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Archive for the ‘Clark Gable: SCREEN GOD’ Category

Test Pilot

31 Mar

Test Pilot – directed by Victor Fleming. Drama. 1 hour 59 minutes Black And White 1938.
★★★★★
The Story: A champion test-pilot refuses to be grounded by the lady he married, despite the good offices of his best friend.
~
What a terrific picture!

Beautifully written!

Alive!

Complete!

Clark Gable before he got frozen into Clark-Gable-roles, one ice cube after another. Which means the studio knew what lines he said good, and so gave him scripts in which he could say those good lines his way. John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, the same. Line reading actors at the end of lively careers.

But here? Not yet. Wow! Is he good!

Clark Gable has one of the great, mobile, actor-faces. Many events in that face. Broad readable features. Big expressive eyes. Flexible brows. A mouth that, even silent, never stops telling stories. And, like many actors of his era, a distinctive voice and delivery. The face is an entertainment in itself. Plus a big masculine energy. Lots of humor. And willingness to play the dope.

Here’s he plays a rash Test Pilot, womanizer, and cocky, short-fused, high-liver who emergency-lands his plane in a Kansa farm field, owned by the lovely good sport Myrna Loy. Brash, blunt Gable falls for the lady.

He brings her home, where his side-kick, Spencer Tracy looks askance at the dare-devil’s marrying anyone, when death lies in the very next sky. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were one of the country’s favorite screen marriages of the ‘30s.

Watching Gable seize this part in his handsome jaws and shake it for all it’s worth reminds us of the sort of the happy-go-lucky sap he played so thoroughly in It Happened One Night, for which he won the Oscar in ’34.

The flight footage is the best I have ever seen – exciting, different, convincing. In fact, the film shows Tracy and Gable flying a B-17, which became a principle WWII weapon. The flight sequences were taken at air shows of the sort we used to go in the ‘30s. It’s whiz-bang entertainment. The U.S. (then) Army Air Force supplied the planes, and they’re fascinating to watch.

After the comic beginnings of the marriage, Loy realizes she has gotten herself into a pickle – the mortal danger test pilots court. Her part is a changeable personality, so you never know how she will resolve this irresolvable matter. Tracy offers her consolation and bitter truth. He plays the fulcrum of two crucibles in which a wobbly love loves on. You never know how the love story or the flight tests will end.

Victor Fleming, soon to direct Gable in Gone With The Wind, provides the actors with space to perform to the max. Test Pilot is wittily written; it was nominated for three Oscars, Best Editing, Best Story, and Best Picture.

I had a grand old time with it. You will too.

 

A King And Four Queens

19 Apr

A King And Four Queens — directed by Raoul Walsh. Western. A handsome grifter works his charms on four lovelies and their mother-in-law for a boodle. 86 minutes Color 1956.

★★★★

He drank a lot and screwed any lady who turned up in his dressing room. He could write his own ticket. He was Clark Gable, the sexiest man in Hollywood – and one of the things that made him sexy was his humor – the wry look, the brow furrowed with amusement at female goings-on, and the crackle in his voice that relished the game, its losses and its folly. All this is in full play with Gable in this well constructed and tightly written piece. He is given a first class actress to oppose his ambitions for her money. Jo Van Fleet is the mother of four wretched bank robbers three of whom have burned to death, while one escaped. She sits on their buried booty and she waits for a son to return – except she doesn’t know which son it is, for the bodies were unrecognizable – and their four wives wait with her, not knowing either. Van Fleet was a curious actress, powerful in dispute, but with the sensitivity of a barstool. And yet her scene with Gable shot in bed is really as brilliant a piece of subtext playing as you will ever see. She scorns Gable, wounded though he is, but she longs with unmentioned pain for news of one of her sons. She is, rare for her, touching. Gable admired her professionalism; he himself had his lines down pat first thing; he also asked her scenes to be edited down, because she was stealing the show; it couldn’t be done and still make sense. Somehow the two of them keep the story going, along with Eleanor Parker who entertains herself with common sense and a simple wardrobe. The first symptom of the demise of Hollywood studios in he ’50s was the failure of costuming, and this is a good example of it. Technicolored to death, the other three wives make plays for Gable, and it is a tribute to his gifts and his nature, weathered and real, that he can tell each of them off without shaming them or looking like a prig. Gable, a mountain of masculinity – but with a jocular eye. An actor who never fails us. An actor who loved acting. If you want to see what an actor who is perfectly confident in his craft looks like, look at Gable in this period of his work, in his 50s. It’s late Beethoven. It’s really something to behold. The direction by Raoul Walsh never falters, always tells the story hard and clear. The picture, aside from the spectacle of its opening ride through wild terrain, is an indoor Western. Alex North wrote a terrific score and the great Lucien Ballard filmed it.

