Ingeniously written by Thomas Monroe, László Görög and Richard Flournoy, and directed to the hilt by William A. Seiter (Roberta, 1935; You Were Never Lovelier, 1942), The Affairs of Susan is one of the funniest Hollywood comedies of the 1940s, thanks mostly to Joan Fontaine’s brilliant, fabulous performance as Susan Darrel, a dynamic woman capable of suiting her personality to the man she is with. The changes that Susan undergoes, and the spirited fun with which she effects and embraces these transformations, testify to her adaptability and also confound her fiancé, who at a gathering listens to the three men in her romantic life each offer a vastly different perception of her. These versions of Susan we see, of course, in flashbacks.
The earliest Susan—Susan prior to any male interference—is a forthright country girl who
always speaks the truth, however rude or inappropriate doing so might be. Theatrical producer Roger Berton (George Brent, good) is drawn to Susan precisely because of her honesty (as well as her looks and intelligence); but, after they marry, he finds this honesty of hers a detriment to his career. (By this time Roger has helped Susan to stardom despite her initial disdain for the idea of her becoming an actress.) They divorce. Having learned from experience, for Mike Ward, a Montana millionaire, Susan becomes deceitful and manipulative, but charmingly, energetically, hilariously so. Exposed, she finds the relationship flying out the window. Another suitor, a writer, finds Susan becoming a sedate, bookish type—this, the least interesting of her incarnations.
It comes as no surprise with whom Susan ends up, in which case the man cedes to her rather than vice versa.
Again, Fontaine riotously sparkles and dazzles—richly, lightly, beautifully, and with breakneck speed.*
In chronological order, here are the ten best comedy performances in Hollywood films of the ’40s:
Margaret Sullavan, The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
Laurence Olivier, Pride and Prejudice (Robert Z. Leonard, 1940)
Charles Chaplin, The Great Dictator (Chaplin, 1940)
Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
William Holden, The Remarkable Andrew (Stuart Heisler, 1942)
Ginger Rogers, Roxie Hart (William A. Wellman, 1942)
Joan Fontaine, The Affairs of Susan
Charles Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin, 1947)
Marlene Dietrich, A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder, 1948)