Tag Archives: Clark Gable

Possessed (1931)

Possessed 1931 Joan Crawford Clark GableMarian Martin (Joan Crawford) is an unrepentant gold digger.  She’s a factory worker from Erie, Pennsylvania, but she would love to be a high society dame.  Her boyfriend Al Manning (Wallace Ford) is a fellow working class guy and is content to stay that way. But Marian knows her only real chance at being a wealthy woman is to marry for money.  On her way home from work one day, she meets the wealthy Wally Stuart (Richard Gallagher) when he passes by on a train.  Wally is drunk at the time and tells Marian to look him up if she’s ever in New York.  When Al finds out that Marian was spending time with another man, he’s livid and his reaction is enough to drive Marian straight to New York.

Marian arrives in New York and goes straight to Wally’s apartment, but he doesn’t remember her.  However, he does give her some advice on meeting rich men.  And as luck would have it, she catches the eye of Wally’s friend Mark Whitney (Clark Gable).  Mark is divorced and doesn’t want to re-marry because he’s afraid of being hurt again.  However, he does turn Marian into a kept woman and they carry on an affair for three years.  He even has her pose as Mrs. Moreland, a rich divorcee, to make their arrangement appear more respectable.

While Marian has been in New York with Mark, Al has been back in Erie starting his own concrete company.  His business is doing well and when he comes to New York on business, he visits Marian and proposes to her, not knowing about her relationship with Mark.  She turns him down, but when he finds out she knows Mark Whitney, he uses her as a connection to get a meeting with Mark.  However, Mark’s attitude toward marriage has changed now that he’s considering running for governor, despite the damage it could do to his campaign.  Not wanting to hurt Mark’s campaign, Marian breaks it off with him to marry Al instead.  But when Al finds out about her affair with Mark, he wants nothing to do with her unless she uses her influence with Mark to help him seal that business deal.  Marian leaves Al, but will Mark take her back?

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight movies together and Possessed is one of the best of the bunch.  Not only is their chemistry completely on point, Possessed is a perfect example of why I’m so fond of many movies from the pre-code era.  It’s full of the boundary-pushing material that makes the era so interesting to many people.  The story is very efficiently told;  Possessed clocks in at a whopping 76 minutes and not a minute of it is wasted.  Plain and simple, it’s a very sharp little movie.

The Secret Six (1931)

The Secret Six 1931 PosterLooking to make some fast money, Scorpio (Wallace Beery) meets with gangsters Johnny Franks (Ralph Bellamy) and Mizoski (Paul Hurst) about joining a bootlegging racket.  They work for Newton (Lewis Stone) and he wants to muscle fellow bootlegger Joe Colimo (John Miljan) out of some of his territory.  Of course, Colimo isn’t about to take that sitting down. He gets into a gunfight with Newton’s guys and Colimo’s brother is killed in the crossfire.  When Colimo comes looking to get even, Johnny tries to set Scorpio up to take the fall, but Scorpio figures out what’s going on and turns the tables on Johnny.

With all the excitement, police and newspaper reporters flock to Newton’s headquarters.  Among them are reporters Hank (John Mack Brown) and Carl (Clark Gable), who take a linking to Newton’s associate Anne (Jean Harlow).  Each of them is hoping to get the scoop from Anne.  After the excitement surrounding Johnny and Colimo dies down, Scorpio  continues to prove to be a valuable asset to the gang and even helps get Mizoski elected as Mayor.  Not content with just running a small town, Scorpio sets his sights on taking over the big city, too.  But the big city doesn’t want Scorpio around. A group called The Secret Six is formed to fight his influence and Carl is recruited to help their cause.

The Secret Six is a somewhat unusual MGM movie in that it has none of the gloss generally associated with MGM movies and instead has all of the grit of a Warner Brothers movie.  Indeed, The Secret Six was produced by Irving Thalberg in an attempt to compete with Warner Brothers’ gangster hits like The Public Enemy. Although The Secret Six is an enjoyable movie with a good cast, it lacks the organic quality that Little Caesar and The Public Enemy have.   It’s a movie that tried so hard to follow a trend that it simply could not have that effortless quality of the trendsetter.

