Monday, August 15, 2016

SUSAN AND GOD (1940)

Barrie Trexel (Fredric March) is a rich but depressed alcoholic whose wife Susan (Joan Crawford) has left him for an extended tour of Europe. Her return gives him hope that she will come back to him—and their young daughter Blossom—but instead she returns full of religion, that of a specific movement headed by Millicent Wigstaff, which requires only love, and confession of sins and shortcomings. Her high society friends welcome her back and are torn between obeying her wish to be kept away from her husband, and Barrie's wish to see her. Meanwhile, Susan, filled with missionary zeal, tries to convert her friends and in the process of getting them to face up to their failings, meddles in their lives to the point of breaking up relationships. However, when it comes to facing up to her own problems, Susan is less enthusiastic and problems erupt all around.

This is an odd duck of a movie. Despite the title and the time taken up with the Wigstaff Movement, the religious content, satirical or otherwise, is minimal. The first half is built like a screwball comedy, and indeed at times the movie has the feel of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY—rich people, big houses, fancy clothes, sophisticated love lives, alcoholism, etc. Joan Crawford even seems to be imitating Katherine Hepburn for a while, though apparently she was actually channeling Gertrude Lawrence who played Susan on stage. But Susan's friends mostly vanish in the last half as the focus becomes family melodrama, and I lost interest. I don't typically find March a good comedy player and nothing he does here changes my mind. Crawford gives a busy, shrill performance, swanning about in lovely clothes but getting on my nerves—of course, her character is supposed to be unlikable, but I also found her unpleasant, and wondered why the hell her husband wanted to get her back. The supporting cast is good: Nigel Bruce is a wealthy middle-aged man recently married to aspiring actress Rita Hayworth, who is carrying on an affair with handsome actor John Carroll; Rose Hobart and Bruce Cabot are a couple whom Crawford insists are wrong for each other; Ruth Hussey is especially good as a family friend who has nursed a long-time crush on March. At two hours, this goes on far too long to a predictable, if unlikely, happy-ish ending. Pictured from left: Crawfored, Carroll, Cabot and Hayworth. [TCM]

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