This month’s film is a little-viewed gem that I love recommending to Gable fans. It’s unfortunately not on DVD and TCM does not own it so it gets zero television airplay. Which is a shame because it is a really entertaining film.
Gable is Russ Ward, an aging Broadway producer deep in debt and losing his touch. When he finally decides to throw in the towel, his much younger secretary, Ellie Brown (Carroll Baker), admits to being in love with him. Her speech to him gives him the idea for a great play and he sets to work on it, reviving his career, leading Ellie on in the process. She
proves she can play the lead role and becomes a success. Russ starts to have feelings for
Ellie but his ever-present meddling ex-wife, Kathryn (Lilli Palmer) interferes.
The great part is that Clark gets to make fun of himself a bit in the film, as he is in the same boat as his character: having to constantly reaffirm his worth to his profession, being paired with women half his age. He seems at ease in the role; he’s having fun and it shows. Critics realized it too, as Clark received one of his only two Golden Globe nominations for the role.
I think Clark’s happiness in his personal life shone through in the film, something that can be attributed certainly to the serene home he had with fifth wife Kay Williams. At the wrap party, she gifted cast and crew with baskets of her homemade potato chips, made from potatoes they grew on the ranch.
Interestingly, this film was the only one Clark made for director Walter Lang, who was a longtime friend. Walter was married to Carole Lombard’s dearest friend and former secretary, “Fieldsie” Lang. Carole was godmother to their son, Richard. Richard was also the owner of Clark’s only Oscar, as Clark had given it to him soon after winning it.
Carroll Baker, one of the few Gable leading ladies still alive, recalled her time on the film fondly. She said that the first scene she had to film with him was the one where he grabs her and kisses her. The scene had to be shot over and over because she kept going limp like a rag in his embrace and she says she nearly fainted!
The script is quite snappy and the material doesn’t seem stale, surprising since the film is a hashing-over of 1935’s Accent on Youth starring Herbert Marshall and 1950’s Mr. Music starring Bing Crosby.
Unfortunately, despite critical praise, the film was a flop at the box office. It’s failure was largely blamed on the inexperienced Carroll Baker, whom critics cited as being miscast. The film’s theme song by George and Ira Gershwin and originially performed by Ella Fitzgerald has outlasted the film in popularity and is now a standard. You can hear it here.
As I mentioned, the film is hard to come by. I won a VHS copy on Ebay and had to lug an old VCR out of the attic to view it. But it was worth the trouble!