clark gable

From April 1941:

One of the reasons, admittedly a minor one, that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard get along so famously is that both see eye to eye on the matter of “dressing up” and putting on the ritz.

Framer Gable goes for those dusty old trousers and sweaters in his real farm life as well as in the still pictures, and Carole, he says, will have no part in that general feminine conspiracy which aims at getting the male into white-tie-and-tails at the slightest provocation.

Gable’s new picture, with Rosalind Russell, is “The Uniform,” but the title doesn’t mean he’ll be duded up any more than usual. Gable is not one of our clothes-conscious stars–“Don’t have to be,” he says, “with the kind of parts I play.”

This relegation of wardrobe to the minor matters file in Gable’s life impressed Walter Pidgeon on their first meeting some years ago. Gable had been instrumental in having Pidgeon cast in a leading role with him, and Pidgeon–who has worked with clothes-conscious stars–sought him out to confer on wardrobe.

“Tell me what you’re wearing,” said Walter, “and I’ll pick out suits that don’t conflict.”

“You name it,” said Gable, “and I’ll steer clear of what you choose.”

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“The Uniform” was re-titled They Met in Bombay.

In a Nutshell: Command Decision (1948)

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Directed by: Sam Wood

Co-stars: Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy

Synopsis: Gable is K.C. Dennis, a and American General in England during World War II. His duty is to plan bombing missions over Germany, at the loss of hundreds of men. Despite objections from fellow soldiers and Congressmen, he continues his mission because he believes it is key to the U.S. victory over Germany.

Best Gable Quote: “Someday you’re going to wisecrack yourself right into the infantry, sergeant.”

Fun Fact: The only Gable film in which there is no love story. There are no females in the cast. MGM received  thousands of letters from angry female Gable fans complaining that there was no romance in the picture.

My Verdict: Ok, I don’t like this movie. I’ve seen it a few times and I am always trying to give it another chance, but the fact of the matter is…this film is just plain boring. You can wander in and out of the room while watching it and not miss anything. It truly is one of those films that I am sure was an interesting play, but it just doesn’t translate onscreen. It’s all talk, talk, talk and no action.Talk about the deaths of servicemen we never get to meet, talk about bombings, talk about women they are going to marry or babies they are going to have. Problem is, we never see any of this. I would feel a bit better about the film if we got acquainted with soldiers before they burst into flame on a runway, or actually saw Clark talking to his wife on the phone, or even maybe him changing into a polo shirt and having a drink outside the barracks. I find the film completely lacking in human touch.Clark does a fine job with what he has to work with, but he doesn’t have much.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in August 2012.

 

In a Nutshell: Any Number Can Play (1949)

clark gable alexis smith any number can play

Directed by: Mervyn Leroy

Co-stars: Alexis Smith, Audrey Totter, Wendell Corey, Mary Astor, Frank Morgan

Synopsis: Gable is Charley King, the owner of a gambling house in New York. After learning he has a heart problem, he begins to re-evaluate his life: his relationship with his wife (Smith) and teenage son, his business and his associates.

Best Gable Quote: “Honest kid, I don’t think you’re old enough to judge your father.”

Fun Fact: During production Gable started dating co-star Audrey Totter, who played his sister-in-law in the film. (Totter just died in December of last year.)

My Verdict: It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it’s fine for what it is. The role is age-appropriate for Clark and I always like seeing him play dad. It’s kind of refreshing to see nearly-50 year old Clark playing a married man with a teenaged son. The script is kind of blah but I’ve seen worse. Alexis is neither great nor bad. Altogether just an “okay” film.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in December 2013.

Ratings

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I am going to be perfectly blunt. Here’s the thing about this movie: I don’t like it. I don’t like it and I wish that I did like it. But having just viewed it for probably the sixth or seventh time, it’s confirmed–not my cup of tea.

Gable is K.C. Dennis, an American General in England during World War II. His duty is to plan bombing missions over Germany, at the loss of hundreds of men. Despite objections from fellow soldiers and Congressmen, he continues his mission because he believes it is key to the U.S. victory over Germany.

