Saturday, February 2, 2013

Garbo vs. Gable: The Talkies Have Won

Susan Lenox (Her fall and Rise)....the fall of silence, the rise of sound
Garbo and Gable: what a pair! MGM was notoriously dense when providing Garbo with a suitable leading man, but here they nailed it.
They walk in beauty

In 1931, Greta Garbo was more than a queen of the movies. Like the empress of some remote, exotic land, she retained her air of mystery and wonder as talking pictures smashed, as Norma Desmond said, “the idols of the world.” Garbo survived sound. Her deep, accented growl complimented her image. But sound, combined with the changing tastes of depression-era audiences, also robbed her of some of her power. She moved with authority in the movie-worlds of satins and furs, of heavy sighs and sophisticated shrugs. But by 1931, audiences craved something more realistic, something grittier, something so un-Garbo.

She had proved that she could knock back a viskey with the best of them in her first talkie, Anna Christie (1930). After a few more sophisticated roles, MGM again walked the pre-code tightrope with Garbo in 1931’s Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise).
Garbo and Gable play house
Based on a scandalous book of the same name, Garbo plays an illegitimate and abused farm girl who is sold into marriage to a man she finds repugnant and who tries to rape her before their wedding. Determined not to marry the lout, she rushes off into a storm and lands in the nice comfy home of none other than Clark Gable. And here the story become unlike anything Garbo did before or since.

In 1931, the pre-mustache Gable was just beginning his long rein as the king of Hollywood. No matter how ordinary Garbo is made to look in this film, she is never just a regular gal. Can you imagine finding Garbo in your barn in a storm? Gable, however, no matter how gorgeous, always comes across natural and at ease and just an ordinary guy who happens to to look like a movie star. He is modern, she is timeless.

Mustache or no mustache - HOT
Garbo as the farmer's daughter
The story is wild, with Garbo joining a circus, living as the mistress of a crooked politician and finally chasing Gable, who has rejected her,  to the jungles of South America where both (he a drunk and she a not-quite prostitute/dancer) are reconciled. She gets to wear an array of fantastic Adrian designs and is more "regular" than she ever appeared before or since. The scene where Gable teaches her to fish is adorable. Garbo is many things, but she is rarely cute or adorable. It is great fun to see her this way.

Garbo laughs - and fishes!
Hard working circus professional

A celestial vision

So, here is Garbo, giving her usual  fine performance, looking spectacular and having a grand old time and it is Gable who, I think, dominates. He is new, he is bright and, yes, he is the future and there is no turning back.

Passing the torch

While is has been said that Garbo and Gable did not like one another, their chemistry is undeniable. So much so that Garbo was given first crack at re-teaming with Gable in Red Dust. After Garbo declined, the role went to Jean Harlow, another nod to the future. Garbo would go on to give 10 more magical performances before retreating to the realm of the gods - her true home. Gable would continue as a star of the first magnitude for another 30 years.


Page said...

Gable really did have a way of making his leading ladies shine.
I had forgotten about the cute 'fishing scene' until now.

This was such a great read but it makes me a bit sad that Garbo retired when she did as she was great in comedies and given the leading men and comedic scripts she had a lot of great roles left in her.

Oh, as shy as Garbo was, I can't believe that the studio got her in the very patriotic pasties. WOW! (She had a great body!)
I hope you're having a great weekend.

Kimberly J.M. Wilson said...

Okay, I know I saw Susan Lennox, but I don't remember her weraing that "celestial vision" outfit. How wild!

Silver Screenings said...

I laughed at your description of Garbo's voice as a "growl" - so true!

Jan Miner said...

Love this post! Fun to read and made me want to see the movie.

FlickChick said...

Hi Page! It it sad that Garbo stopped making movies, but at least she went out on top. She survived sound, but she truly was of the silents.

FlickChick said...

Kim - can you believe that outfit? I wish Garbo had been allowed to be a little racier - she did it with gusto.

FlickChick said...

silverscreenings - well, she did kinda of growl, didn't she?

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Jan- It was a fun one.


This is a Garbo film I have yet to check. I read that she didn't get along with Gable, but it still makes the film worth-seeing. At least I love Gable's pairings with Jean!

Christian Esquevin said...

Nice selection FlickChick and a great write-up of an unusual and historic movie. Garbo and Gable! Of course he made various screen couplings seem perfect and inevitable. Garbo must have sensed the animal magnetism in him and he must have tried to capture the iconic female essence in her. We should have had more of them together.

The Lady Eve said...

FlickChick, I'm one who thinks Garbo retired right on time. She created a mystique when she left the screen that served her legend well (and it certainly beats dying young). I don't think I've seen Susan Lenox (hopefully I'd remember Gable and Garbo!) - well, I'm looking for it now.

Kevyn Knox said...

Great look at this film...and at Garbo and Gable. This is one of the few Garbo's I have yet to see. Well, I guess I need to change that...and quick-like.

Lasso The Movies said...

What a pair. Their electricity together is undeniable and I wish they had worked together more. If only this film had come with the tag line " Garbo Fishes!"

FlickChick said...

Le - I read that she and Gable didn't hit it off, either, but seeing her with a real red-blooded man upped her appeal for sure.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. Garbo looked so amazing in this film. It really plays like a cheap pre-code, but Garbo, Gable and Adrian lift it to the heavens.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - I hope you get to see it - it's a hoot. And yes, she was right to retire. She was essentially a silent star and she wisely knew the best was behind her.

FlickChick said...

Hi Kevin - oh I sure hope you get to see Garbo being a real girl! And star power is written all over Gable.

FlickChick said...

Paul - Yes - Garbo fishes! Garbo giggles! Time for a re-release!

Unknown said...

I just saw this film not to long ago.. I really enjoyed it.. Greta Garbo, plays the vulnerable young woman, who grows into a more sophisticated woman, that you will have high hopes for until the very end..

Clark Gable, is not wearing his famous mustache, but once you get past that... he gives a good early performance.