Clark Gable

Blogging Under the Stars 2015

Site News, Movie Memorabilia, and a Liebster!

Hey everyone! Sorry for being a rather infrequent blogger lately. Let’s take some time to catch up with a few fun things. I promise, things are going to be a lot less idle here in the near future.

First of all, it’s almost August and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know what that means — it’s almost time for this year’s round of Blogging Under the Stars! If you aren’t familiar with Blogging Under the Stars, here’s how it works: every August 2-September 1, I watch and review a movie that airs as part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, preferably something I’ve never seen before, although that’s not always possible. My intent of doing this is to encourage myself to watch some movies I otherwise might not have watched and watch some films from actors I’m not so familiar with. I’ve done this for the past few years and every year I’ve discovered some really great movies, so it’s a lot of fun for me.

Now, on to some more fun things…

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China Seas 1935

China Seas (1935)

Alan Gaskell (Clark Gable) is a boat captain with a reputation for hard drinking, but that all changes during a voyage in which he finds himself on a boat with Sybil (Rosalind Russell), a former lover who is now a refined, high society woman. Well, at least he wants to change for her. But on board the same ship is China Doll (Jean Harlow), another one of Alan’s former lovers who still adores him. China is much less refined than Sybil and is more like the hard-drinking and fun-loving Alan.

When China sees Alan with Sybil, she becomes incredibly jealous. Things get even worse when China finds out Alan and Sybil plan to get married as soon as possible. She spends the night drinking with her friend Jamesy (Wallace Beery), and accidentally finds out Jamesy is working with some pirates to steal a large amount of gold that is being transported on the ship. Once Jamesy finds out that China knows what’s going on, he intimidates her into helping him. China tries to warn Alan, but he’s drunk and says hurtful things to her. Out of anger, she steals his key to the ship’s arsenal so the pirates will be able to hijack the ship.

China Seas is one of those movies that’s a bit formulaic, but I don’t mind that because I like the formula. It reminds me a lot of Red Dust in the sense that they’re both about a man (Gable) who has an unrefined woman (Harlow) in love with him, but he falls in love with a more upper class woman (Mary Astor in Red Dust and Rosalind Russell in China Seas), only China Seas takes place on a boat instead of a plantation. But unlike Red DustChina Seas was made while production codes were being enforced, so it lacks a lot of the incredible steam and innuendo that Red Dust had. But even with the production codes, Gable and Harlow are still a first-rate team and the movie itself is a nice mix of romance and adventure with very high production values. It might not be one of the absolute best movies either Harlow or Gable made, but it’s still really entertaining.

Gable Lombard No Man of Her Own

No Man of Her Own (1932)

Babe Stewart (Clark Gable) has a reputation in Manhattan for being a crooked gambler and the police would love to be able to nab him. When his lover Kay (Dorothy Mackaill) doesn’t take too kindly to Babe trying to give her the brush-off, she threatens to rat him out to the cops. To stay a few steps ahead of the law, Babe takes cover in Glendale, a small town he chose at random.

Connie Randall (Carole Lombard) is a librarian in Glendale. She’s young, unmarried, and utterly bored with her existence. She’s dying for some excitement in her life and finds it when she meets Babe. She knows she shouldn’t go after the first stranger in town she meets, but he’s eager to pursue her and she desperately wants to let him. With the flip a coin, they’re headed toward the altar and headed back to Manhattan together.

Only Connie is totally oblivious to her new husband’s criminal history; she thinks he works on Wall Street all day. She discovers the truth when she finds a deck of stacked cards and shuffles them so his game will be ruined. When Babe finds out what she’s done, he’s angry at first, but ultimately still loves her and knows the best thing he can do is pay his debt to society and go straight.

I liked No Man of Her Own more than I expected to. Being able to see Lombard and Gable together absolutely made the film. If this movie had featured lesser stars, I don’t think anybody would still be talking about No Man of Her Own today. But they successfully took a movie with a so-so story and made it enjoyable through sheer chemistry. Even though this was made several years before they were married, they had fantastic chemistry together. If it weren’t for the fact that Lombard and Gable worked at different studios at the time, I like to think they probably would have done more movies together. I particularly loved their scenes together before they moved back to Manhattan. And I’m always happy to see Dorothy Mackaill, even though she doesn’t get much screen time here. All in all, there are far worse ways you could spend 85 minutes.