Clark is supported by a great male cast, including Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy and John Hodiak. But that’s all the support Clark receives as there are no females in this picture. That’s right, it’s practically a mens’ The Women. Except no catfights, no romantic tension..no much of anything, to be honest.  As a fleeting mention towards the end, Clark says that he has a wife and children–a son he’d like to take fishing. That’s the most of any romanticism we get here.

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The main problem with this film is what happens to a lot of films based on plays–instead of adapting it to a film, it is filmed as if someone filmed the play on stage. The sets are limited, costume changes are nil (naturally, all uniforms) and all they do is…talk. Talk about the deaths of servicemen we never get to meet, talk about bombings, talk about women they are going to marry or babies they are going to have. Problem is, we never see any of this. I would feel a bit better about the film if we got acquainted with soldiers before they burst into flame on a runway, or actually saw Clark talking to his wife on the phone, or even maybe him changing into a polo shirt and having a drink outside the barracks. I find the film completely lacking in human touch.

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Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon

Clark was anxious to do this film–probably for the reasons it wasn’t well received, frankly–it was a different role for him, a serious role, with no women to sweep off their feet. Since returning to the screen after a three year hiatus while he served in the Army Air Corps over Europe, none of his films had been well received.  He seemed on uneven footing. Perhaps he thought this film was a sure thing, as the novel and play by William Wister Haines had done quite well, with the play running for 409 performances.

I can see that as a play the suspense of unseen people and unseen events would be fine; it works in that atmosphere. There is just something missing for me in the film adaptation. And not only for me, as the film was critically panned as being too talky. It ended up losing $130,000–Clark’s first box office offering to be in the red since 1939’s Idiot’s Delight.

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Clark Gable and Van Johnson on the set

I think Clark was drawn to the role because it was a serious one, a non-romantic one and he was aching to do something different. Since the war, he had become restless in his career. It’s failure was a disappointment to him.

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Interestingly, Clark’s longtime friend Robert Taylor was originally cast in the role of General Kane, but had to drop out. While I do like seeing Clark spar with Walter Pidgeon, it would have been great to see Taylor and Gable paired together onscreen.

Command Decision is available on DVD. You can see pictures from the film in the gallery.

 

 

 

Clark Gable Myrna Loy Walter Pidgeon Too Hot to Handle

Following on the heels of the very successful Test Pilot, Clark and Myrna Loy were teamed again in 1938 for another romantic adventure drama.

This film is an interesting look behind the scenes at the now-extinct-thanks-to-television newsreel business. 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 (Walter 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 (Myrna 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.

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Clark and Myrna have great chemistry, as usual, although I kind of feel like Myrna is wasted in this plot; she doesn’t have much to do but look worried.

Clark Gable Myrna Loy

And Clark and Walter make good sparring partners.

Clark Gable Myrna Loy Walter Pidgeon

Being a classic film fan as I am, I hate to use this sentence, but it’s true: this film feels dated. Mainly because nowadays news is instant–on the television, on the computer, on the phone in the palm of your hand. Reporters are live on the scene in every country and video is available instantly in many formats. So it’s a little funny to see Clark’s boss saying he’s waited two weeks for news footage from Shanghai, and to see how the newsreels are flown over in big planes and then processed strand by strand. Although I suppose the idea of newsmen trying to out-scoop each other will never be dated!

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Speaking of dated, how about the enormous X-ray machine used in one scene….Walter and Clark stand on either side of Myrna (not to mention many others in the room milling around as well) while she sits on a stool as she is X-rayed and Clark even uses the X-ray very haphazardly to blacken some film. Ah, the days before anyone worried about cancer…

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Myrna Loy had this to say about the film:

“[Too Hot to Handle] wasn’t really much of a part, rather routine. It really was mostly Gable. He’s wonderful, very comical, as the newsreel reporter who fakes stories. The whole thing was fun though, and a bit hazardous. Clark supposedly saved my life on that picture. The script called for him to resuce me from a burning plane wreck after causing it. They turned on controlled fire from a valve behind the cameras, and Clark ran over to pull me out. He yells, “Come on, those gas tanks will blow any minute!” I counter, “What did you expect ’em to do, you clumsy jackass?” Supposedly, the controlled fire went wrong at this point, but Clark kept coming and yanked me out as the plane burst into flames. Ten seconds later, according to news reports, I might have burned to death. That incident received enormous coverage, but it could have been pure publicity. You do a lot of crazy things in pictures, but it all happens so fast and you’re usually well protected. I don’t recall feeling extreme heat or anything; I can’t honestly say if Clark really saved me or not. Such was the power of Howard Strickling and the MGM publicity department.

