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Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1931) was a high profile vehicle for MGM superstar Greta Garbo that paired her with Clark Gable for the first and only time. Its source was the controversial 1917 novel by David Graham Phillips, which caused quite a stir in its day with subject matter many considered racy. In the film, Garbo plays Helga, a young woman born into a hard life. The illegitimate daughter of a poor farmer and mother who dies giving birth to her, Helga knows only how to survive. When her stern father tries to marry her off to the lecherous brute Mondstrum (Alan Hale), she runs away and finds shelter in the home of Rodney (Clark Gable), a young engineer who treats her with kindness. The two fall in love, but when Mondstrum comes looking for her, she goes on the run again, changing her name to Susan Lenox along the way. Throughout a series of misunderstandings and unpredictable plot twists, the love between Susan and Rodney is severely tested.
Clark Gable, an up-and-coming star at the time, was reportedly miffed to learn of being cast in Susan Lenox by reading the news in a Hollywood trade paper. "Don't miss the one and only Garbo in the arms of Clark Gable!" proclaimed the ads. Garbo had been eager to work with him for some time and made the pairing happen. Gable eventually agreed to do the role knowing it would be a good career move to star opposite the Swedish screen legend. He also hoped to learn a thing or two by working with a star of Garbo's caliber.
When the film was finished, the notoriety of the novel alone was enough for British censors to ban it from release. With a few swift cuts, however, it was finally approved in the UK with a new title: The Rise of Helga. Though Susan Lenox went through as many as two dozen writers and the pairing of Garbo and Gable was awkward, the film did make money. There was talk of starring the two together again in the movie Red Dust (1932), but it was not to be. Gable made Red Dust with Jean Harlow instead, and Gable and Garbo never made another film together.
Producer/Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: Edith Fitzgerald, Leon Gordon, Zelda Sears, Wanda Tuchock
Based on the novel by David Graham PhillipsArt Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costume Design: Adrian
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Costume Design: Adrian
Film Editing: Margaret Booth
Original Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Principal Cast: Greta Garbo (Susan Lenox), Clark Gable (Rodney), Jean Hersholt (Ohlin), John Miljan (Burlingham), Alan Hale (Mondstrum), Hale Hamilton (Mike Kelly), Hilda Vaughn (Astrid).
by Andrea Passafiume