My Favorite Pre-Code Journalists

As you will see with this weekend’s Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon (hosted by Comet Over Hollywood and Lindsay’s Movie Musings), there are plenty of great movies that feature memorable journalists.  Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, All the President’s Men, just to name a few.  But for me, my favorite reporters in movies were all from the pre-code era.

Clark Gable It Happened One NightClark Gable as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night

Now Peter Warne is a reporter who will go to any length to get a good story.  And you gotta admit, he put up with a lot of nonsense from Ellie on their trip together.  But when it comes down to it, Peter isn’t a greedy man.  After falling in love with Ellie, he just wants to publish his story so he can have the money to marry her.  And even when it looks like she’s left him to go back to Westley, he still doesn’t care about the huge reward.  All he wants cares about is getting his expenses reimbursed.

Joan Crawford in Dance, Fools, DanceJoan Crawford as Bonnie Jordan in Dance, Fools, Dance

Bonnie Jordan may be just a rookie reporter, but she also goes the extra mile for her job.  When one of her fellow reporters is killed while investigating gangster Jake Luva (played by Clark Gable), her editor sends her to find out who is responsible for his death.  So Bonnie takes a job dancing in Jake’s nightclub so she can get close to him.  Of course, she ends up biting more than she can chew and even though she gets her story, she decides being a reporter just isn’t right for her after all.  But you’ve certainly got to give her credit for giving it her all.

Glenda Farrell in Mystery of the Wax MuseumGlenda Farrell as Florence Dempsey in Mystery of the Wax Museum

You can always count on Glenda Farrell to bring plenty of sass to her characters and Mystery of the Wax Museum is no exception.  Not only is Florence sassy, she can dig up stories on slow news days and is smart enough to figure out what’s really happening at the wax museum.  Every newspaper needs a Florence Dempsey type on their staff.

James Cagney in Picture SnatcherJames Cagney as Danny Keane in Picture Snatcher

Gotta love Danny Keane.  After giving up being a gangster, he decides to pursue his lifelong dream of being a newspaper reporter.  He doesn’t work at the best paper in town, but he makes the most of the opportunity.  Danny is clever, resourceful, and not afraid to break the rules, so he excels at getting some hard-to-get pictures for the paper.  Even though he’s not the most ethical journalist, he’s not cold and ruthless, either.  When he goes too far on the job and ends up hurting the girl he’s fallen in love with, he feels just awful about it.

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For more contributions to the Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon, head on over to Comet Over Hollywood or Lindsay’s Movie Musings.

Cain and Mabel (1936)

Cain and Mabel Poster

When Aloysius K. Reilly (Roscoe Karns) accidentally causes waitress Mabel O’Dare (Marion Davies) to lose her job, Reilly is determined to find her an even better job.  Mabel insists that waiting tables is her only skill, but when Reilly finds out she can dance a little, he tries turning her into a Broadway star.  He finagles his way into meeting producer Jake Sherman and is nearly thrown out of the theater.  But when the star of the show suddenly quits, Jake hires Mabel anyway.

Mabel is hardly a great dancer, so the night before the show opens, she spends the night practicing her routines in a hotel room.  Unfortunately, she happens to be staying in the room above boxer Larry Cain (Clark Gable), who is trying to rest before a big match.  Her dancing keeps him awake and when he tries to tell her to keep it down, he’s met with a rude response.  But when both Larry and Mabel could use a little publicity, Reilly comes up with the idea of staging a romance between the two of them for the press.

Larry and Mabel loathe each other, but they go along with the charade.  However, Larry starts to warm to Mabel when he finds out that she comes from a working class background. He admits that he’d rather be a mechanic than a boxer and Mabel loves the idea of quitting the stage, marrying him, and helping him turn his dream into a reality.  They plan to elope, but when Reilly and the other people working for them find out, they want to put a stop to it.  They feed the story to the newspapers, making Mabel and Larry think the other one sold them out.  They go their separate ways, but when Mabel finds out the truth, she makes a mad dash to save their relationship.