Indeed a big deal was made out of Clark “saving Myrna Loy’s life” on the set. All over the newspapers and fan magazines was the account of Clark’s heroism, each more overblown than the last. Myrna’s probably right, it was more than likely pure publicity.

clark gable myrna loy

Not a publicity stunt, however, was Clark’s injury when he dove into a mud puddle during a scene. Mud got into his eyes and started burning. A nurse was called and production was halted for the rest of the day while Clark’s eyes were flushed out with saline. He was given a sedative and told to go home and rest his eyes for at least 10 hours. He was back at the set the next day; those beautiful gray orbs back in working fashion!

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For me, this film starts to lag when they head down to South America. It’s much more interesting to see Clark and Walter battling it out for Myrna and out-scooping each other than the racism-tinged jungle scenes. It starts to feel like two movies in one.

Clark Gable Leo Carrillo

Fourteen years later, Clark was again in the jungle for Mogambo; main difference being that that film was actually filmed in Africa, while Too Hot to Handle was filmed entirely on the MGM backlot. In fact, the jungle is the very same one used six years earlier in Red Dust.

The publicity stills from this film are some of my very favorites. Playful, cute and gorgeous! You can see over 130 photos from the film in the gallery.

clark gable myrna loy

clark gable myrna loy

You can read more about the film here and it is available on DVD through the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.

Clark Gable

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From September 1938:

Everywhere we turn something real inspires something romantic. Why, even Mussolini’s Ethipian adventure has landed Clark Gable a new thrill-packed adventure role!

“Too Hot to Handle”, our first set invasion at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, really has nothing to do with Il Duce or his Fascisti friends. It’s an adventurous saga of a daredevil newsreel cameraman.

But if Laurence Stallings, the war correspondent, and Leonard Hammond, the ace newsreeler, hadn’t sat idly for weeks sopping up Ethiopian rainfall and waiting for Mussolini to get going, Clark might very well have missed out on a dashing scenario to follow in the wake of “Test Pilot.”

As it was, Stallings and John lee Mahin cooked up a yarn based on Hammond’s adevntures behind a tripod–and, bingo, Clark has just what he needs for his new adventure-personality peg on the screen!

The way “Too Hot to Handle” finally worked out makes Clark a lone-wolf picture-shooting ace and Myrna Loy an Earhart-ish ocean flyer. Walter Pidgeon, Leo Carrillo and Walter Connolly mix up in the excitement which hops from Manilla to Shanghai to the South American jungles and back again. Along the way, Clark films everything spectacular in sight at the risk of life and limb, you can be sure, rescues Myrna’s jungle-lost aviation brother (Paul Redfern idea) and manages some very personal close-ups with Myrna to the disgust of rival Walter Pidgeon. Now, don’t get worried–Clark gets her in the end.

When we intrude on these doings on Stage 29, Clark has just passed from burning lips to burning ships. The film he has taken of a flaming liner makes Walter covet half the profits, so there’s quite a long and scrappy scene. Aviation pictures always seem to require a setful of fake oil-spray fog. We could do without that, because, in this case, it partially hides lovely Myrna Loy. “Minnie”, pert and sassy in a flying suit and goggles, climbs down out of her plane to put her two-cents worth in the argument.

“Action!” says Director Conway. “No–wait a minute. Clark, you’re too neat.”

Clark looks slightly bewildered as a couple of prop men leap to his side, muss his hair and squirt grease all over a snappy sport coat. Then he grins wickedly. “You boys all through?”

“Yep,” replied the grease-squirters. “What’s the joke?”

“Nothing,” says Clark, “except MGM just spent one hundred and ten bucks. That’s what this jacket cost me. It’s mine–not the studio’s!”

The prop men stagger.

We watch the scene, but somebody–maybe us–is a jinx. Clark repeatedly blows his lines like a amateur. What’s the matter? The assistant director tells us.

