clark gable robert taylor spencer tracy

From October 1939:

Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Robert Taylor were discussing the war the other day in the studio cafe. Tracy said: “Well, Taylor, I suppose you’ll be the first to go if if the United States gets into this thing. Too bad. Gable and I are lucky. We’re too old.”

“Yeah, we’re too old,” echoed Gable.

“Yeah,” replied Taylor, ducking, “it took the war to bring that out.”

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Gable was NOT too old, as it turned out a few years later…

We interrupt Carole Lombard Month to bring you this post, which is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles Blogathon.

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I’ve selected Test Pilot to talk about because, in my humble opinion, it should be the third Clark Gable movie you ever see if the first two are Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night. Here are the reasons why:

1. It is truly a textbook example of a Clark Gable film. It’s got it all: adventure, romance, comedy, snappy dialogue and some intense drama. Clark is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking  gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Myrna Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Spencer Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.

Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.

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2. It is directed by Victor Fleming, Clark’s longtime pal and a man who had previously directed Clark to greatness in Red Dust and The White Sister. He would later also direct him in Gone with the Wind and Adventure.

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3. It co-stars the great Spencer Tracy. Tracy plays Clark’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner. They had previously been paired in San Francisco. They admired each other but ultimately had a sort of “frenemy” relationship–Clark was often jealous of Spencer’s serious acting ability (this stemming from Spencer being nominated for San Francisco and Clark being ignored). Spencer was envious of Clark’s great popularity. Their last pairing was Boom Town in 1940.

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4. Clark’s love interest is the divine Myrna Loy; this was the sixth of their seven films together. Clark’s pairings with Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow get more attention, but him and Myrna had this great, easy chemistry. They were never romantically involved–she claimed their relationship resembled more of a brother-sister camaraderie–but their chemistry was always evident.

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5. The supporting cast is no slouch, either. We have Lionel Barrymore as Clark’s grumpy boss, and Marjorie Main as his huffy landlady. Plus Clark’s future off-screen girlfriend Virginia Grey has a small part at the beginning of one of his character’s many girlfriends.

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6. It was one of Myrna’s personal favorites of all her films. “It really stands as an example of what big-studio film making could be: the writing, the directing, the photography, the technical expertise, the casting of that impeccable stock company.

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7. Clark’s technical advisor on the film was  Paul Mantz, who was a onetime copilot and navigator for Amelia Earhart. Clark was fascinated with Mantz’s work. Later, Clark took some flying lessons to pursue a pilot’s license, but never completed them–due to Carole Lombard’s death in a plane crash.

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8. The script is great. Some of Clark’s truly “Gable-esque” quotes include:

“Say, I’m just in the mood for a bull, sister. You go get him; I’m liable to pick him up and throw him right back in your lap!”

“Do all the girls around here look like you this early in the morning? Every girl I’ve ever seen this early…”

“She’s crazy, I broke all the records too! I entered high school a sophomore and came out a freshman!”

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9. Clark is handed one of his best emotional scenes and he hits it out of the park. After [SPOILER] another pilot dies, Clark gets drunk and laments, “The sky looks sweet and wears a pretty blue dress, doesn’t she? Yeah well don’t kid yourself. She lives up there, she invites you up there and when she gets you up there, she knocks you down!” Myrna Loy remembered, ” In Test Pilot, [Clark] had a moment when he talked about the girl in the blue dress–the sky. That scene terrified him, scared him to death. He got so upset when we shot it I had to keep reassuring, comforting him. Not that he couldn’t do the scene–he did it beautifully–but he was afraid it would make him appear too soft. He had this macho thing strapped on him and he couldn’t get out of it.”

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10. Myrna is also given a great dramatic scene, near the end of the film. Tired of constantly worrying about him when he’s in the air, she cries and yells at Clark, “Why won’t you just die already and leave me alone?” I’ve heard people say before Myrna had no dramatic chops and I wouldn’t agree!

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12. The scenes of Clark and Myrna’s day out together are adorable–they go to the movies and a ballgame–and how I’d like to imagine they would have hung out in real life!

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13. It’s one of the few times that you get to see Clark in the role of a father–albeit briefly. To be the onscreen spawn of Clark and Myrna! Lucky kid!

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14. It is one of only four Clark Gable films that were nominated for Best Picture. It was also nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Writing, Original Story but walked away empty handed.