Cain and Mabel is a cute, but not particularly noteworthy movie.  The plot is nonsense, but it’s likeable enough.  Clark Gable is fine in his part, but unfortunately, Marion Davies’ role just doesn’t suit her talents.  Marion was a gifted comedienne but aside from some snappy lines, she doesn’t get to put her comedic skills to good use in Cain in Mabel.  Instead she was put in a couple of musical numbers that really slow down the movie.  But this is hardly the worst movie I’ve seen from either Gable or Davies, so if you’re a big fan of either of them, it’s worth seeing at least once.

Laughing Sinners (1931)

For two years, nightclub dancer Ivy Stevens (Joan Crawford) has been carrying on an affair with traveling salesman Howdy Palmer (Neil Hamilton).  Howdy means the absolute world to Ivy, but what she doesn’t know is that he’s about to leave her to marry another woman.  He knows how heartbroken she would be and can’t bring himself to end things in person, so he leaves a note for her to find as soon as she’s done on stage one night.

Ivy is so devastated that she wants to throw herself off a bridge, but just as she’s about to jump, Salvation Army worker Carl Loomis (Clark Gable) stops her and offers her some reassuring words.  He also invites her to join him at a picnic for disadvantaged children he’ll be working at.  Ivy turns him down at first, but when she reads about Howdy’s wedding in the newspaper, she changes her mind.  That afternoon, she trades her flashy clothing for the more modest Salvation Army uniform.

Time passes and Howdy isn’t happy with his marriage, so when he runs into Ivy one day, he tries to rekindle their relationship.  But by then, Ivy has found happiness with Carl and in her new, more wholesome life, so she turns him down.  Howdy doesn’t want to let her go and continues to pressure her into getting back together with him, and eventually she gives in.  Ivy had thought her past was now firmly behind her, but being with Howdy again has brought out her former self again.  When she starts dancing around the way she used to, she catches the attention of everyone in her hotel, including Carl.  She’s horrified for Carl to see her that way, but ultimately, she realizes the life she could lead with Carl is the one that would bring her the most happiness.

Laughing Sinners has a pretty mediocre story, but if you’re a big fan of either Crawford or Gable, it’s worth seeing just for the sake of seeing them working together for the second time.  Crawford gave a pretty engaging performance and there’s a definite rapport between her and Gable, but he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable playing a Salvation Army worker.  It’s easy to forgive Gable for being awkward, though, since this is another very early movie in his career and it’s not surprising that MGM wanted to see how he’d do as a different type of character.  But really, even if Gable had totally hit it out of the park, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference since the story is so flimsy, it was never going to amount to a great movie. Any other Crawford/Gable pairing is more worth your time.

A Free Soul (1931)

Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer) and her father Stephen(Lionel Barrymore) have a very close relationship.  Even though a lot of their family judges Stephen for his alcoholism, Jan stands by him every step of the way. When she and Stephen are invited to a family dinner, Jan’s grandmother asks her to keep an eye on Stephen and make sure he doesn’t drink. But sure enough, he shows up to dinner drunk.  Not only does he come over drunk, he brings gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) along with him.  Stephen is an attorney and had just defended him in court earlier that day.

Even though she’s engaged to Dwight Wintrhop (Leslie Howard), Jan is very attracted to Ace, who she finds much more exciting than Dwight.  They start seeing each other and before long, Ace asks Stephen for permission to marry Jan.  Stephen does not approve of their relationship, but that doesn’t stop Jan from seeing him.  However, when Jan finally can’t take any more of Stephen’s boozing, she makes a deal with him that she’ll leave Ace if he quits drinking. Stephen and Jan take a trip out of town to get their minds off their vices and at first, all is going well for them.  But as soon as they get home again, they’re right back where they started.

When Jan goes to see Ace, he’s angry at her for leaving him and insists they get married right away.  She doesn’t want to marry him and wants to go back to Dwight, but Ace continues to force her into it.  Finally, Dwight is ready to put an end to this once and for all and shoots Ace.  Dwight owns up to it and is willing to take the fall for everything, just to keep Jan’s name out of the whole mess.  But Stephen isn’t willing to let him throw his life away and makes a very dramatic appearance in court to defend him.

