his discharge from the military, and the final speech he gives in the film is especially poignant because of it.

By Katie Richardson

Richard Boleslawski is another of the many, many great, yet underappreciated directors that we love here at Obscure Classics. While he directed a few films in his native Russia (in the area which is now Poland) between 1915 and 1921, his career didn’t really take off until he came to America. His first job wasn’t exactly the brightest omen of things to come. He did fill in work for Erich von Stroheim on the ill-fated Queen Kelly, which was something of a disaster that was never finished. Fortunately, his first job was not an indicator for the rest of his career, and while he never made a picture as big as Gone With the Wind or Grand Hotel, he made many excellent studio pictures before his career was tragically cut short by his sudden death in 1937. A few of his films, Beauty for Sale and Fugitive Lovers, get quite a lot of talk on this site, so here are a few of his films that haven’t received quite as much attention.

The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)
The Mystery of Mr. X is one of the man mystery/comedies to come out of the 1930s, and while it’s not quite as good as The Thin Man or The Mad Miss Manton, it’s definitely in the upper echelon of these types of films. It’s a little bit different than these other films in that its lead character, played wonderfully by Robert Montgomery, is not a detective, or a doctor/detective, or lawyer/detective. He’s ‘technically’ not a good guy at all, he’s a gentleman thief. He gets caught up in a murder when he’s stealing a diamond at the same time a policeman is being murdered just outside the building. Scotland Yard assumes the murder and theft were committed by the same man, and Montgomery is left to prove himself innocent.

His leading lady is Elizabeth Allan, and the two of them share a really wonderful chemistry that really makes me wish they had made more films together. The screenplay sparkles, and Boleslawski easily mixed the humor with some truly suspenseful scenes.

Men In White (1934)
I’ve talked about this movie a few times on this site. It’s a really incredible pre-code film, which tackles some pretty taboo issues with incredible finesse.

In Men In White, Clark Gable plays a young doctor in love with Myrna Loy, but his constantly busy schedule puts a strain on their relationship, and he ends up having a one night stand with nursing student Elizabeth Allan. She gets pregnant and has a back alley abortion, which is predictably botched and she ends up in the hospital, fighting for her life.

Abortion was perhaps the most taboo subject that could be covered in film in the 1930s, and even during the pre-code era, films had to be delicate about the way it approached the topic. The word “abortion” is never used. It’s hinted at without the word ever being spoken. Boleslawski takes a topic that could be sensationalized and tells a very personal story with it.

The Painted Veil (1934)
Boleslawski’s version of W. Somerset Maugham’s brilliant novel The Painted Veil isn’t nearly as good as the almost perfect 2006 adaptation starring Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, and Liev Schreiber. Naturally, the subject matter had to be handled much more delicately in the 1930s. But for what it is, which is basically a watered down version of Maugham’s story, it’s still a pretty good movie, with a really good performance from Garbo.

Garbo plays a restless woman who marries scientist Herbert Marshall even though she doesn’t really love him. This lack of love, combined with Marshall’s constant working, leads to Garbo having an affair with George Brent. When he husband discovers her infidelity, he takes her with him to inland China to fight the region’s illness, assuming they’ll both probably die. But in these worst of conditions, Garbo grows as a human being, as does her love for her husband.

This movie really only tells half the story of Maugham’s novel, leaving us with the happy ending, rather than going past that to the true, tragic ending of the story. But despite the sunny-ing up of the story, Boleslawski’s film does something that very few films at the time did. It takes a very honest and mature look at adult relationships and marriage.

By Katie Richardson

It’s a pretty tough time money-wise for a lot of people. Unemployment rates are rising, people are getting laid off and losing money left and right. Right now, we’re in recession. But there are a lot of people worried that we’ll soon be in a depression.

This, of course, would not be the first depression. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of the bleakest times in history. But hey, it produced some great films. Especially some great films set during the Depression. So maybe we should take some tips from these movies on how to get through these rough times.

Tip #1: Find a rich man to keep you
See: Bed of Roses, The Easiest Way, Our Blushing Brides, Possessed
You’re down on your luck. You’re a girl living in a poor neighborhood, you either can’t find a job or you have a really crappy one. But you’re damn pretty, and with the right dress and hair, you could look damn classy.

