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.