Release date: June 4, 1937
Directed by: John M. Stahl
Edna May Oliver
In this historical melodrama, Gable is Charles Parnell, an 1880’s Irish politician dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” for fighting for Irish freedom from British rule. The British trump up false charges against him to try and keep his efforts down but are unsuccessful. But then Parnell falls in love with Katie O’Shea (Loy), the estranged wife of a British Parliament member. When her husband finds out, he files for divorce and names Parnell as co-respondent, resulting in political and social ruin for Parnell. Just as he begins to fight back for his position, he is taken ill with a sick heart.
Screenplay magazine, July 1937:
Clark Gable makes a valiant effort to triumph over miscasting and almost succeeds, in this interesting, if controversial romantization of the career of Ireland’s patriot. Gable gives a sincere and praiseworthy performance, always fully conscious of the demands of his role, and every striving to realize its potentialities; but somehow his attempt never quite conquers the character. Vigorous and ingratiating though he is, Gable is not cast in the heroic mould, to my mind; and Parnell was a giant–or nothing. It is Myrna Loy, to me, who comes closer to achieving a true portrait as Katie O’Shea–or rather, as any woman helplessly, hopelessly in love. Sometimes Miss Loy seems to forget she is playing Parnell’s beloved and permits traces of Mrs. Nick Charles to creep in; but not often. Beguiling in curiously becoming costumes of the period, Myrna manages to maintain the true romantic mood in most of her scenes, and she invariably presents a perfectly delicious picture. “Parnell” is staged in sumptuous fashion, and John Stahl’s direction seems to squeeze every drop of suspense and emotion from the story. In the fine cast, Edna May Oliver and Alan Marshall score. now may we have Mr. Gable in another “San Francisco,” and soon?
Hollywood magazine, August 1937:
Thanks to the expert and painstaking guidance of Director John M. Stahl, MGM’s screen version of Parnell has lost none of the fine qualities that marked it a stage success. The picture is an artistic triumph and must be added to the list of outstanding films of the year. It may be criticized on the grounds that, despite its close hewing to history, it lacks the background of violent physical action so long identified with turbulent Irish politics. This criticism, however, is a minor one; for so powerful and compelling is the story as a whole, so free from theatrical tricks, and so completely honest is it from beginning to end that the absence of physical action is forgotten.
To Clark Gable for his portrayal of the Irish patriot, Parnell, goes a world of credit. The role was a difficult one if only for the fact that it is a distinct depature from any to which he has bneen heir to, nut the capable Gable presents a genuinely fine and polished perfromance, as he moves dominant yet restrained and tolerant through his scenes.
As Katie O’Shea, the women whose love for the Irish patriot eventually wrecks his political career, Myrna Loy shares acting honors with Gable. Never in any screen role has she presented a characterization with such emotional intensity and charm. Played in a fog, her love scene with Gable is a memorable one and has seldom been equalled on the screen. Parnell is her first costume picture and, we hope, the forerunner of many others.
The story of Parnell is the story of Irish politics and deals with an obscure, little-known historical character, Charles Stuart Parnell, to whom is tagged the title of the “Uncrowned King of Ireland.” He successfully defeats attempts to discredit his demands for the freedom of the Irish people until he meets and falls in love with Katie O’Shea. The scandal that follows eventually proves his downfall.
In the supporting cast Edna May Oliver presents a delightful characterization in her role of Katie’s elderly aunt. Alan Marshall as the scapegrace husband and Billie Burke as Katie’s simpering sister give particularly fine work. Donald Crisp as a devoted Parnell follower, Montague Love as Gladstone, and George Zucco as an attorney, Brandon Tyron as Old O’Brien, Neil Fitzgerald as Pigott, the forger, Barton Churchill as the Gorman Mahon and others contribute in no small measure to the general all-around excellence of the picture.
Motion Picture magazine, September 1937:
AAA. The long awaited opus based on the life of the famous Irish partiot, Parnell, has finally arrived with our own dear Gable in the title role as with Myrna Loy as his own der Kitty O’Shea. MGM spent months of labor and a huge budget on this compelling, human interest story of the conflict between the Irish leader and the Prome Minister of England during the late Victorian era, but all they have succeeded in giving you is a grand production with an excellent cast. It lack sincerity and the failure seems to lie in the uninspired portrayals of the stars as the famed characters of the beautiful and great love that affected the career of a great diplomat. Supporting players are Edna May Oliver, Edmund Gwenn, Alan Marshal, Donald Crisp, Billie Burke and others too numerous to mention.