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15. It was filmed right when Clark was at his prime–in love with Carole Lombard and happy, the film started a swing of hits for Clark at the end of the 1930’s. He followed it up with Too Hot to Handle, Idiot’s Delight and Gone with the Wind.

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Clark and Myrna on the set

Clark Gable makes a great addition to this blogathon. For Planes, Hell Divers and Night Flight would qualify as well, for Automobiles To Please a Lady all the way (or you could pick It Happened One Night because of the bus scenes), and there are great Train scenes in No Man of Her Own, Saratoga, Idiot’s Delight and Honky Tonk.

You can read more about Test Pilot here, my formal review here and my nutshell review here.

You can read the rest of the blogathon’s entries here.

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clark gable spencer tracy

From 1948:

That “feud” continues between those good friends, Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. If plans work out, both are supposed to be in Europe at the same time. Spence hopes to “frame” Clark with a gag cable from Esther Williams. It will request him to personally select for her a dozen of those daring diaper French bathing suits! If Clark falls for it, wouldn’t you love to be in on that shopping tour?

clark gable spencer tracy

From 1948:

A Tracy never forgets! Not when he hears that Clark Gable has to smoke a big fat cigar in “Command Decision.” Spencer remembered how Clark hated the last one he smoked four years ago in a picture. So, the day they shot the scene, Mr. T. sent cigars to everyone on the set, with instructions to light up and “help” Gable give a good performance! Clark’s already planning his revenge.

 

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This month, Clark is a hard gamblin’ hard drinkin’ woman chasin’ shyster, Spencer Tracy is his best friend the priest  and Jeanette MacDonald is the saintly opera singer who steals his heart in San Francisco.

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

Gable is Blackie Norton, a ruthless saloon-keeper in 1906 San Francisco, proud of his gambling ways. Despite their differences, he falls in love with Mary Blake (MacDonald), an aspiring opera singer who he hires to sing in his revue. His childhood pal, priest Tim Mullin (Tracy), objects to him putting Mary on display and stopping her from her opera aspirations. Realizing that Tim is right and that she should pursue her dreams instead of letting Blackie hold her back, Mary leaves him and becomes a successful opera star. It isn’t until the shattering earthquake that Blackie realizes his true feelings for Mary and sets out to find her among the rubble.

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This film is a favorite of many a Clark Gable fan, and it is not difficult to see why. As far as Gable fans are concerned, this one has it all:  action, romance, special effects, drama. A prestige project for MGM, San Francisco took fifty two days to shoot and costs $1.3 million, an extremely large sum in 1936.  Money well spent, however, as the film went on $5.3 million at the box office, becoming the second biggest hit of  Clark’s entire career, after Gone with the Wind.

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Clark is at his swoon-worthy best here. When we first see him, he’s a perfect dashing specimen in a top hat, tails and cape, complete with cane–rather Rhett Butler-esque!

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Truly at the peak of his heartthrob status, we are treated to many scenes of Clark smirking, winking and smooth talking with the ladies. Early on in the film, he shares a long liplock with a patron, who then points to the man next to her and says to Clark,”I want you to meet my husband.” Not many men can get away with that without getting their lights punched out!

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We are also treated to a boxing match between Spencer and Clark, with Clark wearing nothing but what looks to be a high-waisted diaper!

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His priest pal Spencer sums up Clark quite perfectly: “He’s as unscrupulous with men as he is ruthless with women.”  Perfectly true as he tries to wiggle his way into pure and simple Jeanette’s heart–finding out she’s a virgin, he says, “I’m a sucker!” Myrna Loy, Clark’s frequent co-star, once lamented that the American public boxed her in to always be Nora Charles and Clark to always be Blackie Norton. It’s true, several of his films afterward were copies of Blackie in one way or another.

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I’ll admit to, um, fast forwarding MacDonald’s opera house scenes. But one cannot help but be roused by her lively rendition of the film’s trademark song, “San Francisco” right before the earthquake. The song is, to this day, the theme song of the city. I had a friend who worked in a hotel there and once I called him and he put me on hold. What was the hold music? Jeanette belting out “San Francisco”! And yes, my friend made fun of me for being excited about hold music…

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Clark apparently wasn’t a fan of Jeanette’s soprano –he was hesitant to star in the film because he thought he’d just be a prop standing there listening to her sing.  To appease him, most of Jeanette’s singing scenes were filmed separately from Clark’s reaction shots. Interesting fact:  One of MacDonald’s opera gowns was later re-used as a gown for Gilda in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

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Jeanette was not one of Clark’s favorite leading ladies. He found her to be diva-like and a bit too prim and proper for his taste. He was also irritated that it was in her contract that she was given time off every month for her, ahem, “ladies days.” It is often repeated that she bothered him so much one day on the set that he purposely ate spaghetti loaded with garlic for lunch, knowing that that afternoon they were supposed to film a love scene. Jeanette was so offended by his breath she nearly fainted. Seems a bit immature for him, who knows if it’s true or not.