A Free Soul isn’t one of my favorites, the story really drags at times.  But it does have some excellent performances and it’s worth seeing for that reason alone.  Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, and Clark Gable all shine in it.  Barrymore won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance, Shearer earned a Best Actress nomination, and it was a big breakthrough for Gable, who was pretty new to the film world at the time.  Leslie Howard was also a movie newcomer then, and he’s fine in A Free Soul, but he wasn’t given a chance to do very much in it. Of course, it’s interesting to see Gable and Howard together in a movie as newcomers eight years before they co-starred in Gone With the Wind when they were both at the peaks of their careers.

Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1931)

Born out of wedlock to a mother who died in childbirth, Helga (Greta Garbo) is left to be raised by her strict uncle Karl (Jean Hersholt). When Karl tries to force Helga into marrying Jeb Mondstrom (Alan Hale), she runs away in the middle of a thunderstorm.  She makes her way to a house where architect Rodney Spencer (Clark Gable) is staying.  Rodney invites her in, gives her something dry to wear, and lets her stay with him for the night.

The next day, Helga repays Rodney’s kindness by making breakfast for him before continuing to run away.  But Rodney really likes her and persuades her to stay with him.  They fall madly in love with each other, Rodney even proposes to her, but then Karl and Jeb track her down and she has to leave town immediately.  She hops the next train out, which happens to be a train full of circus performers. Madame Panoramia (Cecil Cunningham), the tattooed lady, sympathizes with Helga’s plight and helps her get a job with the circus as a dancer.

Helga changes her name to Susan Lenox and keeps in touch with Rodney, hoping to meet with him again. But when Karl and Jeb track her down, she has to start having an affair with the circus’ owner in exchange for helping her hide from them.  Eventually, Susan and Rodney are reunited, but their happiness is short lived. Rodney finds out about Susan and the circus owner, but he doesn’t understand why she’s done it and leaves her.

A heartbroken Rodney falls into a deep depression while Susan goes from man to man, eventually winding up as the girlfriend of Mike Kelly (Hale Hamilton),a prominent but crooked politician. When Mike and Susan throw a fancy dinner party, Susan makes a point of inviting Rodney for the sole purpose of degrading him in front of all her high society friends.  But in the end, it only makes her realize that she still loves him.  She travels from city to city looking for him, taking any job she can get along the way.  Eventually, she makes her way to South America where she meets up with Rodney again while singing in a bar.  At first, Rodney is too drunk to be open to reconciling the way she wants to. But when he sobers up the next day, he and Susan are finally able to put the past behind them once and for all.

If you like melodrama, you’re in luck because Susan Lenox has got melodrama to spare!  Considering this was an adaptation of a nearly six hundred page book by David Graham Phillips, it’s safe to say that the movie is an extremely condensed version of the story.  The movie could have benefited from a slower pace, but Garbo is fantastic in it.  Even though she and Gable didn’t get along off screen, they worked pretty well together on screen.

Susan Lenox also features some very beautiful, atmospheric cinematography.  Some of the scenes in the beginning of the movie look straight out of a German expressionist film. I’d say this is one of Garbo’s more underrated films.  It’s not in the same league as Queen Christina or Ninotchka, but it is still a pretty enjoyable movie.

The Hucksters (1947)

After coming home from World War II, Vic Norman (Clark Gable) wants to get back into the advertising business.  When he lands an interview with Mr. Kimberly (Adolphe Menjou) at Kimberly Advertising Agency, their meeting is interrupted by Evan Llewellyn Evans (Sidney Greenstreet), the very demanding head of Beautee Soap, their biggest client.  Evans wants them to get socialite Kay Dorrance (Deborah Kerr) for a new ad campaign and Vic volunteers to talk to her into it.  When he arrives at her apartment, the two of them hit it off and he has no problem getting her to agree.  On the day of the photo shoot, Kay is unhappy with the negligee she is asked to wear and Vic stands up for her and gets them to photograph her with her children wearing a respectable evening gown. Evans isn’t happy when he finds out Vic disregarded their idea, but when he hears a radio spot produced by Vic, he’s won over.