Men In White (1934)

Men In White Poster 1934 (1)If you ever find yourself in the hospital, Dr. George Ferguson (Clark Gable) is the kind of doctor you’d want to have looking after you. He very deeply cares about all of his patients and will do anything to help them. But since George is just an intern, he has to deal with long hours at the hospital and sometimes isn’t even able to take his previously scheduled nights off, much to the frustration of his fiancée, Laura (Myrna Loy). Even though George loves working in the hospital, Laura insists that he specialize and open his own practice once they’re married so he can keep better hours.

But working in medicine isn’t easy and can take an emotional toll even on a dedicated doctor like George. Just after saving one young patient’s life, George finds out another one of his young patients has died. Barbara (Elizabeth Allan), a nurse George works with at the hospital, is also struggling with the emotional toll of working in medical care. When she comes to borrow some notes from George, they end up starting an affair.

Some time later, Laura is still struggling to accept George’s career choice. To try to help her understand, George’s mentor Dr. Hochberg (Jean Hersholt) invites Laura to observe one of George’s operations. As fate would have it, she observes George operating on Barbara who, although not explicitly stated, is suffering from a botched illegal abortion. In her delirium, she tells George she loves him, while Laura happens to be standing right there. After the operation, Laura refuses to talk to him and George is consumed with guilt over Barbara. Although he loves Laura, he wants to marry Barbara when she’s well enough and take care of her. That is, until fate steps in and makes his decisions for him.

Men in White isn’t a movie I hear talked about very often outside of the realm of pre-code cinema, but it is a pretty effectively produced movie. Not one of the all-time greats or even an overlooked highlight in the careers of either Gable or Loy, but it’s an intriguing, well-written story. The hospital sets are pretty impressive and, best of all, Gable and Loy are both very good in their respective roles, so if you’re a fan of either one of them, Men in White is worth your time.

Pre-Code Essentials: Red Dust (1932)

Red Dust Harlow Gable

Plot

Dennis Carson (Clark Gable) is content with his life as a bachelor and the rustic lifestyle that comes with being a rubber plantation owner. He’s not too thrilled when he finds on-the-lam prostitute Vantine (Jean Harlow) crashing at his plantation house, but she eventually wins him over with her wisecracking ways. They get along well, but since Vantine plans to catch the next boat out of town, Dennis never means for their relationship to be anything more than temporary.

After Vantine leaves, engineer Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor) arrive for Gary to start work on the plantation. Dennis is immediately drawn to Barbara and does everything he can to spend time alone with her, but Vantine throws a wrench into his plans when her boat fails to set sail as expected. Vantine loves Dennis and is incredibly jealous to realize that he’s in love with Barbara. Dennis continues to relentlessly pursue Barbara and eventually convinces Barbara to leave her husband, but changes his mind when he realizes how much Gary loves Barbara.


My Thoughts

Before Jean Harlow was cast as Vantine, Greta Garbo had been considered for the part. As much as I love Garbo, I’m definitely not sorry that the part was re-cast. She would have been all wrong for this part and her chemistry with Gable, as seen in Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, just wasn’t that spectacular. Passable, but not remarkable.

But as for Jean Harlow? She was perfect for this part. I just can’t get enough of her and Clark Gable together. Tied with Wife vs. SecretaryRed Dust is my favorite movie they did together. Here, they have the perfect rapport with each other for exchanging their snappy, saucy lines. Gable and Harlow were hardly a one-note duo, either. In Red Dust, they’re supposed to be a bit brash and have an overt attraction to each other. But on the flip side, there’s Wife vs. Secretary, where they were supposed to have good chemistry, but in a far more chaste way, yet with just enough of a spark left to leave the audience wondering, “will they or won’t they?”

Gable also had a wonderful co-star in Mary Astor. The scene where Dennis carries Barbara back to her room in the storm is one of the steamiest scenes you’ll ever see.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

Vantine taking a bath in the rain barrel.

This exchange between Barbara and Dennis: “We shouldn’t have done that.” “But we did.”


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Jean Harlow plays a very likable prostitute and Clark Gable plays a man stuck in a love triangle between the likable prostitute and a married woman. It’s the stuff pre-code dreams are made of.

Pre-Code Essentials: Night Nurse (1931)

Barbara Stanwyck Night Nurse

Plot

When Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) lands a job as a probationary nurse at a hospital, she quickly learns the ropes with help from Maloney (Joan Blondell). One lesson she learns is that sometimes the patients she helps will be eager to show their gratitude. For Lora, that patient ends up being Mortie (Ben Lyon), a bootlegger she takes care of after he’s shot. She breaks from protocol by not reporting his gunshot wounds to the authorities, keeping Mortie out of hot water.

