I am Suzanne! (1933)

I AM SUZANNE! (1933)
Article 4173 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-6-2013
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Lilian Harvey, Gene Raymond, Leslie Banks
Country: USA
What it is: Musical romance

A dancer falls in love with a puppeteer, much to the consternation of her manipulative manager. The puppeteer himself seems more interested in his puppets than in romance with her. Can she find true love?

The above plot description doesn’t really capture the bizarre and surreal flavor of this strange but compelling movie. The two putative stars are merely okay (among the actors, it’s Leslie Banks who steals the show as the unctuous manipulative manager), but the real star of the movie is The Yale Puppeteers, who handled the fascinating elaborate marionette work used throughout the production. The script (by director Lee and Edwin Justus Meyer) is also surprisingly sturdy, using the whole puppet theme as a metaphor for the way the title character is manipulated and controlled by others in her life; it’s fitting that the title of the movie is uttered by two other characters before Suzanne has the strength to say it herself. The movie has a few fantasy elements; a snowman comes to life in an early musical number, and there’s a dream sequence where Suzanne finds herself on trial for murdering a puppet. The final sequence us a combination of live action and puppet show in which Satan is shown to be a cruel puppet master capable of controlling and destroying those under him, and this adds some horror to the proceedings as well. The end result is truly unusual, and is particularly recommended to fans of puppetry. It’s one of those movies that inhabits its own unique place in the world of cinema; there’s really nothing else quite like it out there.

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