Vic continues to see Kay and he wants to take her to The Blue Penguin Inn, a place in Connecticut he liked to visit before going to fight in the war.  But when he gets there, he finds out the place has gone downhill while he was away.  When Kay arrives, she doesn’t see Vic, but she finds out they would be staying in adjoining rooms and gets the wrong idea and leaves.  Vic is heartbroken, but his weekend is soon interrupted when Evans wants to have a Sunday meeting.  He wants Beautee Soap to have a radio show starring comedian Buddy Hare (Keenan Wynn), so he sends Vic out on the next train to Hollywood to sign a deal with him and get started working on the show.

On the train, Vic runs into his former girlfriend Jean Ogilvie (Ava Gardner).  It’s a good thing they’re still friendly with each other, because Jean is able to help Vic talk to Buddy’s agent David Lash (Edward Arnold) and he gets Buddy to do the show for a good price.  While working on the show in Hollywood, Vic and Jean rekindle their relationship, but Jean can see that Vic still loves Kay.  By then, Kay has come around and Vic finds her waiting for him one night.  Vic proposes and he becomes focused on being the best provider he can be.

Vic is determined to be the best provider he can be for Kay and her children, so when it turns out there’s a problem with Buddy’s contract, he resorts to doing some pretty awful things to get Lash to fix it.  But Vic honestly likes Lash and immediately feels awful about it.  He hates what the advertising business has done to him and decides to tell Evans off and leave while he still has his dignity.

The Hucksters has a lot going for it, but it could have been a stronger movie overall.  Clark Gable was very good in it and Deborah Kerr wasn’t bad, either.  This was Kerr’s first American film, so it’s too bad she didn’t really have very much to do in it.  Even though I liked them both separately, I wasn’t really sold on Gable and Kerr together.  I thought he had much more chemistry with Ava Gardner.  The supporting cast was excellent, particularly Sidney Greenstreet (who was so perfect for that role), Adolphe Menjou, and Keenan Wynn.

The Hucksters is just under two hours long, but I felt like it could have been a little bit shorter.  It also seemed like it should have packed more of a punch, but it didn’t quite get there.  The Hucksters was based on a 1946 novel by Frederic Wakeman, which from what I’ve heard, was pretty scandalous.  Clark Gable himself called the book filthy, so I can imagine the movie was a pretty heavily sanitized adaptation.  Maybe the novel has more of the impact I felt like the movie should have had.

Night Flight (1933)

Delivering the mail by air through South America is a dangerous game and Riviére (John Barrymore) is determined to be the best at it.  He manages a mail-carrying airline and stops at nothing to uphold his its reputation for punctuality.  Even the owners of the airline think he’s too strict with the pilots.  He doesn’t even like airline employees to be friends with each other outside of work.  When he finds out that his inspector Robineau (Lionel Barrymore) had dinner with pilot Auguste Pellerin (Robert Montgomery), he forces Robineau to give Auguste a citation for something he didn’t do just to prove to Auguste that being friends with a higher-up won’t do him any favors.

Riviére also fines the pilots 200 Francs if they’re late, which means the pilots often find themselves flying through dangerous situations even though common sense would suggest they land.  When Auguste has to make a flight to Buenos Aires, he runs into some very treacherous conditions along the way.  He gets there ten minutes behind schedule, but luckily he does make it.

Meanwhile, pilot Jules Fabian (Clark Gable) is making his first night flight.  His wife Simone (Helen Hayes) is waiting for him at home with a nice dinner, eagerly awaiting his return.  He’s flown that route before so she has no reason to suspect there will be any problems.  Everything is going smoothly for Jules until he unexpectedly gets caught in a terrible storm.  Rather than land, Jules keeps on going through the storm, loses communication with ground control, and gets thrown off course.  The airline frantically tries to make contact with Jules and Simone starts to worry when she finds out he’s been delayed. When she tries to contact Riviére, he won’t tell her anything, which only upsets her more.  She knows that he would be running low on fuel by then.