Myrna Loy talks about filming Parnell, from Modern Screen magazine, August 1937:
“Well, weeks before the actual shooting began, there were the preparations. I read twenty books on Parnell and his times. I conferred with the son of Kitty and Willie O’Shea. I wear fifteen costumes on the role of Kitty O’Shea. That meant the making of innumerable sketches by Adrian, over which he and I conferred for hours. Materials were tried and approved or rejected. There were one hundred and fifty fittings. There were the hats, hundreds of hats. There was the jewelry. That had to be just right, not only for the period, but also for me. There were the shoes. I had to practice standing and walking. Kitty O’Shea didn’t stand or walk as does the girl of today.
When we began to work I got up at six every morning, as I always do when in production. It takes from two to three hours to dress, get to the studio, have my hair dampened and waved every single morning, get into make-up and costumes. I make myself up. I can’t stand having anyone fussing over me. It took me twenty minutes to get into each gown I wore. And then the set and work. Comes lunch hour. But, my dear good women, no Vendoming, no Derbying for little Myrna. No. Lunch served in my dressing room, eaten from a tray and, usually, an interview or a conference with the director or lines to be learned or a photographic sitting to be okayed.”
“Friends, many of you brought with you a handful of Irish sod to keep green your memories of home. But you needn’t have. You didn’t leave Ireland behind you–it’s in your hearts, wherever you go. That’s what these two months in America have taught me–that wherever you find an Irishman, you also find the generosity and the loyalty and the passion for freedom which is the soul of Ireland herself.” first lines
“Haven’t you ever felt that there might be someone somewhere who, if you could only find them, is the person that you were always meant to meet?”
“To be accused is not to be convicted.”
“Katie, you know that I’m in love with you, you know that, don’t you?”
“Why is it that the minute two Irishmen meet, they start fighting?”
“My private life is my own. I’ve given Ireland my whole life–everything up until now. They can’t deny me the right of every man–to have the woman he loves beside him. That’s what this means. There’ll be no defense.”
“I’d have come across the world to be with you tonight.”
“I want to thank you for coming here. I had to see you once again to urge you to forget your personal differences and think only of Ireland. Now that I am overthrown, there will rise such a tide of fear and treachery as Ireland has never known before.”
“What am I? What is any single man when there is a great wrong to be righted? Find a new leader if you must. Only, when you do, deal with your leader as a man–expect of him a man’s behavior, not that of a god.”
“Carry on my fight for Ireland, I charge you. See that Ireland is never defeated–never defeated.”
“Katie, Katie, I–” last line
Behind the Scenes
Gable’s least favorite of all his films and the biggest flop of his and Myrna Loy’s careers. It lost a total of $637,000 at the box office.
Gable accepted the role of Charles Parnell because he saw an opportunity to prove himself as a versatile dramatic actor. When the film flopped so horribly, he shunned all historical dramas. The flop of this picture is the main reason he was reluctant to do Gone with the Wind; he feared another historical flop. Because of the criticism of his Irish accent in this film, he refused to do a Southern accent for GWTW.
Joan Crawford was originally given the part of Katie O’Shea but she hated the script and disagreed with the director. MGM switched her out with Myrna Loy, who had been assigned to The Last of Mrs. Cheyney.
Gable refused to grow a beard for the role, even though the real Charles Parnell had a beard. Instead he agreed to grow “mutton chops”, or long heavy sideburns, which he hated.
While Gable worked on this film, his then-girlfriend Carole Lombard worked on Swing High, Swing Low.
The director insisted on playing somber funeral music on the record player while they filmed Parnell’s death scene, to keep Gable and Loy in a sad mood. After many takes, Gable grumbled to Lombard that he was sick and tired of the music. The next day Lombard visited the set and bribed a prop boy to replace the funeral music. When they turned the record player on, the jazzy tune, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You” blared instead.
One of the longest film shoots of Gable’s career, at 108 days.
During the filming of Parnell, Gable put his hand and footprints in cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.