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The earthquake scenes are really something to behold. The stunning special effects used to simulate the earthquake were created by hydraulic platforms that were pulled apart by cables with hoses underneath. They took weeks of testing to perfect.

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Legendary director D.W. Griffith was hired to direct the earthquake scenes after the producers saw the rushes of Van Dyke’s version, which they thought were rushed and fake-looking. Griffith gave them the authenticity they needed. His only direction to the mobs of extras was, “Pretend it’s an earthquake! Run for your lives! Try to help your friends!”

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A critical darling, San Francisco won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Assistant Director, Best Writing (Original Story), and Best Actor Spencer Tracy. Clark was bitter about Spencer’s nomination, especially since his role was more of a supporting part. While I do think Spencer does a good job here , I think he is rather wasted in the role. Spencer (here and also in Test Pilot) was much too talented an actor to be playing Clark’s sidekick with a conscience. Spencer and Clark were friends for decades, but Clark was always envious of Spencer’s acting chops, while Spencer was jealous of Clark’s intense popularity.

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Clark objected to the final scene in which he falls to his knees and cries while he thanks God. He found it unmanly and refused. Director Van Dyke finally convinced him to do it by promising him to film him from behind.

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San Francisco is available on DVD. You can read more about the film here and see over 200 pictures from the film in the gallery.

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

clark gable myrna loy spencer tracy I love Warner Brothers Archive Collection! Thanks to them, the majority of Clark’s films are available to us fans for our home viewing pleasure. And FINALLY they have just released a few of the missing titles: clark gable constance bennett after office hours After Office Hours (1935) with Constance Bennett! Buy it here. clark gable wallace beery hell divers Hell Divers (1931) with Wallace Beery! Buy it here. parnell clark gable myrna loy Parnell (1937) with Myrna Loy! Buy it here.

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and Test Pilot, which I have been anxiously awaiting the release of for years! Buy it here.

In a Nutshell: Saratoga (1937)

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Directed by: Jack Conway

Co-stars: Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Frank Morgan, Walter Pidgeon, Una Merkel

Synopsis: Gable is Duke Bradley, a bookie who acquires the deed to the Brookdale horse ranch because the owner, Mr. Clayton (Jonathan Hale) owes him a lot of money. When Clayton dies, his daughter Carol (Harlow), who dislikes Bradley, is determined to get the horse ranch back in the family by winning horse races to pay Bradley back. Meanwhile, Bradley tries to bait Carol’s rich fiancée (Pidgeon) to place bets with him.

Best Gable Quote: “This is more work than I’ve done for a woman since my mother.”

Not-So-Fun Fact: Harlow collapsed into Gable’s arms during the filming of one scene and was rushed to the hospital. Diagnosed with uremic poisoning, she died of  a cerebral edema brought on by kidney failure just days later, at the age of 26. 90% of the film had been completed and MGM executives considered shelving the film altogether or reshooting it with Virginia Bruce or Jean Arthur. Harlow fans were outraged and sent thousands of letters demanding to see her last film.  They decided to finish it with a stand-in for Harlow’s part. Mary Dees was cast as Harlow’s stand-in, being viewed only from behind or beneath big hats and binoculars. Radio actress Paula Winslowe provided Harlow’s voice. Scenes that couldn’t be faked were scrapped altogether or re-written to feature one of the supporting players instead. Because the public flocked to see Harlow’s last film, Saratoga was one of the highest grossing films of 1937. Released just six weeks after Harlow’s death, it earned over $3 million at the box office

My Verdict: This film is infamous for being Jean’s last role and for the game of  “Spot the Fake Harlow!” I think it probably would have been a better film if Jean had lived to finish it. As it is, the film is thrown together in the end and does feel that well. It is one of the weakest of Clark and Jean’s pairings; their sizzle is on simmer rather than boil. Might be just me, but I just don’t find the horse-betting storyline intriguing. Take out the interest in seeing it for it being Jean’s last role and it is a rather mediocre film.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in March 2011.