And hey, here’s a handsome (hopefully) rich guy who likes you. Really likes you. You’re one of the lucky ones now. He like you so much he wants to set you up in a nice apartment so he doesn’t have to go to the bed part of town to see you. Of course he doesn’t want to marry you. He may already be married, or the idea of marriage just doesn’t interest him. But that’s probably a good thing. Why ruin something so simple with marriage?

Now you have a fancy apartment to yourself, an bottomless bank account, and you get to rub elbows with all of your man’s high class friends.

And hey, this is the 21st century. There are plenty of rich, powerful women, so it’s completely possible for a man to find himself a cushy situation like this.

Be careful, though. These situations don’t always end happily. Unfortunately for Constance Bennett in The Easiest Way, she lost the man she really loved when she couldn’t resist the life of luxery. And don’t go thinking this guy’s going to marry you. That idea turned out not too well for Anita Page in Our Blushing Brides.

Of course, you could get Joan Crawford-in-Possessed lucky, attract a handsome rich guy like Clark Gable, fall in love with him, and then have the good fortune of him falling in love with you.

Tip #2: Find a rich man (or woman) to marry you.
See: Red Headed Woman, Mannequin, Platinum Blond
You’re situation is probably pretty similar to the one above. However, finding a rich man to marry you might be a littler tougher than finding a rich man to keep you. Marrying a poor girl takes on some more social implications than just keeping her in a nice apartment and buying her stuff.

So you may have to resort to complete bitchery. Like Jean Harlow in Red Headed Woman. Easily one of the biggest bitches to ever hit the big screen, she did every single thing she had to do to get her rich boss to marry her. Even though he was already married.  Sure, the marriage was absolutely miserable, but she had all the money she wanted.

You may get lucky, though, and find a rich guy who’s just plain infatuated with you, like Joan Crawford found Spencer Tracy in Frank Borzage’s Mannequin. Sure, she didn’t love him at first. But there’s a lesson there in itself. Love will eventually grow.

Of course, it’s entirely possible for a man to marry a wealthy woman. It just doesn’t usually take much scheming. According to Platinum Blond, heiresses like to take on poor, unsophisticated men to see if they can change them. Just for fun. So all you boys have to do is be unsophisticated and put yourself in front of some rich chicks. But, seriously, if you’ve got someone as cute as Loretta Young already in love with you, save yourself the trouble.

Tip #3: Use sex in the workplace
See: Baby Face
The last two options were good options. But of course, you’re a modern woman. Maybe you don’t want to be married or kept. Maybe you’ll only feel complete if you’re working.

Yes, these days it is much, much easier to climb the corporate ladder for women than it was in the 1930s. But it’s still not the easiest thing in the world. Especially right now, when some people are having a hard time finding a job.

So if there’s any time when you shouldn’t feel ashamed to get on your back to get up the ladder, it’s now. You should always use what god gave you. And if he happened to give you some good looks and a fair amount of sex appeal, you should use it.

Just be careful. In Baby Face, Stanwyck got into a few sticky situations doing this very thing. Try to keep the amount of men with whom you exchange sexual favors to a minimum to avoid that.

Tip #4: Crime pays…. to a point
See: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, Scarface
During the Depression, gangsters were almost treated as heroes in film (and even outside of it). Life was tough. The world, the country, fate, God… these things had taken everything from people. And the gangsters were the ones rebelling against that and taking it back. By any means possible. Sure, they were doing bad things. But they were getting the money they wanted. And in times like these, sometimes that seems like the most important thing.

Without fail, whether it’s Cagney in The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces, Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, or Paul Muni in Scarface, things always go amazingly well for these guys for some time. They climb the ranks and live very comfortably.

So yeah, a life of crime is always going to be dangerous. But unlike the guys in these movies, be smart. Don’t want to much. Once you get to a certain point where you’re living comfortably, let it be. Don’t try to get any higher. And for the love of god, don’t try to take over the organization. That’s the kind of shit that gets you killed.

