In a Nutshell: Men in White (1934)

clark gable myrna loy men in white

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!

mustachemustache

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.

mustachemustachemustache

 

It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

Ratings

Men in White is a complicated film to review. It is hard to view the film as it is, without thinking of what it could have been. This film was one of the surefire victims of the Legion of Decency.

(Spoilers ahead)

Gable, mustache-less, baby-faced and wearing far too much pancake makeup, 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 (Myrna Loy). He soon learns that all work and no play lead him open to temptation and he falls for Barbara (Elizabeth Allan), a nurse. Soon after their one night encounter, Barbara learns she is pregnant and submits to a back alley abortion. She develops a horrible infection from this and requires emergency surgery.

Clark Gable

The last few sentences of the synopsis are what I learned happened in the film AFTER I watched it for the first time. My first viewing of this film was when I was just getting into classic films. It was on late one night in TCM and I just happened upon it. It was my introduction to Myrna Loy, who before this I had never even heard of. I actually remember going straight to the computer afterwards to look her up and after seeing her impressive filmography and her gorgeous pictures, I marveled at how I never had heard of her before. It’s not much of a part for her, as she doesn’t do much but flounce around and put on her best rich-girl pout, but something about her struck me from first sight.

Clark Gable and Myrna Loy

After I looked up Myrna Loy, my next stop was to look up what the heck just happened in this film. As I learned later after viewing many an early 1930’s film, that MUCH unlike the films of today, things had to implied very carefully onscreen so that they did not offend and the studio didn’t get slammed by Joseph Breen and his Legion of Decency for indecent content.

This film could have been a much better film if it had been allowed to explain its own plot. But thanks to some horrible editing and omitting, the film taken at face value will leave one quite confused.

Let’s start with George and Barbara’s one night stand. I’ve seen many a sly pre-marital sex insinuation in early ’30’s films. Just the year before, in Hold Your Man with Jean Harlow, this was done quite well. Clark is pictured chasing her into the bedroom and shutting the door behind him with his foot. The next scene they are having breakfast together. Subtle, but you got the point. In Men in White, George and Barbara have a brief conversation that is not very romantic in nature and the scene ends with her sitting on his bed and removing her nurse’s hat while he shuts the door. From that we are to deduce that they ahem, knocked boots. A bit far fetched, but okay.

Well after that things get more confusing as of course the words “pregnant”, “baby”, or “abortion” are not mentioned. It is through strained looks and powers of deduction that you are supposed to realize what has happened to Barbara. It’s all rather confusing and especially considering it is the major climax of the film, one wonders why they even bothered making the film at all if they had to eliminate all communication of the main plot?

Clark Gable and Elizabeth Allan

The end result is quite unsatisfying. At least you can give Laura some props for not taking her cheatin’ man back, as many of them did in the films of that era.

Clark Gable, Myrna Loy

Clark is quite handsome in this, despite his wardrobe consisting mostly of unflattering all-white scrubs. Chiseled and un-mustached, he looks so young and carefree, despite his penciled-in eyebrows and thick makeup. His most touching scenes are with a sick little girl he cures. What is it about his scenes with children–they always seem so natural! The scenes have a slight echo to Rhett and Bonnie Blue, some five years down the road.

I also quite love the fantastic Art Deco hospital set. A hospital with a  huge winding staircase? Only at MGM!

This movie was filmed in only eighteen days–impressive even for MGM standards. And apparently that wasn’t too short a time for Clark to fall for his co-star. No, not Myrna Loy, but the young newlywed Elizabeth Allan. They started an affair on set that lasted on and off for two years. You can read more about her relationship with Clark here.

Clark caught flirting with Elizabeth Allan on set

Men in White is available on DVD.

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.