Clark is overanxious because he’s been invited by Donald Douglas, the plane-builder, to be a guest at the take-off of the DC-4, the mammoth plane that’s being launched this afternoon. Director Conway has promised to get him through in time, but now it looks like they’ll never make it. And is Clark worried! He likes planes.

Then, as we watch, we see something that has never before met our eyes on a Hollywood set. In the middle of a take a roaring noise seeps through the thick walls of the stage. In the middle of his lines, Clark yells, “There she is!” Then Clark, Myrna and the whole company scram madly through the red light and outdoors. So do we.

It’s the DC-4, the biggest land plane in the world. She soars over the studio like a great prehistoric bird, while a guy and a gal stand below and wave like excited kids. Clark and Myrna. And right beside them is–us. The red light still burns, but nobody sees it. Pictures can wait. This is the real thing.

 

As we wind up our parade of Gable and Harlow pairings, it is only natural that the last one is their last film together and, sadly, Harlow’s last film period.

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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 the 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.

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Jean, looking bloated and tired, was struggling through the film. She collapsed into Clark’s arms one day on the set (I have also heard some places that it was Walter Pidgeon’s arms, but it is more often said it was Clark so I’ll go with it) after complaining she wasn’t feeling well. After months of doctors diagnosing her with the flu and simple colds,  it was finally determined that she was in the end stages of renal failure. In those days, before dialysis, there wasn’t anything they could do. The Baby was gone.

Clark was on the set when director Jack Conway received the phone call that Jean had died. While some people started weeping, Clark, almost angrily, stormed off the set and declared to a waiting reporter, “I am too overcome by grief to make any comment.” He was a pallbearer at her funeral.

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The film was about 90% completed at the time of her death and it was so sudden that Louis B. Mayer and the producers didn’t know what to do. They shelved the film and even contemplated re-shooting it with Virginia Grey (interestingly). When this news was leaked to the press, Harlow fans were outraged and sent thousands of letters to MGM demanding to see her final film. So, the script was re-worked and most of Harlow’s remaining lines were given to supporting players (Hattie McDaniel emerges as a real scene stealer as a result and Una Merkel gets more attention from Clark). They hired C-list actress Geraldine Dvorak to do the close-up shots, since her face somewhat resembled Jean’s. Dancer Mary Dees was to be Harlow’s body stand-in, covering her face in big hats, binoculars and weird camera angles. Radio personality Paula Winslowe was hired to dub in Harlow’s voice. She did the best she could to get the Harlow squawk down, but it isn’t very convincing.

 This video shows the “fake Jean”:

Gable was very uneasy with these changes. Harlow had been a good friend and he was deeply sad at her death and didn’t want to continue the film at all. He said that acting with Mary Dees was like “holding a ghost.”

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In the end, the truth is, Saratoga is not a great film. It’s rather mediocre. Gable is fine, playing his typical wisecracking con artist, Harlow (the real one)  is a good sparring partner, and Pidgeon does a good job looking like he is a turkey whose feathers have been ruffled. One can definitely tell “real Jean” from “fake Jean” and the ending is obviously just tacked on footage from the earlier train scene. But the fan magazines of the day all raved over the film and thousands flocked to see Harlow’s swan song. It turned out to be one of the highest grossing films of 1937 as a result.

I'd let Clark be my babysitter any day...

I'd let Clark be my babysitter any day...

My favorite scene is Clark and Jean arguing in her room and him hiding under the couch when Walter enters. When Walter spots a lit cigar, Jean pretends it is hers and Clark is relieved from under his perch. It’s quite cute. One wonders if the film would have had more great moments like these if it had been completed as planned.

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A piece of trivia I have found most interesting is how the death of Jean affected The Wizard of Oz. Shirley Temple, the first choice for Dorothy, was supposed to be loaned from Twentieth Century Fox to MGM for the role in exchange for Jean in the Tyrone Power picture In Old Chicago. Because of Jean’s death, the deal was called off and MGM was “stuck” using Judy Garland and Fox replaced Jean with Alice Faye.  Jean was also up for the lead in the classic comedy Topper, with Cary Grant, and was recast with Constance Bennett.

Also, what book did Jean take with her to the hospital and declared she was finally going to finish before she left there? Gone with the Wind, naturally.

Saratoga is, unbelievably, not available on DVD. Read more about it here and see over 100 pictures from the film in the gallery.

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