 

The Tall Men

18 Apr

The Tall Men — directed by Raoul Walsh. Western. A couple of hold-up men get hired by a victim to lead a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, along with the victim’s lady friend.  122 minutes Color 1955.

★★★★

What do we see Westerns for anyhow? Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men answers part of this this question most satisfactorily. He directed one of the five greatest Westerns ever made, The Big Trail, a wagon train story which brought young John Wayne in pale deerskin to the screen. It’s a better movie than this because it is about driving people and this is about driving livestock. But livestock are still very interesting, and there are 5,000 cattle here, in huge sweeps and runs and stampedes and herds, and there seem to be almost as many horses. Vast gangs appear to stop this drive and a whole tribe of Sioux Indians in full feather attempt to trap and destroy it. And all of this is set against the most spectacular mountains and deserts and valleys of the West, places you’d never get to see unless you were in a Western itself (in this case Durango, Mexico, 600 miles south of the border). And all these places giant and miniaturize the herds, the gangs and tribes, and the drivers themselves, and to these places none of the characters pay the slightest attention. But we do. Because we love to see Westerns for just such things. And because director Raoul Walsh has a singular eye for them. We also see Westerns because there is a hero: “He’s a man who you always wanted to become when you grew up, and when you were old were sad because you didn’t,” as Robert Ryan describes Clark Gable, and, boy, is he on the money. There is never a doubt about Gable’s leadership, authority, practicality, experience, or common sense about people. He has tremendous dignity and care for others, which gives him an underlying sweetness. He also has a deeply ingrained confidence in himself as an actor — lovely to see. As with all Walsh’s films the picture is grounded in a romance, in this case with Jane Russell. Jane Russell was a person directors loved to work with because she was down to earth, such a good sport and so easy to get along with, but she was not much of an actress, or, rather really not an actress at all. She was kept in a cage by Howard Hughes who owned her contract on the understanding he would support her her whole life if she allowed him to. To say that he seldom let her out to learn her craft is perhaps ingenuous, when the truth is that she was probably not inherently an actor at all. She mugs, she grimaces, she cannot say a single line convincingly. She is frightened. And therefore defensive. She had a wonderful smile, which radiates all through Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but is not on view here, although her justly famous figure is. Everything she does comes out broad, and thus she misses the humor inherent in the lines. She sings good though. The picture is one of the most beautiful color films ever made, but Leo Tover who filmed it, and Walsh, keep all color out of it, save the shades of red associated with Russell, a blanket, a pink blouse, a gaudy red party dress, a dark red cape. It’s a brilliant stroke and is the kind of spectacle only the vast, cattle-colored landscape of the West can make telling. There are long sequences of Gable and Cameron Mitchell, his unruly brother, riding in deep snow, and they are unforgettable because there is no other color but snow. The film is somewhat defeated by its costumes, a trait of color film after 1950, so Gable’s hat is store-bought-new as is his midnight blue shirt. His hair is never out of place. But he is a superb actor; he takes every scene at full value and makes it real and right, while other actors (except for Robert Ryan) founder with the improbabilities of the script. To say there is a plot or story here would be to detour your expectations. Cows are taken from one place to the next; certain episodes stall them; that is all. But that is almost all that is needed to make an heroic and engrossing Western for you.

