This month, the site’s friends on Facebook voted and chose this 1934 romantic comedy starring Clark and his most frequent leading lady, Joan Crawford, for January’s Movie of the Month.
Gable is Mike Bradley, a South American rancher who falls for the glamorous Diana (Crawford) on a cruise ship. Diana falls for Mike too, despite the fact that she is romantically involved with a married Manhattan businessman, Richard (Otto Kruger). She decides to leave Richard for Mike but, upon her return home, Richard tells her he has finally left his wife for her. Diana feels obligated to marry Richard and Mike is left in the dust.
This is certainly more Joan’s movie than Clark’s. She’s in more scenes than he is, struggling with emotional turmoil. Clark doesn’t actually appear until twelve minutes into the film, as we had to be properly brought up to speed on Joan and Otto’s dire romantic situation. Boy, oh boy, the frigid society wife who refuses to give a divorce to her wealthy estranged husband was a tired old record repeatedly played in 1930’s movies. And it happened to a lot of the stars in real life–Clark included, just a few years later!
Joan sets sail for South America so that Otto can try and convince his old battleaxe wife to divorce him.
Clark’s buddy Johnnie (Stuart Erwin) tries to pick Joan up in the ship’s bar but is brutally rebuffed. We meet Clark when he then challenges him to pick her up, who of course accepts upon seeing her.”There’s a look in your eye that careful mothers fear!” Johnnie says.
Joan is there drinking a sherry flip, her and Otto’s sentimental drink, which apparently was considered “old fashioned” even in 1934. Clark says, “They serve that in old people’s homes on Christmas!” What’s in it? Well…
Shake all ingredients (except nutmeg) with ice and strain into a whiskey sour glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on top and serve.
YUCK! That sounds disgusting!
The way he smiles and tries to win Joan over actually reminds me of Rhett Butler a few years later: “I’d like to see more of you when you’re free of the spell of the elegant Mr. Wilkes…”
She somehow manages to not fall immediately for his boyish charms.
Ah, then we have 1930’s swimwear in all its glory…
Random fact: an uncredited and then-unknown Mickey Rooney is one of the random kids swimming in the swimming pool.
Clark’s hitting Joan with every good line he’s got but she is still resistant due to the fact that she is in love with Otto.
“Your eyes are very beautiful, even when they are bloodshot!”
“I’ll admit I was on the prowl until you dropped down from the sky.”
[When she says she’s never been engaged] “Say, what have you known all your life, a lot of blind men?”
I do love the little scene of them strolling the ship’s deck together.
And this might be one of my favorite screenshots ever:
This is a really great on-the-set snap:
The story is pretty run-of-the-mill for the period, with the unrelenting wife and the shipboard romance, but there are some cute scenes between Clark and Joan–on the ship and running around his ranch in Buenos Aires.
The relationship between Otto and Joan is rather unbelievable. He’s twenty years Joan’s senior and the way he talks to her is more like a father to a daughter. I guess that’s supposed to be the point–she finally finds “real romance” with Clark.
Of course, when Joan finally returns to New York and ready to dump Otto and run off with Clark, Otto announces he finally got his wife to agree to the divorce–the big catch being that his wicked ex-wife won’t permit him to see their sons anymore. He declares it worth it to be with Joan. (Wow, father of the year!) Joan then of course has no choice but to marry him, and so she is “chained” to him and unable to be with Clark.
Clark receives the bad news via letter, signed off with “Best of Luck.” Heartbroken!
Of course a year later they reunite and she realizes she really can’t live without him but of course, is still “chained.”
In the end, Clark shows up to tell Otto he’s in love with his wife but chickens out when he sees how much Otto loves Joan. Oh, but Otto reads between the lines and figures out, in those few minutes at the breakfast table, that Clark and Joan love each other and decides to do the chivalrous thing and let her go.
You know, I wonder why they didn’t try to make Otto more unlikable? He’s such a nice guy and is so happily in love with Joan, you really feel bad for him in the end. I guess we are supposed to feel okay about it because the last scene shows married Clark and Joan on their ranch in South America, reading a letter from Otto that says he has been reunited with his sons.
Like I said, this picture is pretty much Joan’s. She gets to make long-suffering looks in her often rather ridiculous-looking 30’s outfits.
Joan later said about this period:
“[Clark and I] knew we would be stars as long as the public paid to see us, but we wondered, the way Metro was typecasting us, if the public would go forever to see “a Joan Crawford picture” or “a Clark Gable picture.” I was the perpetual shopgirl-turned-lady, and he was forever the virile, ballsy hero. We both felt that sooner or later, probably sooner, the public would say the hell with us and we’d sink right back into oblivion. Scared? As Clark would say, we were scared shitless. Actually what Louis B. [Mayer] and the public didn’t know about me and Clark–Clark and me?–didn’t hurt them. If Clark and I hadn’t had each other, at that particular time, we might not have gone on. We simply gave each other courage. We also taught each other how to laugh at ourselves–and that, baby, is the first thing anybody in Hollywood tucks into the survival kit.”
I know a lot of people’s opinion of Joan have been tainted by “no wire hangers!” but I do like her with Clark onscreen. They have great chemistry; you can tell they genuinely like each other. A little film like this would have been a complete flop if he didn’t have a great partner to spar with.
Chained is available on DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.
You can read more here and see pictures in the gallery.