Despite Jules being lost, Riviére pushes ahead with the schedule and calls a Brazilian pilot (William Gargan) to deliver some mail to Rio de Janeiro, which his wife (Myrna Loy) begs him not to do.  Despite her protests, he goes ahead with the flight and manages to make it safely.  However, Jules isn’t nearly as lucky.  Lost over the ocean with no fuel left, Jules and his wireless operator have no other choice but to jump from the plane into the dangerous waters.

I really wanted to love Night Flight, and I did enjoy it, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with it and I’m having a hard time pinpointing exactly why.  I loved the cinematography and I really liked Helen Hayes, especially in the scene where Simone has dinner by herself and pretends Jules is there with her.  And, of course, it does have some pretty exciting flight scenes.

If you’re curious about Night Flight because of its cast, don’t go into it expecting to see a lot of interaction between all these great stars because you will be let down.  For example, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy have no scenes together.  In fact, Myrna Loy doesn’t even have a very big role and most of Clark Gable’s scenes are him by himself.  But that isn’t what disappointed me about the movie.  Like I said, I really wanted to love Night Flight, but something about it just didn’t resonate with me the way I hoped it would.  If I had my choice, I’d definitely pick Only Angels Have Wings over Night Flight, but I’m really glad Night Flight is finally becoming available after being out of circulation since 1941.  If you like movies about aviation or you’re a big fan of anyone in the cast, it’s worth seeing, but there are better movies about pilots and all of the cast has been in better movies.

Recasting “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” (2008)

After being fired from her job as a governess, a very straight-laced Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) finds herself deemed unemployable by her employment agency.  But when she hears about a job for a woman named Delysia LaFosse (Amy Adams), she jumps at the chance to get it.  When she arrives at Delysia’s apartment, she expects she will be taking care of children.  Instead, she finds herself taking care of an aspiring actress tangled up in a love triangle.  First there’s the young theater producer, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne), who is putting on a play that Delysia desperately wants the lead in.  She’s trying to keep him interested in her and not her rival Charlotte Warren.  Then there’s Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong), who owns the nightclub Delysia sings at.  He’s the one footing the bill for her lavish apartment and expensive clothes.  And last but not least, there’s Michael (Lee Pace), the piano player who just got out of jail.  He isn’t rich and doesn’t have the influence Nick and Phil do, but he does genuinely love her.

Over the course of one day, Guinevere helps Delysia get out of various messes and Delysia, in turn, helps Guinevere learn to embrace life.  Delysia takes Guinevere to her friend Edythe’s (Shirley Henderson) salon and gives her a makeover.  It turns out that Edythe and Guinevere have a little dirt on each other.  They had bumped into each other on the street the night before Guinevere came to Delysia’s, so Edythe knows Guinevere isn’t really the social secretary Delysia thinks she is.  But Guinevere saw Edythe out with a man who isn’t her lingerie designer boyfriend Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds).  When Delysia takes Guinevere with her to a lingerie show, Guinevere meets Joe for herself and the two of them are instantly attracted to each other.

Although released in 2008, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was actually intended to be made as a movie in 1941.  Originally, it was a novel by Winifred Watson released in 1937, and she later sold the film rights to Universal Studios in 1939.  Universal held on to it for a little while and by 1941, had plans to turn it into a musical starring Billie Burke as Miss Pettigrew.  Watson was very eager to see “Miss Pettigrew…” turned into a movie, but unfortunately, the project was shelved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  In 1954, Universal renewed the rights to the story, but again, nothing ever became of it.  Watson died in 2002 believing her story would never make it to the silver screen.

The novel was released in 1937, but I wish it had been released just a few years earlier because I think “Miss Pettigrew” would have made a great pre-code had it been around in 1934.  Delysia’s bed-hopping to further her career is hardly a secret, there’s lots of lingerie, and the book contains drug references.  I’m very curious about how Universal planned to get around some of these issues in 1941.  The drug references were gone in the 2008 movie, so those could easily been cut out in 1941, but whitewashing Delysia’s bed-hopping would have definitely been a challenge.  I also would have pegged this for an MGM movie rather than a Universal.

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