 

China Seas

10 Feb

China Seas — directed by Tay Garnett. Low Adventure On The High Seas. A ship captain endures pirates, monsoon, and the forward attentions of two desirable dames. 87 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★

Drama at every turn, so, why are you complaining – ain’t you gettin’ your money’s worth? Yes, you are, but it’s a crazy film. Clark Gable is before us, aged 34 and at the peak of his masculinity. There’s a lot to say about Gable as an actor, for he loved his craft, was absolutely in earnest about being good at it. Technically he is the perfect film star, with the most beautiful head of hair, shape of head, face, eyes, mouth, nose, and photogenicality. He has a voice unmatched for male ardor. He is absolutely sure of his sexuality, which is really the foundation of his appeal, and which means not only that he can go after what he wants, but that he can decline what he does not want, both without shame. And what he does not want in this story is the neediness of the dame he has been screwing, played by Jean Harlow. How different a sex idol she was than Monroe, who has all the seduction of pliability, soft as perfume, whereas Harlow is rapacious and hard. The peroxide hair of Marilyn made her look soft, that of Harlow tough. Interesting huh? The difficulty with the material lies in these two stars’ acting. Gable had a lot more talent and technique than Harlow, but he barks and barks, and Harlow is cacophonous. She is so monotonously raucous in her playing that the character looks insane, and you never think that Gable would put up with her for a minutes, much less possibly end up with her. They needed a suggestion of more variety from the director. Rosalind Russell, such a tonic as an actress, plays the English lady Gable really loves, a gal friend from his better days. Aboard this ship of fools is Robert Benchley as a droll drunk, C. Aubrey Smith, that firm but kindly hatchet, as a bemused ship owner, Lewis Stone as a deposed captain, Edward Brophy playing out that great Somerset Maugham story about the necklace opposite Akim Tamiroff, he of The Moscow Art Theatre and Stanislavsky, along with Donald Meek, Hattie McDaniel delicious as the greedy maid, and, last but never least, Wallace Beery as the loveable heavy. Harlow’s and Russell’s dresses are by Adrian and are masterpieces of the costumers’ art. Dwell upon them. The story is by one of the most gifted screenwriters of the day, Jules Furthman. The filming of the typhoon at sea is worth the show – but all of it is worth the show. If only to just watch Gable, and see how good an actor he is, a factor almost impossible to scope past his personal presence, confidence, and beauty.

 

 

Wife vs. Secretary

08 Feb

Wife vs. Secretary — directed by Clarence Brown. Comedy. Malicious friends raise their eyebrows at a pretty secretary and nearly ruin a marriage. 88 minutes Black and White 1936.

★★★★★

To me, Clarence Brown has always seemed a clunky director. Through silents and sound, he was Garbo’s principal director and gave her the closed sets she desired but not her best films. So it is mystifying to me how beautifully made this comedy is, for he seldom directed comedies. But this film is lively and bright. This is partly due to a terrific script. (“’Have you been faithful while I was away?’ he asks. ‘Yes. Twice,’ she responds.”)”The title is crude and off-putting, but Alice Duer Miller who wrote it with John Lee Mahin and Norman Krasna has made a snappy and unusual entertainment. Brown gives Jimmy Stewart, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Clark Gable room to shine in finely detailed and energetic performances in every scene. And both the choices of what to shoot and where and the film’s editing grant it narrative success. Myrna Loy plays the wife, as she always did, as a good sport at home and a glamor girl on the town. And Gable is a model of comedic actor enterprise, playing his scenes with high-hearted zest, moving across streets and sets with a will and a way. Gable was one of the most remarkable actors ever to appear in films, for the reason that, even though his natural energy was heavy, he was great in playing comedy. He really could do it. He could be very funny. That is to say, dignified though he was and mountainously masculine, he could make a jackass of himself at will. He could stumble, fall, be outwitted, look foolish, sing and dance badly, and be the dupe of the female of the species without permanent loss of dignity. He won his Oscar for a comedy. Like all the great male stars of 1930s who went to War he made few comedies after it, but here he is the snuggling lover of Loy, all over her, kissing her whenever he can and being sweet and funny for her when he can’t, and who wouldn’t want to?. His energy for comedy playing is the driving force behind this very smart and highly watchable work. But the part of the secretary is the one that surprises, for it is played by Jean Harlow, who could be covered in an ankle length mink and yet appear to be wearing nothing but a negligee. Here the platinum hair is gone and the sexpot is also gone. What we have instead is the embodied role of a high-end executive secretary and Gal Friday. One completely believes in her competence, her efficiency, her mastery of files and steno pads and contracts and big business. One believes that if her boss died she could run the firm. I never thought she could act, until now. Her take on this character is subtle and kind, and her confrontation with Loy at the end quietly and fully renders the material with the surprise the scene naturally contains. By never attempting either to emotionalize or to steal a scene she achieves presence and a character. This was her last completed film. She and Gable and Stewart and Loy, with a marvelous script, with magnificent white telephone art deco décor, with perfect suits for Gable and dresses for the dames, and sure-handed direction make a delightful entertainment – perfect for TV screens and for family viewing, then as now.

