This month, Clark Gable is doin’ what he does best as the fast talkin’ rogue, Myrna Loy is his lady and William Powell is his conscience in Manhattan Melodrama.

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Gable is Blackie Gallagher, a gambling, gun-slinging gangster, who remains best friends with his childhood pal, Jim Wade (Powell), an ambitious lawyer.  Blackie’s girl, Eleanor (Loy) grows tired of the shady side of life and soon falls in love with Jim and marries him. Jim is promoted to district attorney and starts a campaign to become New York’s next governor. When a blackmailer threatens Jim’s campaign, Blackie decides to handle the situation himself and kills the man. On trial, Jim has no choice but to prosecute Blackie and he is sentenced to death. The conviction helps Jim win the election, but on the day of Blackie’s execution, Eleanor pleads with Jim to pardon Blackie and reveals to him that Blackie killed the man to protect Jim. Jim rushes to the prison to commune Blackie’s sentence, but Blackie refuses to let Jim waver on his original decision. After Blackie is put to death, Jim resigns as governor and makes up with Eleanor at the fade out.

The cast of this film is wonderful–Clark and Myrna have great chemistry as always, and of course Myrna and Bill can’t be beat.The plot has been done 100 times before–two boys grow up as friends, one turns bad the other good yet they remain friends. Clark would in fact do it again just two years later when he played another bad Blackie in San Francisco. Spencer Tracy is the good childhood friend (a priest, no less) in that one.

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Myrna gets to slink around in gorgeous gowns and also be the prim and proper political wife–not to mention be volleyed between Clark and Bill–not bad for a day’s work.

clark gable myrna loy manhattan melodrama

Clark was tired of the bad gangster types at this point, but at least this one has some heart and actual characterization. He liked the cast and crew of the picture and he was only needed on set for 12 days total–not a bad work assignment.

Clark of course sacrifices himself on behalf of his good friend and guilt eats Bill alive. It’s a movie where everyone does the right thing in the end, but hey at least we were entertained in the meantime.

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“If I can’t live the way I want, at least let me die when I want.”–Poor Clark gets the death chamber. And hey, apparently in 1934 you go from sentencing to death in a matter of weeks. Don’t even think he got his steak dinner!

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Clark is quite good in this film–portraying Blackie’s rough and tumble qualities but letting his heart eek out here and there too. Bill is always good at being the straight and arrow.

This film is an interesting footnote in history for a couple of reasons:

One, this film sparks the beginning of a truly legendary film pairing–Myrna Loy and William Powell. They had never even met before until she opens the door of a car and falls into his lap. Their witty banter and easy chemistry prompted director Van Dyke to decide they were right for his next picture, The Thin Man. And thus started a beautiful teaming that spanned 14 films. Myrna remembered: “My first scene with Bill, a night shot on the back lot, happened before we’d even met. Woody [Van Dyke, the director] was apparently too busy for introductions. My instructions were to run out of a building, through a crowd, and into a strange car. When Woody called “Action,” I opened the car door, jumped in, and landed smack on William Powell’s lap. He looked up nonchalantly: “Miss Loy, I presume?” I said, “Mr. Powell?” And that’s how I met the man who would be my partner in fourteen films.”

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Secondly, notorious bank robber John Dillinger was gunned down outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater after seeing this film on July 22, 1934. This event has been tied to the film forever. Myrna recalled: “Supposedly a Myrna Loy fan, he broke cover to see me. Personally, I suspect the theme of the picture rather than my fatal charms attracted him, but I’ve always felt guilty about it, anyway. They filled him full of holes, poor soul.”

Also it’s one of the first roles for a youngster named Mickey Rooney, who played Clark’s character as a child. His performance in this film led to a contract with MGM and the beginning of an illustrious career.

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Oh and lastly, it is worth noting that this is the only film in which you can find the former husband of Carole Lombard starring with the future husband of Carole Lombard!

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Manhattan Melodrama is available on DVD as part of the Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection.

You can read more here and see pictures in the gallery.

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Mickey Rooney died yesterday  at the age of 93.

A screen legend, his acting career boasts over 300 credits. The people he met, the places he saw, the film sets he walked on to…seriously it is mind boggling. To name just a few, Mickey shared the screen with the likes of: Judy Garland, Ann Rutherford, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Elizabeth Taylor, William Powell, Robert Young, Mary Astor, Warren William, Ginger Rogers, Robert Montgomery, Gloria deHaven, Maureen O’Sullivan, Rosalind Russell, Audrey Hepburn, Wallace Beery, Dolores Costello, Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, Frank Morgan…the list goes on and on and ON.

