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Susan and God
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MGM. 117 minutes.
US release: 6/7/40. (In production beginning 2/10/40.)
VHS release: 6/24/92.
DVD release: 4/6/10.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Susan Trexel"), Fredric March, Ruth Hussey, John Carroll, Rita Hayworth, Nigel Bruce, Bruce Cabot, Rita Quigley, Rose Hobart, Constance Collier, Gloria DeHaven, Richard O. Crane, Norman Mitchell, Marjorie Main.
Credits: Based on the 1937 play by Rachel Crothers. Screenplay: Anita Loos. Producer: Hunt Stromberg. Director: George Cukor. Camera: Robert Planck. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Music: Herbert Stothart. Costumes: Adrian. Editor: William H. Terhune.
Plot Summary: Rachel Crothers' thoughtful stage play Susan and God was tastefully adapted for the screen by Anita Loos. Joan Crawford stars as Susan, whose unquestioning devotion to various religious organizations causes a great deal of strain between herself and her family. When Susan embraces a "New Thought" theological movement, she decides to apply the tenets of this new philosophy to patch up the unhappy marriages within her own social circles. She succeeds only in making things worse, and in further harming her own relationship with husband Barrie (Fredric March) and daughter Blossom (Rita Quigley). But it is the unadorned, unpretentious religious faith of little Blossom that ultimately brings Susan and Barrie together again. When Susan and God was first released in 1940, Joan Crawford's performance was occasionally compared unfavorably to that of Gertrude Lawrence, who created the role of Susan on Broadway; it was suggested by some that Crawford patterned her portrayal exactly on Lawrence's, right down to the line delivery. Modern audiences, denied the opportunity to see Lawrence's interpretation, are less inclined to downgrade Crawford's work, which rates among her best. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times
July 12, 1940
If ever a woman needed a beating—but good—that woman is the Susan Trexel of Joan Crawford in "Susan and God," which arrived yesterday at the Capitol amid much jubilation of the Crawford fans, and the fact that she doesn't get it after almost two hours of steady meddling in the lives of other folk—plus the fact that her pitiful husband, a wan and submissive Fredric March, permits her to go on and on giving him the needle while she flings her own ego around—comprises the most disappointing letdown of a generally disappointing film. In this case it certainly seems that poetic justice should have managed a violent laying on of hands. Susan spoils for it.
Once, we hopefully thought, her husband, Barrie, was going to give it to her right. Susan had come blazing back from England all hopped up about a new religious "movement" and had proceeded to cram it down the throats of her disgustingly wealthy Long Island pals. Barrie, a drunken weakling, had slightly fallen for it, too, and had persuaded his silly spouse to come home and care for him and their daughter. But Susan wouldn't give up her "movement," to the disregard of all else, and finally the moment came when it looked as though Barrie was set to do his painful duty as a husband and man. But he shied away from it, he went off and got drunk again and Susan continued her merry crusade until she saw through her misty eyes the human wreckage she was leaving behind her. Then only did she "reform."
Maybe we've got a hard heart, but we just couldn't get concerned about a woman so enormously selfish, about a man so distressingly lax and about a problem of saving souls which didn't seem worth a whole lot. Even the little daughter gave evidence of falling in with a smarty-smart set. In the early part of the picture there are bright and promising glimmers when it looks as though it might all build up to a funny satire on high-class evangelism and on the foibles of the so-called upper class, in a manner reminiscent of "The "Women." But the moment Barrie misses that punch and the story turns heavily dramatic the whole picture drifts away in a cloud of sentiment and melancholy.
Nor does Miss Crawford do much to give it the essence of life. Although she obviously imitates the mannerisms and vocal gymnastics of Gertrude Lawrence, who played the original Susan in the Rachel Crothers play, she lacks her predecessor's rich and abundant vitality in creating an eccentric character, and Mr. March is strangely listless in an aggravating role. Ruth Hussey and Marjorie Main stand out in a competent cast which mostly plays at being Long Island hedonists. Perhaps they even do too good a job in setting a vapid and inconsequential tone.
Joan Crawford provides a strong portrayal of Susan, a mature, matron characterization which is a marked departure for the player. There's still a tinge of the glamor girl in Miss Crawford but role provides the studio with key to future assignments for its star, which might bring her back considerably as a box-office personality. Picture indicates that Miss Crawford studiously followed the Gertrude Lawrence technique in the play in delivering the flighty and rapid-fire dialogue in the early sequences....
Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune (1940):
Since it is what is vaguely known as a woman's picture, the production ultimately depends on Miss Crawford's make-believe. While her characterization of Susan represents the best acting job she has done in a long time, she is not entirely successful in blending silliness with romantic power.