After becoming a full-fleged nurse, Lora becomes a night nurse for the two young children of socialite Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam). One of her children has already died and Lora immediately recognizes that the two surviving children are starving to death, but Mrs. Ritchey can’t pull herself away from the booze to care. She’s deeply concerned about the treatment the children’s doctor is prescribing and about how much authority their chauffeur Nick (Clark Gable) has over the family. Lora does everything she can to get help, but has a hard time getting anybody to listen to her. When she finally gets help from a doctor she trusts, he advises her to stay and gather evidence.

As one of the Ritchey children is on the brink of death, a housekeeper tips Lora off about how she thinks Nick and the children’s doctor are plotting to murder the children as a way to get their trust fund. But the only person who can help Lora save the children is Mortie.


My Thoughts

Whether you’re a big fan of Barbara Stanwyck or of pre-codes in general, you’ll love Night Nurse. This is one of Barbara Stanwyck’s best tough talking dame roles; she is an absolute boss in this movie. Watching her fight with people for the sake of protecting the children is truly a thing of beauty. I also loved seeing Stanwyck teamed with Joan Blondell. I really wish Blondell and Stanwyck had done more movies together. They are two of my favorite actresses from the pre-code era, so I wish I could see more movies where they play best friends who go around being sassy together.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

Gratuitous undressing galore.

The fact that a bootlegger ends up being one of the heroes.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Sure, Night Nurse has plentiful innuendo and gratuitous undressing scenes, but the ending is very distinctly pre-code. Not only does a criminal end up being one of the heroes, the movie ends with him casually alluding to the fact that he just had Nick bumped off, then happily driving off with Lora as Nick’s body is delivered to the morgue. Not that anybody is sorry to see Nick go, but it’s a much darker type of happy ending than a lot of people typically think of old movies as having.

Pre-Code Essentials: Dancing Lady (1933)

Dancing Lady 1933

Plot

When wealthy playboy Tod Newtwon (Franchot Tone) goes to take in a show at a two-bit burlesque hall, he happens to be there the same night the police raid the joint. Some of the dancers, including Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) are arrested for indecency and taken to night court for sentencing. Since Janie can’t pay the fine, her only option is to spend time in jail. Tod is attracted to Janie and bails her out. Once he gets to know her and sees the passion she has for dancing, he decides to help her land a gig on Broadway, despite her insistence that she do it on her own.

Tod makes an arrangement with producer Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) to finance his new show if he gives Janie a chance. Patch is hesitant to accept her, but warms up to her when he sees her genuine talent and dedicated work ethic. Janie starts seeing Tod, but Patch and Janie also start falling in love with each other. Janie works her way up from chorus girl to being the star of the show, but when Tod begins to think that Janie wouldn’t have time for him if she becomes a big star, he pulls his funding for the show. But when Janie finds out what he’s done, she realizes where her heart really lies.


My Thoughts

Dancing Lady  is my favorite Joan Crawford pre-code. It’s so very emblematic of the early 1930s era of her career. Joan is great in it and she has the chance to work with two of her best co-stars: Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. An MGM movie with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone hardly sounds unusual, but Dancing Lady is noteworthy for the fact that it also features The Three Stooges and the film debut of Fred Astaire. Where else can you see Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, The Three Stooges, and Fred Astaire together in the same movie? The story isn’t anything remarkable, the musical numbers aren’t particularly memorable, but the cast is solid enough to make it worth watching. It’s the kind of movie that knows it’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake and it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to quite well. It’s great fun.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

At night court, the Judge calls Janie’s dancer friend to the stand:

Judge: “What’s your name?”

Rosette: “Rosette Henrietta LaRue! Occupation: hip swinging!”

When Janie goes to thank Patch for putting her in the show, he smacks her on the rear end and she enthusiastically replies, “Thank you!”


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

It doesn’t get much more definitively pre-code than having a major plot point hinge around a dancer being arrested for indecency. Janie is a classic example of a likable, sympathetic character who just happens to have an occupation that censors didn’t want audiences finding sympathetic. She may have worked at a burlesque joint, but most importantly, she’s a hard worker who was just trying to do the best she could and that’s something depression-era movie audiences could definitely appreciate.