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Film / Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise)

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Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) is a 1931 film directed by Robert Z. Leonard.

Helga Ohlin (Greta Garbo) grows up in an abusive household with an uncle who treats her like a slave, Helga being born of an unwed mother. When her uncle tries to marry her off to a man who tries to get ahead of the wedding by raping her, Helga runs away.

She runs off on a dark and stormy night and makes her way to the house rented by Rodney Spencer (Clark Gable), an architect who is designing a new bridge. Naturally, they fall in love. But Rodney has to go away for a while to turn in the blueprints for his bridge, and while he's gone Helga's awful uncle and his rapey friend find her, so she has to run away...and many more romantic complications ensue, some of which involve Helga taking the name "Susan Lenox".

The only film Gable and Garbo made together in the decade that they both worked for MGM.

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Tropes:

  • Alcohol Hic: An unusual Played for Drama example, as Jeb Mondstrum, the farmer that Helga has been promised to in marriage, does this. He does this after he's broken into her room, drunk, trying to rape her.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: A big kiss at the end as Helga and Rodney finally get together after all their trials and tribulations.
  • Death by Childbirth: Helga's mother dies in childbirth at the start of the movie. Her Uncle Karl's Establishing Character Moment comes when he says that maybe they should let the baby die too, since her mother (his sister) wasn't married.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Rodney has a habit of going on alcoholic benders after he and Helga part ways. Their separation after the circus encounter causes him to go on a drinking binge that loses him a construction job. Later, in Mexico, he tells her that he is constantly drunk whenever he's off work to stop himself from thinking of her.
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  • Empathic Environment: Torrential thunder and driving rain are the backdrop to the night where Helga barely escapes being raped by Jeb, running away to Rodney's house.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Another worker in the circus christens Helga Ohlin "Susan Lenox" because their train is pulling away from a town called Lenoxville.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Rodney flips his lid when he tracks down Helga at the circus, only to find that she is the lover of the abusive rapist circus master. His overreaction in this moment, angrily stalking off, triggers many more plot complications.
  • New Year Has Come: Helga meets rich New York aristocrat Mike Kelly at a New Year's party. She becomes his mistress.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Helga and Rodney's relationship keeps getting complicated by their failure to express their true feelings to each other. Rodney loses his mind when he finds that Helga has been the kept woman of the circus owner. He angrily rejects her, stalking off, then comes to his senses and returns—only to find that she has left for parts unknown. Later, when Helga has become The Mistress to a rich guy, she invites Rodney to a party just to rub his face in it. She comes to her senses after, seeks out Rodney in his boarding house to express her love—then finds that he has left, for parts unknown.
  • Romantic False Lead: The ending finds Helga in some run-down Mexican port village. A rich American named Robert likes her and wants to marry her. Will she accept marriage and living in the lap of luxury? Of course not, because she still loves Rodney.
  • Rom Com Job: Rodney doesn't have some boring job, no, he's an architect.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Helga is wearing such a dress when she meets her sugar daddy Mike Kelly at the New Year's party. And she's wearing another sexy backless dress at the party where she deliberately invites Rodney just to taunt him.
  • Time Passes Montage: A shadow cast on the wall of a farmhouse shows the moment that Helga is born, as the doctor slaps her on the butt to get her to cry. Then a series of shadows on the wall grow taller as Helga grows up, as dialogue shows how her uncle treats her like a slave.
  • Title Drop: Sort of. As a well-meaning man in the Mexican brothel offers to help Helga get back together with Rodney, she says "This time, I rise—or fall—alone."
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