In a Nutshell: Test Pilot (1938)

clark gable myrna loy spencer tracy test pilot

Directed by: Victor Fleming

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore

Synopsis: Gable is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking  gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.

Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.

Best Gable Quote: “The sky looks sweet and wears a pretty blue dress, doesn’t she? Yeah well don’t kid yourself. She lives up there, she invites you up there and when she gets you up there, she knocks you down!”

Fun Fact: Loy recalled that Gable was intimidated by the drunken “sky wears a pretty blue dress” speech and had her rehearse with him over and over; he was afraid of appearing too sensitive. In the end he did it perfect in one take.

My Verdict: This film is the first one comes to mind when people say they have seen the Clark Gable basics: It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, The Misfits, etc. Now what should they see? TEST PILOT. Why? Because this film is Clark Gable in his 30’s prime, all wrapped up in a pretty bow and presented to you on a platter. The witty script gives Clark plenty of wisecracks, he’s got a fair share of white-knuckles action scenes in the air, buddy brother-love scenes sparring with Spencer Tracy, and romantic scenes with the fabulous Myrna Loy. I consider it an essential.

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Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in January 2013.

 

In a Nutshell: Too Hot to Handle (1938)

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Directed by: Sam Wood

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Walter Pidgeon, Walter Connolly

Synopsis: Gable is Chris Hunter, a newsreel cameraman who is always where the action is. Walter Pidgeon is Bill Dennis, a rival newsreel cameraman who is constantly trying to out-scoop Chris. Both of them are bored in Shanghai since they can’t get anywhere near the action of the Chinese-Japanese war. His boss (Connolly) demanding action shots of the war, Chris starts making up fake shots using toy airplanes and sending them in. This angers Bill who decides to get even by sending his girlfriend, Alma (Loy) to fly in and he tricks Chris into thinking she is delivering vaccines so he’ll get an action shot. Chris’ driver ends up accidently causing Alma’s plane to crash while trying to get the shot and Chris rescues her from the blaze. Chris and Alma soon fall for each other, much to Bill’s chagrin. The two men constantly try to outdo each other, until binding together (somewhat) to help Alma find her brother, who is held captive by voodoo bushmen in the South American jungle.

Best Gable Quote: “I didn’t distort the truth. I merely heightened the composition.”

Fun Fact: While filming the plane crash, it was reported that the fire got out of control and the director wanted to cut the shot so they could get Loy out of there in time. Gable rushed in and pulled Loy out of the plane, saving her life before the flames engulfed her. The press quickly got wind of the story and it was front page news. Loy recalled she never thought she was in any danger and speculates it was the studio just trying to get some publicity for the film.

My Verdict: Another reteam of Clark and Myrna in an action packed romance! This one includes foreign adventure and Clark gets to be the rogue reporter yet again. It’s an enjoyable romp, with Clark and Myrna showing their usual spark and Clark ruffling Walter Pidgeon’s feathers. The film loses steam for me once they set out in the jungle to rescue Myrna’s brother.

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Read more here.

 

In a Nutshell: Idiot’s Delight (1939)

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Directed by: Clarence Brown

Co-stars: Norma Shearer, Burgess Meredith

Synopsis: Gable is Harry Van, a World War I vet and struggling vaudeville performer when he meets Irene (Shearer), an acrobat, while performing in Omaha, Nebraska. They have a brief romance before going their separate ways. Many years pass as Harry tries different acts and odd jobs in between. Fast forward to 1939 and Harry is on a train in Europe with his current act, Les Blondes. They get stopped from getting into Geneva due to the impending war. Stranded at a mountaintop hotel, Harry notices a Russian countess who looks just a tad too familiar–could it be Irene from Omaha?

Best Gable Quote: “What’s more, it cost seventy-five cents! You know, that’s the most expensive present I ever bought for any dame!” (I had to pick that one because Carole Lombard thought it particularly hilarious and telling of Clark’s penny-pinching ways and would retort it back to him often!)

Fun Fact: Gable was very nervous about the singing and dancing required for the role. He spent over six weeks rehearsing, often at home with Lombard as his coach. On the day they shot the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, the set was closed to outsiders. Lombard came by to watch and gave him a bouquet of roses afterward.

