This month, Clark’s a grumbling small-time boxer in a love-hate relationship with Marion Davies’ spunky waitress-turned dancer in Cain and Mabel.
Clark Gable is Larry Cain, a heavyweight boxer, whose publicity team cooks up a fake romance with Mabel O’Dare (Davies), an aspiring musical star, for publicity. The two loathe each other but begrudgingly agree to play along to help both of their careers. Of course along the way they actually do fall in love and decide to quit boxing and show business to be together. Their publicists won’t hear of it however and set to break them up.
This is completely Marion’s film. She’s billed first and carries the majority of the scenes without Clark–heck, he doesn’t even appear until about 16 minutes into the film. Oooh and his first appearance is in his pajamas!
Can you imagine slamming the door in Clark Gable’s face if he showed up in his pajamas and a robe?
Clark at this point had grown fond of his signature mustache and was not amused when Marion specifically requested him for the part–but demanded he shave off his facial hair, claiming she was “allergic” to mustaches. He does look rather hunky though.
Clark wins the heavyweight title but his fights aren’t popular enough to earn much of a profit. Marion gets a starring role on Broadway but her shows are hardly sell-outs. “The ushers are quitting because they’re scared of being alone in the dark!” her employer scoffs.
So his support team and her support team decide that if they throw them together in a romance, the newspapers will eat it up and it will help both careers. Although both Marion and Clark are unwilling participants, the plan works–her shows are sell-outs and his fights are more popular than ever. Oh, but what happens when they actually DO fall in love?…
The plot is rather tired. They love each other, they hate each other, they love each other, they hate each other. When they do fall for each other, it’s sudden and you really have no idea why.
Clark spends most of the film grumbling and insulting her:
“Someday I’ll meet that dame. When I do, I’ll spank her so tender she could sit on a newspaper and read the headlines!”
“I’m warning you, if I ever meet that dame, they’ll be throwing a benefit for her the next day!”
“If that galloping you were doing tonight is dancing, then I’ve seen the Russian ballet at a horse show!”
“I’m supposed to be a fighter and what am I doing–playing post office all over the front page with a dame!”
Marion was always one to be able to deliver a snappy comeback:
“You may be a champ to somebody but you’re just a punching bag with ears on it to me!”
“He’s got a swelled head so bad he could wear a bathtub for a hat!”
She coos: “There’s something about you that’s very familiar. Oh yes, I remember: I had tripe for dinner!”
He replies: “I had ham, looks like I’m going to have some more.”
Yeah….this script is not exactly great material.
Marion can dance, sure, but her numbers just feel like filler. The point of this film was most definitely to show off Marion’s beauty (there are an excessive amount of close-ups of her face) and her dancing talents. Her singing voice definitely isn’t all that great. This whole publicity stunt-romance with dancing was done better a few years later with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance (1937).
William Randolph Hearst (producer, publishing magnate and Davies’ paramour) spent $35,000 on the carousel for the musical number “Coney Island.” The carousel is onscreen for about a minute total. After filming was completed, it was installed in the backyard of Davies’ Santa Monica home, near her pool and tennis courts.
The biggest number, “I’ll Sing You 1,000 Love Songs” took two weeks to shoot and cost $400,000. For all that it only occupied nine minutes of screen time. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction.
Filmed in Stage 7 (now Stage 16) at Warner Brothers, a studio that towers over all others on the lot, thanks to this film. Hearst demanded that the studio roof be ripped off and the studio be extended by over 30 feet to accommodate the large dance numbers planned for the film. WB head honcho Jack Warner refused to do it, saying it was too expensive, but Hearst, wanting to make his lady happy, footed the bill. It was deemed too pricey to rip the roof off and build up, so in an extremely difficult process, the studio was actually lifted off the ground and the new addition was built underneath it. At the time, it was the tallest soundstage in the world. Including the two million gallon water tank installed under its floors, the studio is 94 feet tall.
The massive soundstage was later used to film Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, Goonies and The Perfect Storm, among others.You can see what the studio looks like now in this post about my visit to Warner Brothers Studios.
Cain and Mabel is available on DVD through the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.
You can read more about the film here.
***I have been ill for several months, so I apologize for the lack of updates. I am behind on the comments and emails as well, so if I haven’t answered you, I apologize and am doing my best to catch up!