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In the middle of Ann Rutherford, Judy Garland and Lana Turner…not a bad place to be

Mickey and Judy Garland at their best, singing “Our Love Affair”

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And yes–Clark Gable is one of Mickey’s many co-stars. Mickey was quite fond of Clark and looked up to him. One of Mickey’s early film roles was portraying Clark’s character as a child in Manhattan Melodrama. You can watch the opening scene with Mickey here.

Here’s a newspaper blurb from 1940:

When Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore heard Mickey Rooney was going to impersonate them in “Babes in Arms”, they went to the set  to try and avert libel at the hands of the irrepressible Rooney.

In the scene in question, Mickey played two parts, those of “Cleopatra’s Uncle Lionel” and “Clark Anthony”. June Pressier was Cleopatra.  Mickey laid it on thick. Then he turned to the two stars for their opinion.

“Not bad,”said Barrymore.

Gable remained silent. “What do you think, Clark?” urged Rooney.

“Well, Mickey, I’ll tell you,” said Gable, with his usual tact. “One of us must be rotten.”

__________

Mickey also impersonated Clark in Thousands Cheer (1943) and apparently would also impersonate him sometimes in his road show. I tried to find a clip from either film but unfortunately I can’t.

So sad that we lost the two youngsters in the middle of this picture already this year…

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Scenes from an amazing life….

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with first wife Ava Gardner

with Charlie Chaplin

with Charlie Chaplin

with Judy Garland

with Judy Garland

with Judy Garland and their mothers

with Judy Garland and their mothers

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Mickey and Sheila Ryan

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Rest in peace, Mick. You’re among friends now….

In a Nutshell: Men in White (1934)

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Directed by: Richard Boleslawski

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Elizabeth Allan, Otto Kruger

Synopsis: Gable is George Ferguson, a young doctor working hard to prove himself at a New York hospital. He puts medicine and his patients before all else, much to the chagrin of his heiress fiancé, Laura (Loy). He soon learns that all work and no play lead him open to temptation and he falls for Barbara (Allan), a nurse, with devastating consequences.

Best Gable Quote: “What good’s a profession that can’t give you bread and butter after you’ve wasted ten years of your life at it?”

Fun Fact: On the set of this film, Clark began a two-year romance with his married co-star Elizabeth Allan.

My Verdict: I’ve always thought this must have been a better play than a film. The restraints on what they could portray on film were too tight on this tale of sex and abortion. It is rather hard to follow when the main plot points are only hinted at. The Art Deco hospital set is gorgeous (and a bit ridiculous) and Myrna Loy had never looked more beautiful. Clark is showing eeks of dramatic chops here and it works, although his constant costume of what looks like a white Frankenstein costume completely with clunky white shoes isn’t at all flattering!

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here

It was Movie of the Month in September 2011.

In a Nutshell: Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

clark gable myrna loy william powell manhattan melodrama

Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, William Powell

Synopsis: Gable is Blackie Gallagher, a gambling, gun-slinging gangster, who remains best friends with his childhood pal, Jim Wade (Powell), an ambitious lawyer.  Blackie’s girl, Eleanor (Loy) grows tired of the shady side of life and soon falls in love with Jim and marries him. Jim is promoted to district attorney and starts a campaign to become New York’s next governor. When a blackmailer threatens Jim’s campaign, Blackie decides to handle the situation himself and kills the man. On trial, Jim has no choice but to prosecute Blackie and he is sentenced to death. The conviction helps Jim win the election, but on the day of Blackie’s execution, Eleanor pleads with Jim to pardon Blackie and reveals to him that Blackie killed the man to protect Jim. Jim rushes to the prison to commune Blackie’s sentence, but Blackie refuses to let Jim waver on his original decision. After Blackie is put to death, Jim resigns as governor and makes up with Eleanor at the fade out.

Best Gable Quote: “If I can’t live the way I want, at least let me die when I want.”

Fun Fact: The first film that costarred Myrna Loy and William Powell. They hadn’t even met before they began filming their first scene. Director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke noticed their onscreen chemistry and requested them both to star in his next feature, The Thin Man. They would go on to become one of classic film’s most popular onscreen duos, starring in fourteen films together.