My Verdict: Every Gable fan should see it. Not because it’s a spectacularly great film, but because it’s your lone chance to see Clark dance and sing and make a bit of a fool of himself. And in that aspect it’s enjoyable. It’s the whole Norma Shearer-doing-a-bad-Garbo-impression part that is lost on me. The plot of is-she-or-isn’t-she-Irene-from-Omaha thing is stale and really quite silly. Overall, it’s not a disappointing film, it’s rather enjoyable, just with a dull romance amongst the singing, dancing and war drama.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in May 2011.

Ratings

In a Nutshell: Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

myrna loy clark gable jean harlow wife vs. secretary

Directed by: Clarence Brown

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, James Stewart

Synopsis: Gable is Van, “Jake”, or “V.S.” Stanhope, a publishing executive happily married to the elegant Linda (Loy). Tongues start wagging about Van and his beautiful secretary, Helen “Whitey” Wilson (Harlow), whom he considers a close friend and confidante, but nothing more. While trying to secretly buy rights to a magazine from a rival publisher, he sneaks around town with Whitey, finalizing the deal. As his stories become inconsistent, Linda begins to suspect him and Whitey are having an affair. So does Whitey’s patient fiancé, Dave (a youthful Stewart). Dave grows irritated that Whitey refuses to quit her job, telling her that it isn’t natural for a woman not to want to stay home and be married and have children. She breaks up with him after he insinuates her relationship with Van is indecent. Linda’s suspicions finally bubble over when Van refuses to take her along on a business trip to Havana. An emergency occurs and Van calls Whitey to Havana to help him close the deal. When Whitey answers Van’s hotel room phone at 2:00am after a long night, Linda feels she needs no further evidence and begins divorce proceedings when Van returns to New York, refusing to believe his explanations.

Best Gable Quote: “You know, Linda, sometimes I just sit in the office and think about us. I try to be very fair about it and I am too. And I say to myself: who are you to think you are entitled to Linda? Are you good enough for her? And I say to myself: No. Then I say to myself: Well who is entitled to her? Is anyone good enough for her? And I say to myself: No. Then I say to myself: You’re as little entitled to her as anybody else so you hold right on. And I’m holding.”

Fun Fact: Gable and Loy became close friends on the set. She said he brought her coffee every morning and would read her Shakespeare and poetry in her trailer between takes.

My Verdict: I love this movie. The premise is silly and a common one form the 1930’s—a ridiculous stream of misunderstandings leads to marital strife—but this movie stands out because of the snappy script and the great cast. Clark Gable, Myrna Loy AND Jean Harlow! Plus throw in a young Jimmy Stewart as Harlow’s beau! Fabulous. Clark and Jean have their usual great chemistry, and Myrna and Clark’s scenes are adorably sweet. This one may not be one of his most dramatic parts or one of this pinnacle films, but it is a standout to show people in generations to come –“Hey, this is why Clark Gable was so popular.”

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in July 2010.

 

In a Nutshell: San Francisco (1936)

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Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke

Co-stars: Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy

Synopsis: Gable is Blackie Norton, a ruthless saloon-keeper in 1906 San Francisco, proud of his gambling ways. Despite their differences, he falls in love with Mary Blake (MacDonald), an aspiring opera singer who he hires to sing in his revue. His childhood pal, priest Tim Mullin (Tracy), objects to him putting Mary on display and stopping her from her opera aspirations. Realizing that Tim is right and that she should pursue her dreams instead of letting Blackie hold her back, Mary leaves him and becomes a successful opera star. It isn’t until the shattering earthquake that Blackie realizes his true feelings for Mary and sets out to find her among the rubble.

Best Gable Quote: “You know, I never tried to kid you, Mary. You take me as I am or you don’t take me. Tim doesn’t try to change me because he knows he can’t. And you can’t either. Nothing can. You know what I’ve been waiting for? I’ve been waiting to hear you say that I’m alright with you the way I am. Maybe you’re ready to say it now. Are you?”

Fun Fact: The film was one of the biggest hits of 1936, earning $5.3 million and a profit of $2.2 million. It became Gable’s highest grossing film after Gone with the Wind.