 

 

It Started In Naples

05 Oct

It Started In Naples – Directed by Melville Shavelson. Comedy Romance. A grumpy American lawyer comes to Italy to settle his deceased brother’s affairs and discovers he has a nephew with a nightclub-singer nanny. 103 minutes Color 1960.

* * * *

I had never been to Naples, but this film is not set in Naples, so the first whacky thing about it is its title. Instead it’s all set in Capri, which was just grand to see. (I have no idea how they managed to film all those crowd scenes; but, then, I never do.) At the center of the story is an American puritan played perfectly by an over-stuffed Clark Gable who is a very good actor and who comes on and delivers his lines like the lawyer he plays. Around him swirls a world of impetuous nonsense that really delighted me and that kept me in suspense awaiting the next surprise. Sophia Loren, as the boy’s aunt, tosses it around with a brio that is beyond confidence. Her smile is a panorama of Virgo glee. Of course, I knew how it would all turn out, and so will you, but what matter? Gable is still a mountain of masculinity and sexual assurance, and still willing to look the fool for love. Vittorio De Sica has a super bit as an Italian attorney/mountebank holding forth in court. The little boy is hot stuff as the urchin. From Hollywood comedies of this period one expects white bread slathered with margarine – but here not so. White bread, yes, but slathered with olive oil and diced mushrooms and tomatoes and olives and oregano and basil. Tangy! [ad#300×250]

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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Dancing Lady

18 Jan

Dancing Lady — directed by Robert Z. Leonard — a backstage musical in which a hodgepodge  vaudeville company is drawn into feasability. 92 minutes black and white 1933.

Here Crawford is  27 and already too old for the part of a naive beginner. Her makeup is a mask over her red-head’s freckles and her eyelashes are hugely destructive to her character. But boy, was she gifted. Not as a dancer, of course, for her dancing is gauche. She flings herself about with no mercy for any of us, always looking at her feet. Nonetheless she holds the screen like nobody’s business. She had this great face, with enormous eyes, strong nose, and broad, flexible mouth with a stunner smile. She is a tower of human will in a part that requires exactly that quality. And you cannot take your eyes off her. And you root for her. And she is a very talented actress, to boot. Gable is another matter entirely. Like her, he was born exquisitely gifted to be photographed. The beautiful shape of his head is a treat to see, the way his face moves, the way his dimples operate, how the mustache gives him an upper lip, his long neck and broad sloping shoulders and slim physique, his deep gnarled voice — all these are gifts of god. But, boy could he act! He’s so skilled that it’s easy to overlook his superb ability for honest forthright acting choices which animate the house he is. Unlike Crawford whose acting choices are always noticeable, Gable’s choice are more inherent and so less noticeable. Unlike Crawford, he could actually play comedy; he could actually play parts that made a fool of himself. The picture here is one of many these two made together. In real life they had a long affair. And on the screen it shows and shows well.  He is all impatient resistance; she is all desperate eagerness. What a perfect match. The film is a backstage musical with huge incoherent production numbers of the Busby Berkeley stripe, and, mercifully, very little of Joan’s “dancing” — certainly not with Fred Astaire who appears with her in a couple of numbers well organized to disguise her limitations. The songs are by Burton Lane, so that’s nice. And Franchot Tone (one of Crawford’s real-life husbands) does his insouciant sophisticate on one side of the stage while the Three Stooges cavort and bonk one another on the other. (There’s a Three Stooges extra, too, if you like them, and I don’t.) Robert Benchley brings his fumbling into several scenes and the deco settings are grand, though Crawford’s costumes are overdone. This is not high art. It fact it is not art at all. So, from the title, don’t expect Cyd Charisse to round the bend and astound us with her gams and class and talent. You don’t expect great art from a supermarket generic brand. That’s not what you go for. You expect something that is filling without being in any way nourishing. Such is the experience of Dancing Lady. And. by the way, she aint no lady.