Tip #5: Turn to prostitution
See: Faitless, Anna Christie, Midnight Mary
Now things are seriously bad. You can’t find a job at all. And the idea of marrying or being kept by a rich man isn’t happening (maybe you just can’t find one, or maybe you’re so much in love with someone poor you can’t bring yourself to leave them). You have no choice. You must turn to prostitution.

Sure, it’s probably the least dignified thing on this list. But when you’re desperate, you’re desperate. You gotta eat. You gotta keep a roof over your head. And maybe like Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless, you have to find some way to pay for your husband’s medication. She got lucky, though. When husband Robert Montgomery found out that she was a prostitute, he was moved by her sacrifice.

Tip #6: Split a nice apartment with some pals
See: Ladies In Love, Beauty For Sale, The Greeks Had a Word For Them, Our Blushing Brides
Probably the easiest option so far. You’re single, you don’t have a lot of money. But you do have two good friends who are in the same situation. So how much easier would it be on all of you to split an apartment!

This can be done just for necessity’s sake, as it was for Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian in Our Blushing Brides, and Madge Evans, Una Merkel, and Florine McKinney in Beauty For Sale.

But you can also do the three way split in a fancier way. It might require a bit more money, but getting a nicer apartment in a better part of town with three friends could be a bit of a confidence booster, which is always needed in times like these. In Ladies in Love and The Greeks Had a Word For Them, three single ladies (Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor, and Loretta Young in Ladies, Madge Evans, Joan Blondell, and Ina Claire in Greeks) split nice aparments in nice neighborhoods to make themselves look classier and like they have more money, presumable to attract wealthy men.

Tip #7: Embrace your poverty and realize that love is ultimately what matters
See: Bad Girl, Man’s Castle
Yes, times are indeed tough for you. But they’re tough for most people.

Not everyone loves the idea of trying to find a rich person to take care of them, or turning to crime, or getting on their backs. So they just accepts their circumstances. And sometimes they’re really lucky, because they might have love in their life.

Tenement life blows, obviously. But if you have a husband or wife that you love very much, and a baby on the way, like Sally Eilers and James Dunn in Bad Girl, that becomes more important than everything else, even if there are some bumps along the way.

Even worse than tenement life was life in the Hoovervilles, where families lived in little more than tiny shacks. No matter how bad a living situation might be, look on the bright side like Loretta Young in Man’s Castle does. At least she has a place to live. Add to that the fact that she’s in a (somewhat complicated, admittedly) relationship with Spencer Tracy. Life is difficult, but Borzage films the movie almost like a fairy tale. Their love is so powerful, it can make a little shack seem like a castle.

There you go. Seven tips from the classics on how to get through these tough times.

I’d love it to here any tips you guys can come up with from watching 1930s films!

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1936

Director: Clarence Brown

Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and James Stewart

Wife Versus Secretary actually ends up being quite a suspenseful movie as we follow devoted husband and successful businessman Van through one of the biggest business deals of his life assisted by his secretary named Whitey. It just so happens that Whitey is not only a invaluable part of the business team but a very attractive woman and while Van is able to keep the relationship strictly professional people start to talk and those around Van, including his wife, become more and more suspicious that there might be a little more to their relationship then just business. The suspense comes in the form of a question. Will Van cross that line?

This film is a very satisfactory drama with well defined and well portrayed characters. Clark Gable’s character is a charming blend of business savy and child-like exuberance. You can’t help but root for his character who is on top of the world and has so much to lose if things were to go too far with his secretary.

Jean Harlow is able to break out of her regular typecasting and play a very successful career oriented woman with a good head on her shoulders. Yet she still ends up subtly playing the role of a temptress.

Myrna Loy plays Van’s wife who lets her mother in law’s warnings about the dangers of an attractive secretary get to her. She tragically ignores her instincts and begins to question the man she should trust and love.

Keep your eyes peeled for Jimmy Stewart in one of his early roles as a young man trying to settle down with career woman Whitey.