If you've seen Susan and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Michael Lia (January 2010)
Rating: -1/2 of 5
Why shouldn’t Miss Crawford act her role like Gertrude Lawrence from the original stage play? Bette Davis played her pitch the way played The Little Foxes on Broadway. So there!
The film is dangerous because I have lost an audience instantly, especially the opening with Miss Crawford chattering away in God-awful costumes. I have also had a roomful of people enchanted during the entire film! Personally my biggest regret is that my partner absolutely cannot stand this film. It has become a sort of joke and a weapon. I can use the film as a vendetta or as a threat. Kind of like Gable’s Parnell. gave him hell about that flop.
Susan and God is not a flop. It is just plain talky and stagey. Mr. Cukor certainly was snoring when he was near the camera. However, I will agree with most critics of the day that the fascination of this film is the transformation of Miss Crawford from actress glamour-gal to character actress. It is quite a transformation, considering her past roles and past career highlights. She swoops in on this one. It is no fault of Miss Crawford that neither Cukor nor Miss Anita Loos favor the script or her character or the paying audience to any real satisfaction. This time his stage background got in the way, and Miss Loos was working against some odds. She does manage some fun dialogue, but the spark is not always there.
MGM must have respected her talent enough to let her loose once in a while, but remember it is all about the dollar. Miss Crawford can still rake it in. Therefore the film was given all the touches of her past films, with the best available crew and technicians and administrators. This time she is getting the “” treatment -- formerly the Norma Shearer treatment, formerly the Greta Garbo treatment. (Miss Garson will find out the same thing, basically disappearing after 1946.) The top-notch producer will gloss this film over with super MGM gloss.
Miss Crawford looks beautiful and radiant. The cameraman adores her even if the script does not; the clothing adores her if you can get used to some of the wackier outfits. Some outfits are very elegant -- love the outfit she wears to the train station, which adds to the dramatic situation and shows off her face as something like a statute…Hedy Lamarr really has nothing on Miss Crawford.
Fredric March is excellent, even if he is downplaying; I like the guy and it is different casting and a nice change of pace. His scenes with the daughter, played by Rita Quigley (who I honestly know nothing about and I never see her in anything) -- their scenes are mushy and I am sure Mr. Mayer cried when he saw them. They do give a few heart tugs to the story.
The supporting cast is out of this world; they are a bonus and it is fun to watch these expert performers, most of whom are all from the stage, work with Little Miss Motion Picture Star. The thing you have to admire about Miss Crawford the most is that she was not afraid to take chances and she could hold her own with the most talented of performers and actors. She can match them all and that takes confidence and talent:
Rose Hobart (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) is a truly excellent stage actress and never used properly or for long by the studios. She is class, and I am glad she dumps Bruce Cabot (King Kong) -- he just always seems a little sleazy to me and I never liked him after I found out he sued Errol Flynn in the late 50s.
Nigel Bruce (Sherlock Holmes, Suspicion) is amazing and a comfort; he can make a placemat exciting. The fact he plays Rita Hayworth’s old husband is pretty funny, but I guess plausible since these folks are the idle rich, and I have seen plenty of those relationships. Miss Hayworth had just appeared with Cary Grant and in Only Angels Have Wings(1939). Her career is given the preparation once given to Miss Crawford; she is being groomed for the “big time” and hopefully taking lessons from Crawford on how to hold her own. She makes the most out of her tiny role. I am sure Mr. Cukor spent some extra time with her, and it pays off in the near future!
is the most interesting person in the film and she has always been a splendid and alluring actress. She reminds me of Joan Bennett in some of her delivery. I wish the studio gave her more chances; she would have knocked us out! She is wonderful in The Philadelphia story and The Uninvited. Her greatest success came from the stage, however.
Marjorie Main: do I have to say anything? Other than Ruth Hussey, she is the most exciting character and she is so good in her few moments, being very snide and sure of herself and wise to Susan and her antics; she can act with just an eyebrow and she gets her point across with the slightest stinging tone in her voice.
’s success is because of Miss Crawford (as much as you may want to slap her on the head sometimes) and MGM’s stock players, who might have had to hit themselves on the head getting a paycheck this way, having fun nonetheless. Remember, making films was still fun then.
The best remark about this film is from Ida Lupino, who said: “I was just watching Susan and God with that and do you know something? She gets billing over Fredric March and God!"
Way to go Joan!
Above: US movie posters and half-sheet.
Below: Posters from Italy and Argentina.
Below: US lobby cards.
Above: MGM trade ad. Artist: Jacques Kapralik.
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