In a Nutshell: China Seas (1935)
Directed by: Tay Garnett
Co-stars: Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Rosalind Russell, Lewis Stone
Synopsis: Gable is Alan Gaskell, a roguish captain of a ship that sails between Hong Kong and Shanghai. It’s established pretty early on that he’s been having some adult fun ashore with a Shanghai harlot, Dolly, who goes by the name China Doll (Harlow). So imagine his surprise when setting his ship off to sea that she is on board as a passenger! She confesses she is madly in love with him; he is weary of her and rejects her advances. She is green with jealousy upon the arrival onboard of Sybil,(Russell), a distinguished former paramour of Alan’s from England. Lily sets out to win her man back but ends up embarrassing herself in front of him and the lady by telling of Alan’s seedy behavior. Rejected by him once again, she decides to get even and is persuaded to be in cahoots with Jamesy (Beery), a crooked first mate who is collaborating with Malaysian pirates to loot the ship.
Best Gable Quote: “Let’s quit good friends instead of like a couple of cab drivers after a drunken brawl.”
Fun Fact: Gable and Beery did not get along during filming. During the scene where Beery hits Gable while he’s passed out, Beery reportedly smacked Gable hard instead of faking it. Gable jumped out of the chair and threatened to break his neck and the crew had to separate them and continue filming the scene the next day after they had cooled off.
My Verdict: This is one of those 1930’s films that set out to appeal to audiences because of its foreign, exotic setting. Put any story in the Orient, especially on a ship, and people will be mesmerized! I know many people that claim that this is their favorite Gable/Harlow pairing; not for me. It’s a good film, and the banter between Gable and Harlow is at its zingiest, but their characters are a bit too cut out of cardboard to let their spark shine. Gable is the stoic captain and Harlow the salty hooker–pretty much sums it up. I must also mention that Harlow’s cotton candy wigs in this film are downright atrocious! Russell fills the shoes of the prim and proper lady quite nicely, but she doesn’t have much to do at all. The storm scenes are impressive and there is action to spare.
In a Nutshell: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Directed by: Frank Lloyd
Co-stars: Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone
Synopsis: Gable is legendary historical figure Fletcher Christian in this adaption of the famous tale of mutiny on the high seas in 1787. He is first mate to the tyrannical Captain Bligh (Laughton) on a two year voyage from England to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit plants. Bligh beats and starves the sailors, all while Christian and fellow officer Bynum (Tone) stand and watch. Christian finally can’t stand it anymore and rallies the men to overthrow Bligh and take over the ship. They send Bligh and his supporters adrift at sea in a small boat and take the Bounty back to Tahiti. They live there peacefully, marrying native women and enjoying the island until Bligh and a new crew come searching for them.
Best Gable Quote: “I’m sick of blood! Bloody backs, bloody faces! Well, you’ve given your last command on this ship. We’ll be men again if we hang for it!”
Fun Fact: Gable received his second Academy Award nomination for the film. Laughton and Tone were also nominated, all for Best Actor. Noticing that it seemed odd that three actors from the same film were up for the same award, this prompted the Academy to start issuing awards for supporting actors and actresses. All three lost to the only Best Actor nominee not in the film, Victor McLaglen, for The Informer.
My Verdict: A wonderful film. This is one of a handful of films I always mention when people say (as they do often) that Clark Gable couldn’t act. He does a spectacular job in this, a difficult and tedious role, and is worthy of his Oscar nom. The whole cast is phenomenal, Tone and Laughton especially. I remember it took a couple of watches for me to truly appreciate what a wonderful film this is on many levels. Cinematically beautiful, wonderful dramatic performances. Not the most by-the-book adaptation of the novel, but it is still great.