In a Nutshell: Hell Divers (1931)
Directed by: Richard Boleslawski
Co-stars: Wallace Beery, Dorothy Jordan, Marie Prevost
Synopsis: Gable is Steve Nelson, a budding Navy pilot constantly at odds with Windy Riker (Beery), who has been in the service for years and has no patience for newbies. When Windy stages a farce that makes Steve’s girl Ann (Jordan) leave him, their relationship becomes hostile and costs one of them their position in the Navy.
Best Gable Quote: “Say, there isn’t another girl in the world for me but you.. Never has been and never will be.”
Fun Fact: Gable was in the midst of a heated affair with Joan Crawford at the time of filming. His next project was supposed to be the Crawford vehicle Letty Lynton, but studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted Crawford and Gable as far apart as possible to avoid further scandal. He cast Robert Montgomery in the role with Crawford and sent Gable to make Hell Divers.
My Verdict: This film got rave reviews at the time, because of the exciting air footage, which is, naturally, less exciting to us modern day audiences. The film feels like it was thrown together with a formula for me—Clark Gable throws punches, is a hero, wins the girl. THE END! I suppose, though, it is packaged and marketed as more of a man’s man film, so clearly I am not the audience! But it does have some great dramatic scenes in which Clark can show his budding dramatic promise.
In a Nutshell: Polly of the Circus (1932)
Directed by: Alfred Santell
Co-stars: Marion Davies, C. Aubrey Smith
Synopsis: Gable is Father John Hartley, a small town minister living a peaceful life. The circus
comes to town, with its star attraction: trapeze artist Polly Fisher (Davies). She is
enraged when her risqué posters are covered up and confronts Hartley, who admits that her posters aren’t appropriate in the town. The crowd mocks her at her next performance, causing her to fall. She recuperates at Hartley’s house at his insistence since he feels guilty. Soon they fall in love. But his parish and bishop uncle (Smith) don’t support him marrying a circus girl. When the church turns its back on him, the newlyweds struggle as he refuses to let her return to the circus and she doesn’t understand his devotion to the church.
Best Gable Quote: “Oh yes, I quite approve of marriage. I might even go so far as to get married myself some day.” (all his quotes in this film are so sugary they’ll give you a toothache)
Fun Fact: Gable and Davies had a brief fling during filming, despite Davies’ long time relationship with publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (whose Cosmopolitan Pictures produced the film). Although the affair didn’t last, their friendship did and they remained friends for years.
My Verdict: Both Clark and Marion are out of their element in this one. She is a far better comedic actress than a dramatic one, and Clark is wasted as the saintly preacher. Not that I feel like he should have been pigeon-holed as the gangster all the time, but it seems silly to take this lusty newcomer who audiences fell in love with because he smacked around Barbara Stanwyck and Norma Shearer, and then put him in a white collar. The story is old, old, old—Career vs. Love. Girl leaves Boy so he can keep his career. Boy thinks it’s because she doesn’t love him and is heartbroken. Boy finds out truth and tries to win her back.The film is sweet at its core though.