Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Susan and God (1940)

A year after directing an all-star cast in THE WOMEN, George Cukor directed another tremendous cast in SUSAN AND GOD.

Joan Crawford, who was one of THE WOMEN, here plays the title role of Susan Trexel, a silly, selfish socialite who believes she has "found God." Susan ignores her alcoholic husband (Fredric March) and awkward adolescent daughter (Rita Quigley) while trying to tell those in her social circle how to live their lives.

Susan's friends include Charlotte (Ruth Hussey), who carries a torch for Susan's husband, and actress Leonora (Rita Hayworth) who loves fellow actor Clyde (John Carroll) but has married wealthy Hutchins (Nigel Bruce). While most of Susan's friends aren't very well fleshed out, Hussey gives a particularly fine performance; the film's energy level picks up considerably whenever she comes onscreen.

Bruce Cabot, Rose Hobart, and Constance Collier are also in the cast. Marjorie Main adds pep as Susan's skeptical housekeeper, who delights in Susan's newfound familiarity, calling her employer "Susan" rather than "Mrs. Trexel" at every opportunity.

Fans of Gloria DeHaven, Joan Leslie, and Susan Peters will enjoy glimpsing them as Blossom's friends who come for a weekend visit. DeHaven has the most substantial role of the three, an amusing turn as a teenage would-be femme fatale. Dan Dailey (billed as Dan Dailey Jr.) has a very small bit part as a publicity agent.

Crawford's Susan -- wearing a bizarre wardrobe by Adrian -- is so shallow for most of the film that it is a bit wearying to watch her endless giddiness. It is only in the last 15 minutes or so of the movie, when Susan stops acting and honestly assesses her life, her motivations, and her family, that the movie really takes off.

March is superb, as always, although because he's so convincing, it's painful watching him play his character's drunk scenes. Quigley is excellent as the shy daughter who craves her parents' love and attention.

The film was based on a Gertrude Lawrence play, which costarred Paul McGrath as Susan's husband and Nancy Kelly as their daughter. The film's origins as a play are quite evident at times, with characters entering and exiting scenes in a very obvious, stagy manner.

SUSAN AND GOD was shot in black and white and runs 117 minutes.

SUSAN AND GOD is available on VHS.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

All in all, SUSAN AND GOD is a bit of a misfire which lacks depth, yet it is worth watching due to its excellent cast.

Update: SUSAN AND GOD is now available on made-to-order DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


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