Wife Versus Secretary has its flaws. For one thing, aspects of it are some what predictable. However, the third act doesn’t disappoint. A key scene and perhaps one of my favorites for its symbolism takes place in a car with Van’s wife and mother discussing his secretary. Just as Van’s mother places doubt in his wife’s mind concerning the possibilities of his relationship with his secretary they drive through a dark tunnel foreshadowing the possible dark times ahead that could result from doubting her faithful husband. Wife Versus Secretary is definitely a film worth watching. This is a film that thematically comes across as modern despite being released over 70 years ago.

Year: 1933

Director: Sam Wood

Starring: Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

This rollicking good time at the movies features Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in arguably their best film together. Hold Your Man wears the pre-code banner with pride encompassing all the traits of the genre: double entendres, snappy dialogue, racy situations, and street-wise comedy. When the feature opens we see Eddie Hall (Gable) running a short con using a fugazi, a fake diamond ring. His mark figures out he’s been hoodwinked and pretty soon, our grifter is on the run. When he scrambles into an open apartment, he comes across Ruby Adams (Harlow) naked in her bathtub. Her initial reaction is to scream and find out what this nutjob is doing in her home uninvited. Eddie hears the police coming up the stairs and he pleads with Ruby to stall them so he can hide. Not a big fan of law enforcement herself, she reluctantly gives in. When the police come barging in, Ruby gives them her two cents but they barge into the bathroom to find the protagonist covered in soap suds in the tub. Harlow’s character claims that he’s her husband and Eddie yells at them to mind their own business. When the boys in blue leave the grifter jumps out of his bath and we see that he was in the water pants and all. It’s hilarious sequences such as the one I’ve just described that make this motion picture a delight to watch.

The heart and soul of Hold Your Man is the working relationship between Harlow and Gable. They are just like a couple of tennis pros volleying one sizzling barb after another. Quite full of himself, Eddie flirts w/ the curvy blonde like a determined bulldog. Facing one zinger from Ruby after another he accuses her of knowing all the answers. She replies, “Yeah, to all the dumb questions.” Eddie to this point in his life has been a good-for-nothing con artist and Ruby doesn’t have any delusions. She even points out that “… even your smile is crooked.” Eventually his charms prove irresistable to the point where when he tells her to dump her date and come over to his place in Flatbush, Ruby complies. When Gable’s character pours a Scotch and hands it to the blonde firecracker she asks, “Scotland or Brooklyn, which is it?” As Eddie tries to work more of his greasy charm, he invites Harlow’s character to join him on the sofa. Ruby sagely declares, “I got two rules when I go out visiting; keep away from couches and stay on your feet.” Of course, with the overwhelming chemistry these two have onscreen, she inevitably succumbs and spends the night. Eddie gets pinched and ends up doing time on the farm. The scene where she visits and teases him in jail works well. Ruby watches Eddie’s apartment for him and even re-decorates it. The grifter is quite pleased to find her there waiting upon his return. In typical pre-code fashion he follows Ruby into the bedroom, closing the door behind him with just his leg, slowly enough for the audience to infer what will ensue.

While the first two acts of this movie are wonderful, the last morphs from delicious comedy to sappy melodrama. Eddie finds a drunk they were trying to grift pawing Ruby all over. He slugs him so hard that the louse hits his head and dies. While Eddie is on the lam, Ruby gets left holding the bag as a witness spots her as the blonde who’d been with the deceased at the time of the murder. All the momentum this film achieved comes to a grinding halt as our female protagonist does time in prison. She runs across a rival for Eddie’s affections while in the can, and the women almost come to blows several times. When the brunette (Dorothy Burgess) tells everyone else in the barracks how sweet Eddie is on her, Ruby won’t stand for it. She offers this rejoinder instead: “You wouldn’t be a bad looking dame, if it wasn’t for you’re face.” Eventually our two lovers end up with a happy, if contrived, ending. But it’s the third reel that prevents this movie from reaching greatness. Still, this is the sexiest I’ve seen Harlow look onscreen. Hold Your Man is the best pre-code picture I have seen to date. It is mandatory viewing for fans of the platinum one or the king

Year: 1931

Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Cast: Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Jean Hersholt, Alan Hale, John Miljan, Hale Hamilton

Susan Lenox is a really strange movie. I’ve seen it several times over the years, and my opinion on it has changed constantly. Initially I was so bewildered and caught off guard by it that I really disliked it, but the more times I watch it, the more I enjoy it. It’s one of those pre-code films where the following conversation probably took place in the editing room…

“It’s okay as a 90 minute movie.”