My Verdict: This is one of those films that has it all—drama, comedy, romance, action. It is difficult not to like this film! Although Gable did not like working with MacDonald, I don’t think it shows; they do have great chemistry. She may not be the sexiest of his leading ladies for sure, but she’s beautiful and her purity rubbed up against Clark’s ruggedness works. Gable and Tracy are always a great pairing and here is no exception. The special effects used for the earthquake are extremely impressive if you take in account that you are looking at a film made at a time when talkies hadn’t even been around 10 years yet. No CGI here, real effects and stunt people. The songs are great (although I must confess I always fast forward through MacDonald’s opera sequence…) and the costumes superb. An essential for sure, although I must say I think Clark should have nabbed an Oscar nomination for this one. Just sayin’.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

Ratings

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From January 1940:

Prime of the month—came from Robert Taylor, at the expense of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy. Seems the three of them were lunching together, and Gable and Tracy were”riding” Taylor about being in line for the draft if America goes into the war. They razzed him and razzed him, with: “Poor Taylor; you’ll have to go, but we’re lucky. We’re TOO OLD to be called.”

“Yeah,” flipped Taylor, ducking; “but it took a war to bring THAT out!”

 

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This month, Clark Gable is a womanizin’ oil chaser, Spencer Tracy is his long-suffering best pal, Claudette Colbert is his best girl, and Hedy Lamarr is his sidedish in Boom Town.

Gable is “Big John” McMasters and Tracy is “Square John” Sand, or as Big John calls him right from the beginning, “Shorty”. They are two wildcatters out west trying to strike oil. They pool their money and smarts and soon hit it big. Putting a snag in their festivities is the arrival of Elizabeth or “Betsy” (Colbert), Shorty’s sweetheart from back home. She arrives to see him but falls in love with Big John instead, and they are married the night they met.

A year passes and when Shorty thinks that Big John is not treating Betsy right, the two men come to blows and flip a coin to decide who gets the oil rigs. Shorty wins and Big John and Betsy hit the road. The film follows them through the years as Big John and Betsy have a son and strike it rich, first in Oklahoma, then in New York. Shorty also strikes it rich but soon loses it all. When the two men meet again and decide to let bygones be bygones, their friendship and working relationship is tested again when Shorty discovers Big John is having an affair with the elegant Karen VanMeer (Lamarr).

The film is rather melodramatic, but the cast is fantastic and it keeps your interest even if oil drilling isn’t exactly your idea of a thrilling topic.

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The film has all the ingredients for the perfect Clark Gable stew: he gets dirty, he throws punches, he juggles two gorgeous girls, and he’s kind of a cad through it all but in the end it all works out a-ok for Clark.

Clark and Claudette, the Oscar-winning duo from 1934’s It Happened One Night, are re-teamed here for the second (and last) time. The chemistry hasn’t faded for these two–they still fell easily into the roles of two people very much in love.

clark gable claudette colbert boomt town

clark gable claudette colbert boom town

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Boom Town

One of my all-time favorite Clark Gable scenes is in this film. Claudette, torn between her obligation to her childhood beau Spencer and her newfound love for Clark, runs up the stairs to her hotel room and away from his embrace.

Clark at first seems confused but then says softly–but firmly, and with an almost pleading look in his eyes, “Hey! Come down here.” When Claudette obliges, he informs her, “I make up my mind quick. I made it up when I first saw you I guess. You aren’t ever going to leave.” Just try and resist that!

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Spencer Tracy is again playing Clark’s conscience, much as he did in San Francisco. He is left to be the one shaking his head at Clark’s actions and trying to steer him down the right path. Clark and Spencer were “frenemies” of sorts–considered themselves very close friends but at the same time envied each other. Clark was jealous that Spencer was so highly regarded as an actor, and Spencer was jealous of Clark’s popularity and hearthrob status.

clark gable spencer tracy boom town

In this film, Clark and Spencer get to beat each other up in a rather hokey fight scene. Throwing fake punches and breaking furniture right and left, Spencer throttles Clark for cheating on Claudette with Hedy. Hokey and makes some amusing screenshots!

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While filming the fight scene, Spencer’s stand-in accidently smacked Clark square in the mouth, breaking his dentures and cutting his lip–causing a delay in filming.

Hedy Lamarr is pure window dressing in this film. But if anyone could be good looking window dressing, it was Hedy! She was very nervous about the role and apparently Clark often had to reassure her. Their scenes together were steamy enough that MGM quickly reteamed them in Comrade X.

clark gable hedy lamarr boom town

 

Boom Town was filmed during what was probably the happiest time of Clark Gable’s life. Riding high on the recent success of Gone with the Wind and in a newlywed bliss with Carole Lombard, Clark had never looked better.

clark gable boom town

Boom Town is available on DVD in The Clark Gable Signature Collection. Read more about the film here and see over 200 pictures from the film in the gallery.

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