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Idiot’s Delight

18 Jan

Idiot’s Delight — directed by   Clarence Brown — a comedy about a pack of vaudeville players and assorted types trapped in a European mountain resort as WWII breaks out around them.  107 minutes  black and white 1939.

* * * *

Clark Gable. He had a foundation of great masculinity, great presence, and great authority. So we who grew up with him in his heyday overlooked what a superb and various actor in the technical sense he always was. He loved being an actor. He trained hard for it. He made sacrifices to learn it. He took it seriously. We who saw him in his film heyday did not know that. What we knew was his extraordinary natural foundation of masculinity, presence, and authority. But here one would have to say that Gable really carries the picture on his acting alone, because, while Norma Shearer is rather good in the Garbo take-off, which dominates the central portion of the story, the scenes which frame her impersonation are not properly prepared and played. Nor do the supporting parts, as cut from Robert E. Sherwood’s play, work well, although they are played by masters of their craft, the great Charles Coburn and the ingenious Burgess Meredith, both in thankless roles. Edward Arnold’s part is as baffling in its story line as is Joseph Shildkraut’s. Their roles lack narrative completion; that is to say, they have not been properly honored by the writers, editors or producers. Lynn Fontanne played it originally with Alfred Lunt in the Gable role, but Gable is much better cast, for he makes a marvelous rogue. And no one could brush off a needy female like Gable. But what is really present — and watch for it — are the moments when the camera is on him alone. Behind that handsome mug and that masculinity and presence and authority is an actor in full operation on all burners, responding with exactly the right feeling for the situation at hand. Watch the variety of incredulities with which he receives Shearer’s tall tales. Watch his eyes. And sit for a moment and consider how convincing a motive is his scepticism as a driving force to uncover her ruse; it fuels his sexuality and it fuels his love for her. And yet he holds it very lightly, as lightly as the straw hat and cane with which he performs a creditable song-and-dance vaudeville routine, backed by six blonds, one of them the lovely Virginia Grey. Gable carries the film, and it’s worth watching to see how he does it.

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Making The Misfits

08 Nov

The Making The Misfits –– directed by Gail Levin –– documentary on the last film of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift  — 2001 black and white 2001

* * * * *

We who were alive at the time, knew a lot about what was going because Marilyn Monroe was such a photographed figure. Her genius was, in fact, for the still picture not the motion picture –– and Eli Wallach says the same. Monroe, Gable, and Clift all died before the film was released. I remember talking to Celeste Holm about it the week it opened; she’d gone to the Roxy to see it, and she said, “You could shoot moose in there.” Because the movie was a coffin? The theatre was empty when I went too. Holm said that Monroe couldn’t act. That’s probably right. In a sense Monroe was prevented from it by the script which makes of her a marshmallow saint whom everyone loves –– which means there was no inherent character defect or inner conflict in the character, nothing for her to play against, no failing to let us in. The film was remarkably photographed and produced, and the producers and their survivors talk about it. What the actors, such as Kevin McCarthy and Eli Wallach, say about their work is fascinating. John Houston was a gallant director, energetic but also lazy. He loved filming horses. The Misfits has a grainy and horizontal quality to it, and is well worth seeing. Its failure lies with Arthur Miller who wrote it; its failure lies not in its characters or situation but in its story. It would have been far more interesting if Monroe’s capacity for atrocious behavior had been an element in that story. Then you might have had something. Too late now, though. This documentary made years later seizes the world of studio filmmaking at it its richest. Scenes of the crew lying around in the hideous heat of Arizona while the demoralizing Monroe was hours late are a testament to the fortitude of the craftsmen whose skills and devotion brought the good strong films of that era before us.

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