My Verdict: The cast makes this one. Carole Lombard’s past husband and future husband are good sparring partners. Willam Powell is perfect as the straight-laced politician and of course Clark is at home as the gamblin’ shootin’ rogue. Myrna Loy is gorgeous and gives a fine performance as the woman caught between two men, one good for her and one not. The film is a nice mix of gangster, drama and romance.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

Ratings

Myrna Loy and Clark Gable

Myrna Loy and Clark Gable

I have a crush on Myrna Loy. That wasn’t hard to admit. Miss Loy (nee Williams) was one of the biggest stars of the studio era, largely due to the hugely successful Thin Man series, in which she was Nora to William Powell’s Nick. In 1938, she was elected the Queen of Hollywood along with the King–Clark, of course. After their crowning, from then on he affectionately called Myrna “Queenie.” Sadly, as Clark carried the King title to the end of his life (and beyond!), the Queen title slipped off Myrna quickly and unfortunately most non-classic movie lovers have no idea who she is. She has over 100 films in her filmography and played opposite pretty much every male star you can think of:  Gable, Powell, Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, Melvyn Douglas, Frederic March, Franchot Tone, Walter Pidgeon, Tyrone Power, even Paul Newman. She was overlooked for Oscars several times, for The Thin Man and, most notably, for The Best Years of Our Lives, arguably one the greatest movies ever made. In fact, she was never nominated for an Oscar. She was awarded the “booby prize” Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1993. Her acceptance via satellite was her last public appearance before her death on December 14, 1993.

Myrna and Clark were very close friends.  And nope, there was no romance. They starred in six films together: Men in White, Manhattan Melodrama, Wife vs. Secretary, Parnell,  Too Hot to Handle and Test Pilot. (They also both appeared in the ensemble piece Night Flight but have no scenes together.) Surprisingly, Myrna was quoted late in her life saying her favorite film of her own was Test Pilot, not one of “The Thin Mens” as one would suspect.

Clark & Myrna square off in Test Pilot

Clark & Myrna square off in Test Pilot

Although they became close friends, Clark and Myrna’s initial meeting was anything but friendly. They were introduced by Clark’s agent Minna Wallis at the annual Mayfair Ball in 1933. Myrna recalled:

Whenever I hear “Dancing in the Dark” I think of him, because we danced to it that night and he was vibrant and warm, a marvelous dancer. It was divine

Coming home, we dropped Minna off first, leaving the three of us, the Gables and me, in the backseat of the limousine. Clark’s second wife, Rhea, who had been charming all evening, was much older than he and somewhat matronly. As we drove toward my mother’s house, I could see that Clark was beginning to feel a bit amorous. He started edging toward me–with his wife sitting right there beside him. Of course, he was probably loaded by that time. We all were, to a certain extent.

Clark escorted me to the door. As I turned to unlock it, he bent down and gave me a “monkey bite.”(It left a scar on my neck for days.)  I turned around and gave him a shove, sending him backward two or three steps off the porch and into the hedge. As he stumbled back, I remember, he laughed a little, which infuriated me all the more. It was just the idea of his wife sitting out in the car. I’d had quite a few beaus, but this was different, you see, this was not right. I wanted no part of it.

Soon afterwards she was informed Clark would be her costar in Men in White. He ignored her on set, only paying attention to her when the cameras were rolling. (He was, after all, more interested in another costar, a certain Miss Elizabeth Allan).

Clark and Myrna in Men in White

Clark and Myrna in Men in White

By the time that they started filming Manhattan Melodrama in 1934, his chill toward her had melted and a friendship began. Manhattan Melodrama is best remembered as being the first time Myrna was paired with William Powell, and their excellent chemistry led to them being cast in The Thin Man.

Not a bad place to be: Myrna sandwiched between Clark and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama

Not a bad place to be: Myrna sandwiched between Clark and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama

Myrna recalled that Wife vs. Secretary was a fun set, as she, Clark and Jeah Harlow were all friends (not to mention, Jean was dating William Powell at the time). Myrna was also Clark’s leading lady in his biggest flop (and hers, too): the much maligned Parnell. It was Clark’s least favorite film of his own and he would have just as soon forgotten it. Myrna recalled that despite it’s failure, she didn’t dislike the film and she pointed out this sad truth:

Clark never again challenged his public after Parnell, even Rhett Butler was an extension of the kind of character everybody expected from him.  He finally believed that was all he could do, and maintaining that macho image plagued him to the end. It finally killed him, roping and being dragged by all those horses in The Misfits when he was way past the age to be doing such things. You know the only thing that bothered us about Clark playing Parnell? The fact that nobody would believe he could die of a heart attack in the role. Ironically, that’s just what happened in real life.

