publicity shot of Rita for Susan and God (1940) Susan and God (1940)

A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture

Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Directed by George Cukor

Screenplay by Anita Loos,
from play by Rachel Crothers, as produced
on stage by John Golden

Joan Crawford as Susan Trexel
Fredric March as Barrie Trexel
Ruth Hussey as Charlotte Marley
John Carroll as Clyde Rochester
Rita Hayworth as Leonora Stubbs
Nigel Bruce as Hutchins Stubbs
Bruce Cabot as Michael O'Hara
Rita Quigley as Blossom Trexel

Gowns by Adrian

Black and White, 117 mins. running time

Susan and God started off Rita's movie career for the year 1940 in grand style. She had been loaned out to MGM. And what does that mean? For one thing it was a sign of Rita's emergence from lowly starlet to potential star. In Hollywood's Golden Era, MGM was the most prestigious of filmmaking studios. It meant that for the first time, a film Rita worked on would receive the utmost attention to detail. There was a top director (George Cukor) at the helm, gowns by Adrian and hairstyles created by the equally brilliant Sydney Guilaroff. The screenplay was adapted from a hit Broadway show by Rachel Crothers and the star was Joan Crawford, who was then trying to revive her career after having been labeled "Box-Office Poison" in 1938 (Along with other screen greats such as Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich). Meanwhile, Rita joined the ensemble cast in the supporting role of Leonora. George Cukor had tested her in the past to play Katharine Hepburn's sister in the movie Holiday (1938). It was an important part that Cukor decided she was not yet ready for, but he kept her in mind. Now that she was more experienced, he chose her for Susan and God.
Our story begins as a rather depressed Barrie Trexel (Fredric March) drowns his sorrows at the Hunt Club in New York. His estranged wife, Susan (Joan Crawford), is returning from Europe shortly. Barrie would do anything to get her back, so he cleans himself up and decides to quit drinking. He picks up their daughter, Blossom (Rita Quigley), from boarding school and they go to meet Susan's ship. But she has left word that she has come ashore at another port. Susan did this because as far as she's concerned, it's all over between she and Barrie. Furthermore, she is accompanied by an important new person in her life, Lady Wigstaff (Constance Collier). Not knowing what state Barrie would be in, Susan thought it better to avoid a possibly embarrassing encounter. From there, a high-spirited Susan proceeds to the Long Island estate of Irene Burrows (Rose Hobart). A few other friends are over for the weekend. Brimming with enthusiasm, Susan tells them all of her discovery -she has found God.

While in Europe, Susan immersed herself in a new religious movement founded by Lady Wigstaff -all about "Love! Love! Love! -For other people, not for yourself." Everyone gets a big kick out of her ravings -she can't be serious- especially when Susan tells them she confessed before the entire having her hair touched up! But they soon find out how involved she really is. Susan begins preaching and trying to tell them all how to improve their lives. First there's Irene, who's involved with another man, though she is not yet divorced. Then there's Leonora (Rita Hayworth), the young wife of a rich older man. Susan tries to bring her together with a younger man everyone knows she loves, and loves her, an actor named Clyde (John Carroll). And finally there's Charlotte (Ruth Hussey), who had been Barrie's girlfriend until Susan showed up. She's a genuinely nice girl, but like the others, uninterested in Lady Wigstaff's movement. Susan makes it her mission to make these people see the error of their ways.

By the end of the night, Susan has driven everyone to distraction with her theatrics. Not only is she butting in to their lives, she is oblivious to that fact that her own life is a mess. The one thing that can squelch Susan's exuberance is the mere mention of the name Barrie. He and Blossom are lonesome for her. Susan's through with Barrie and not close with Blossom, so she has no desire to return to them. Barrie convinces her to spend the summer with he and Blossom at their estate in the country when he promises to stay sober, and if he messes up even once, he'll agree to give her a divorce. Susan is counting on him not being able to live up to his end of the bargain so she can be free of him. Meanwhile, Blossom is ecstatic to have some semblance of a family again, and Barrie is determined to show them that he can be a good father and husband.

Once at the estate, Susan is tentative and her attitude toward Blossom cold. She's itching to go back to her work of spreading Lady Wigstaff's movement. Barrie is as unconvinced about her newfound spirituality as their friends are. He can see an underlying phoniness about the situation, but there's no use arguing the point to Susan. Meanwhile, Barrie makes up for lost time with Blossom. He hadn't been much of a father up to then, but they soon become close. Things become so pleasant around the house that eventually even Susan gets into the spirit of things. She begins spending quality time with Blossom and gets to work turning her awkward adolescent into an attractive young lady. Blossom has never been happier and she begins planning a grand party for her upcoming birthday. But she and Barrie soon discover that family is still not as important to Susan as Lady Wigstaff. Blossom's party has been scheduled for the same day as a convention about the movement, at which Susan is to be the main speaker. She refuses to back out, even though it means hurting Blossom. When Susan tells Barrie she plans to skip the party, that's the last straw. He realizes there's no hope for the three of them to be a family. He tells her he wouldn't mind if she were genuinely dedicated to helping people find God, but he knows it's the "emotional excitement" that has captured her attention. Then Barrie runs out, leaving Susan to think about his words.

At the station, about to leave to join Lady Wigstaff, Susan realizes what's really in her heart -Barrie and Blossom. She now wants to go back to her daughter and give her marriage a chance to survive. Meanwhile, Barrie has fallen off the wagon and asks his old flame, Charlotte, to marry him. It's with a heavy heart that Charlotte turns him down, knowing he's still in love with Susan and, after talking to Susan, that she loves him, too. Susan then tells Barrie she knows she's been wrong. She was not allowing herself to have a real relationship with God. Barrie's dream for her to realize this has finally come true and he, Susan and Blossom can now make a fresh start.

Unfortunately, in MGM's zeal to create a sure-fire hit, the film was met with harsh criticism from reviewers who thought it overdone and lacking the charm that had made the stage version so popular. The bulk of the blame was placed squarely on the highly padded shoulders of Joan Crawford, whom they thought miscast as Susan Trexel. However, the reviews were kinder to the supporting players. Rita's part was small but showy and she looked marvelous, wearing the loveliest clothes and hairstyles she had worn in a film up to that date. It was a real glamour girl role she could carry off easily and lead to offers of supporting roles in other big productions, but instead Harry Cohn brought her home to Columbia Pictures for her next film, The Lady in Question.

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