Clark Gable plays a rich, witty, romantic, dashing Civil War-era rogue who sweeps a beautiful brunette off her feet with his charms. Gone with the Wind? Nope, not even close, it’s Band of Angels. Gone with the Wind was still quite popular and had recently been re-released and so producers were anxious to capitialize on it’s popularity. Clark had suffered quite a few flops in the 1950’s and was probably not too keen on accepting a Rhett Butler-type role, but saw their point that it could be a success.
Yvonne De Carlo is Amantha Starr, a Kentucky belle who has lived a life of privilege on her father’s plantation. While she is away at finishing school, her father dies. When she returns for his funeral, she learns that as her father was deep in debt and all his assets are being sold. She is shocked when, as the debt collectors round up his slaves for auction, she is told that she too will be on the auction block. She was never told that her mother, long deceased, was an African American slave. She is immediately put on a boat for New Orleans to be part of a slave auction. Wealthy Hamish Bond (Gable) shows up and wins her for $5,000. At first, she is very unhappy and disagreeable towards Hamish, but soon she grows great affection for him. She turns down his his offer for her to be sent to Cincinnati to be free and joins him instead on his plantation in southern Louisiana. But their romance is doomed when Amantha learns the truth about Hamish’s past.
Parnell, the much-maligned 1930’s biopic that is always sited as Clark’s biggest flop, actually didn’t lose as much money as this film. In Clark’s career, Band of Angels stands as the one who lost the most money at the box office. Why? Well, there’s a flimsy plot (Yvonne de Carlo is supposed to be half-black?), a bad script, lack of chemistry and well, Clark looks a little old and tired to be chasing de Carlo. In fact, the idea of him buying a beautiful half-slave and then seducing her is rather swarmy. And the film suggests he has done it before. He can’t get a woman without buying her first? Surely you jest!
What redeems the film in my eyes is that Clark was truly happy for the first time in years during the making of the film. Kay accompanied him on the location shoot to Louisiana, even arranging a surprise birthday party for him at a nearby country club. De Carlo recalled how loving they were to each other and how their back-and-forth could get rather bawdy!
Co-star Sidney Poitier, one of the few people still alive who can claim they co-starred with Clark, was very impressed with Clark’s work ethic, recalling, ““He came to the set each day knowing every word of his dialogue–every word! I set about picking his brain, trying to ferret out exactly how he did it. That he studied his scripts aggressively and that he sometimes recorded his lines on tape to be played back while he slept was about all he would allow me to unearth.”