Clark and Myrna flopping in Parnell

Clark and Myrna flopping in Parnell

Clark and Myrna’s next two ventures, Too Hot to Handle and Test Pilot, were very successful.I have always found it surprising that MGM didn’t think to re-cast them in the late 40’s/early ‘50’s. They would have been superb in a Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House-type vehicle. But unfortuantely, the last time they were cast together was 1938. I suppose Myrna grew “too old” for Clark, as his co-stars in the 50’s were the likes of Jane Russell, Carroll Baker, Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day…Myrna could have been their mother.

Clark and Myrna get steamy in Too Hot to Handle

Clark and Myrna get steamy in Too Hot to Handle

In her autobiography, “Being and Becoming”, she was quite nostalgic about Clark:

[Clark] happened to be an actor, a damned good one, and nobody knew it–least of all Clark. Oh, he wanted to be an actor, but he always deprecated his ability, pretended it didn’t matter. He was a really shy man with a terrible inferiority in there somewhere. Something was missing that kept him from doing the things he could have done.

 When I think about [my relationship with Clark Gable] now, considering the way it started it was curious. We became devoted to each other. We weren’t lovers–he was in love with Carole Lombard by that time. In fact, after I repelled his initial attack, we eventually became more like siblings. Nobody believes that…but our relationship was unique. Oh, he sometimes gave me the macho routine when people were watching, but he changed when we were alone.

We always used to celebrate together at the end of a picture. Clark insisted on it. Maybe we’d include the director, maybe not. It was just a kind of ritual that the two of us had. We would share a bottle of champagne while he read poetry to me, usually the sonnets of Shakespeare. He loved poetry, and read beautifully, with great sensitivity, but he wouldn’t dare let anyone else know it. He was afraid people would think him weak or effeminite and not the tough guy who liked to fish and hunt. I was the only one he trusted. He never wanted me to tell about this, and here I am giving him away, but I never mentioned it while he was alive.

Around the time her biography was released though, she was the subject of a People magazine article in which she changed her tune:

Today she likes to recall romancing Gable on a farmhouse porch in Test Pilot—an especially charged love scene, she says, because they never touch. Still, Loy doesn’t mind admitting the king’s shortcomings.

“Oh, Clark was a terrible actor,” she says. “He couldn’t act his way out of a bag.”

Rather contradictory, wouldn’t you say? I’ll chalk that up to old age…

Myrna is carried away by Clark in Wife vs. Secretary

Myrna is carried away by Clark in Wife vs. Secretary

 Myrna is one of the few ladies of the Golden era who kept a low profile; she was not about the limos and furs and scandulous affairs.  Her autobiography is one of my absolute favorites; it is brutally honest and very engrossing. She was plagued by the title  “The Perfect Wife” assigned to her by the media. “Some perfect wife I am,” she said. “I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg.”

Clark and Myrna at a Hollywood Victory Committee Meeting in December 1941

Clark and Myrna at a Hollywood Victory Committee Meeting in December 1941

She’s still perfect to me. I think Clark would agree.

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I recently saw the new Johnny Depp film, Public Enemies, about notorious bank robber John Dillinger.  Dillinger was famously gunned down by FBI agents in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago, after seeing Gable’s film Manhattan Melodrama. He was set up by friend of his, Romanian prostitute Anna Sage, who was facing deportation and volunteered to hand him over to the feds in exchange for her visa.  She told the FBI they would be at the movies that evening and wore an orange (later misidentified as red) dress to alert them to him.

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It has long been a part of movie folklore that Myrna Loy was Dillinger’s favorite actress and that he had come out of hiding specifically to see her latest film. Loy later commented, “Personally, I suspect the theme of the picture rather than my fatal charms attracted him, but I’ve always felt a little guilty about it, anyway. They filled him full of holes, poor soul.”

In the film Loy is not mentioned at all. When the FBI is discussing which theater Dillinger would be at that evening, they mention that the Biograph was showing “a gangster film with Clark Gable” while the Marlboro Theater was showing a Shirley Temple film. They plan to stake out both theaters. One of the agents says he’ll definitely be at the Biograph because “Dillinger ain’t going to see a Shirley Temple picture.”  Several clips are shown from Melodrama while Dillinger is watching it, paralleling Dillinger’s own life with Gable’s character Blackie Gallagher.  A montage of Loy is shown, where Dillinger is clearly thinking of his own girlfriend, Billie. Ironic how Dillinger watched Blackie walk to his death and then walked out the door to his own.

Melodrama‘s box office was helped by the tragedy as people wanted to see the last film Dillinger saw. While MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer loved the free publicity, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose Cosmopolitan Pictures had helped finance the film, was disgusted by its association with the murder of Dillinger and had Cosmopolitan’s name removed from the credits.

For more on Manhattan Melodrama, visit the film’s page.

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