“But if we cut it down to under 80 minutes we can schedule more screenings and make more money.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, but don’t cut out any of the sex.”

What resulted from the studio’s interesting editing is one hell of a sexy, surreal, downright strange romantic melodrama.

Garbo plays Helga, the illegitimate child of a dead mother of bad reputation. She grows up under the tyranny of her uncle, who’s so worried she’s going to turn out like her mother that he decides to marry her off to a brute. One stormy night, said brute tries to rape her, and Helga flees into the forest. She stumbles upon a cabin where Rodney (a dashing Gable) is staying. He takes her in, and the two fall in love. Soon, Rodney has to go out of town for a week for work. While he’s gone, Helga’s uncle catches up with her, and she’s forced to take off.

From there it’s a really strange and pretty heartwrenching melodrama about Helga trying to find her way back to Rodney and all the horrible things they go through to get there. During this journey, she’s forced into becoming a “fallen women” and Rodney rashly condemns her and ditches her.

I’m a sucker for movies about people in love treating each other horribly, and this is a really early example of those kinds of films. Helga, hurt by Rodney’s dismissal, allows herself to continue along the path of a fallen woman, almost just to hurt Rodney. The film is really a fascinating look at a really intense relationship between two people who are so twisted and screwed up that they’re only happy when they’re miserable together.

In addition to the strange nature of the Helga and Rodney’s relationship, the settings of the film add to the bizarre atmosphere. It starts off in America, but in a strange wilderness of America that’s almost a fantasy world, which is appropriate with Helga beginning her life in a sort of Cinderella story, to escape and find her prince charming. during her journey back to Rodney, Helga ends up as a circus performer, and that in itself… well, well obviously that whole section and all those people are weird in an of themselves. The story than shifts to what is, I assume, the Park Avenue world of New York where Helga (now known as Susan Lenox) is being kept by a politician. For this very short section of the film, Garbo plays one of her few “modern woman” roles, and fits into the skin nicely. After this part, the story moves to a seed South America bar, where the atmosphere is rowdy, to say the least. The constant change in scenery and tone is startling, but where I found fault with that upon my first viewings, I now see it as a strength of the film. Susan Lenox is a fast paced romantic melodrama. It almost feels like and adventure film, and those jarring movements between time and setting help keep thing fresh and exciting.

This was the only pairing of Garbo and Gable. Having two such dynamic personalities on the screen certainly adds to the explosiveness of the film. Their personalities clash and merge and explode over and over again on screen. In reality, Garbo and Gable couldn’t stand each other. Perhaps that helped with the explosive nature of the couple on the screen. At the same time, though, Gable is really the only male costar Gable had who could make her really seem like a girl. Garbo was an extremely sexy woman, and all of her costars (Gilbert, Douglas, Nagel, etc) embraced and enhanced her as a woman. But only Gable was really able to accentuate the basic romantic girl inside of Garbo. It’s a surprising, unexpected pairing, but it works so well.

Likewise, Garbo’s performance is kind of unexpected. This really isn’t the kind of character one would ever think of when thinking of regal, mysterious Garbo. The vamp, the tragic heroine, the mystery. This role is nothing like any of those things. In Susan Lenox, Garbo gets to something very primal in her nature that I don’t think she ever touched in any of her other roles. She accessed a really deep romantic side, and a deep aching hurt for this character that she doesn’t show in most of her performances. The more I see of this film, the more I think that it may be her best performance.

Gable is his usual rough, rugged self. This was his first starring role where he wasn’t playing a bad guy or a heavy. It’s a pretty emotionally complicated role for an actor to really start his starring career with, but Gable plays it with perfect ease.

Susan Lenox is definitely a weird movie. On all fronts, it’s not something you’d expect it to be. But after adjusting to those unexpected things, it’s easy to see this is something unique and special.

By Katie Richardson