Top 10 Under-Seen Clark Gable Films
|(image via military.com)|
One of the exciting things about classic film stars is just how many films they all made. While it was undeniably hard on them to be producing films non-stop, and no doubt the industry is better off now that actors have the option of cool-down periods between films, it does mean that many of these golden age stars have incredible filmographies that very few modern actors can match. Clark Gable is just such an actor, with 66 films under his belt--and a jaw-dropping 25 of those having been released between 1931 and 1934, the first 4 years of his career.
As amazing as these filmographies are, however, the inevitable result is a lot of films flying under the radar. Today, Clark Gable is known for only a handful of his most popular films, leaving the majority of his work forgotten and unappreciated. For Love Letters to Old Hollywood's wonderful Clark Gable blogathon, I will be counting down my top 10 under-seen Clark Gable films.
Before I move on to the list, I want to make a quick but important distinction: this is a list of 10 under-seen Gable films, not underappreciated Gable films. All of the films on this list are flawed to some degree, enough that some might argue they deserve to wallow in obscurity. Obviously I disagree, as I enjoy all of these films and do not hesitate to recommend them to fellow fans of the King of Hollywood, however it is worth keeping in mind that these films are all a bit rough around the edges and should be approached accordingly.
With that out of the way, here are the films!
|Night Flight (1933) (image via immortalephemera.com)|
This pre-Code ensemble drama about the hazards of night flying fell out of circulation for over half a century because of a legal dispute, and only resurfaced a few years ago. I am so glad that it did, because I loved this window into another era when airplanes were incredibly dangerous and night flights frequently ended in death. It really is incredible to watch a film like this and appreciate just how far technology has come in such a short time. The film is made up of a series of inter-connected but distinct stories, and appropriately, my favorite story is the one starring Clark Gable. He plays a man with an insatiable passion for flying, and there is one particular scene where he flies up above the clouds, takes his headgear off, leans his head back and simply stares up into the night sky, a look of sheer adoration on his face. This scene is quite awe-inspiring and will always remain one of my favorite Gable moments.
|Chained (1934) (image via rottentomatoes.com)|
This film was released just after the Production Code properly came into power, however it still retains much of that great pre-Code sensibility. It follows that old story of the boss who starts seeing his secretary, played here by Joan Crawford, and eventually leaves his wife and kids for her, but the gum in the works here is that the boss is a legitimately good guy. He has actually fallen in love with Crawford, to the point that he sends her away on a cruise by herself because he wants her to be sure that she loves him in return before they marry. Unfortunately for him, she bumps into Clark Gable on this cruise and we all know how that always turns out. Gable and Crawford's sizzling chemistry is on full display here, and while the plot is nothing too exciting, it does have enough twists up its sleeve to remain entertaining. This is not the best Gable and Crawford picture, but it is still a lot of fun and deserves to be more well-known.
|Adventure (1945) (image via ggarson.weebly.com)|
Today Adventure is known only for introducing the infamous tagline, "Gable's back and Garson's got him". However, this is actually one of the stranger films on this list, and indeed in Gable's whole filmography. Gable plays a sailor alongside Thomas Mitchell, the latter of whom becomes convinced that he witnessed his own soul leaving his body. Mitchell resolves to get his soul back, and his quest leads him and a disbelieving Gable to the library, where they encounter Greer Garson. This is not a fantasy film; instead, the deeply religious and even mythological subtext of Mitchell's fears are left as just that, a discomforting subtext to a sometimes quite dark, and always off-kilter film. Despite the oddities, Clark Gable and Greer Garson play surprisingly well off of each other in a romance that is quite subversive for this era, and the film also features a great late-era performance by Joan Blondell. Together, these elements make it worth a viewing.
|Susan Lenox <Her Fall and Rise> (1931) (image via virtual-history.com)|
Clark Gable and Greta Garbo? If you have not heard of this film before you may be wondering how such a landmark pairing could have resulted in an under-seen film; I wondered the same thing when I came across this forgotten oddity. Unfortunately, of all of the films on this list this one may be most deserving of its forgotten status. Its latter half is a melodramatic, uncomfortably sexist mess that is pretty difficult to sit through. However, I deemed it worthy of inclusion on this list because the first half of this film is, legitimately, a treat. Clark Gable and Greta Garbo make for a surprisingly fantastic couple, sharing a goofy, yet tender rapport that is a joy to watch in their early scenes together. While things go downhill pretty quickly after, I definitely think all Gable fans owe it to themselves to watch at least the first act of this film where Gable and Garbo meet and fall in love. It really is one of the great falling-in-love sequences of the Studio era.
|Sporting Blood (1931) (image via TCM)|
At first I hesitated to include this film on the list, because it is the only included film where my love for it does not stem from Gable's presence. However, I also like to draw attention to diamonds in the rough such as this one and this post provides a good opportunity, so I decided to go for it. I must clarify that Clark Gable is not bad in his part, and really he puts in a perfectly fine performance. However, once he shows up the film becomes a fairly standard corrupt racing/gambling film. Up to that point, it is quite a bit more interesting: it is the story of an orphaned foal who is raised by a family of black farmhands. Of course, black protagonists are unfortunately rare in this era of Hollywood filmmaking, however this film actually has several, including a young boy who develops a bond with the horse that evokes stories such as Black Beauty or The Black Stallion. In this sense the film is really quite unusual and even subversive, and definitely deserves more attention than it has received. While the existence of Gable's part is clearly motivated by his star power, he puts in a reliably charming performance and I hope that his presence can eventually help this film to find a larger audience.
|Band of Angels (1957) (image via anotherfilmblog.files.wordpress.com)|
This film was pitched to me as an inferior, but also less racist version of Gone with the Wind. What I got was a lot stranger than that description implied; in fact, I lied in my description of Adventure because Band of Angels definitely takes the cake as the weirdest film on this list. It follows a plantation heiress who discovers that her mother was a slave, and when her neighbors find out she is promptly sold into slavery. She is purchased by Clark Gable, a slave owner who has a reputation for treating his slaves a lot better than was normal at the time. One of his slaves is played by Sidney Poitier, and the dynamic between he and Gable is what really makes the film; Poitier is fearless even up against a seasoned veteran like Gable, and the father-son dynamic between them is fascinating to watch unravel as the two find themselves on opposite sides during the Civil War. Also worth watching for a baffling scene where the youthful Poitier is asked to sing, and he obligingly opens his mouth--only for the voice of a weary 80-year old man to come out of it. I have no idea what the thought process behind this dubbing choice was, but it really must be seen to be believed, as do many of the bizarre elements this film has up its sleeve.
|Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) (image via IMDB)|
This film really belongs to Joan Crawford, with Clark Gable only appearing for a few minutes, but I think it deserves a mention for being the film that introduced the world to the Clark Gable we all know and love: intelligent, charming, and incredibly handsome. It is easy to understand why Crawford is drawn to him even though he is a dangerous gangster, and the sparks fly between this iconic couple even during these brief scenes in their first film together. This film is definitely worth watching for anyone who wants to see where Gable's signature persona originated from.
|Men in White (1934) (image via Doctor Macro)|
Men in White plays like a 1934 episode of E.R., and for the record, Gable's George Ferguson could beat out George Clooney's Doug Ross any day, at least in my book. This is another fascinating time capsule, to a past moment in medical history that shows just how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. This film was released a couple of months before the Production Code was sworn in, but unfortunately it still underwent a lot of censorship and the resulting product borders on incoherent at times as a result of the characters awkwardly refusing to name the ailment of their patient, that being a botched abortion. Whatever your personal feelings on this issue, I think everyone should be able to appreciate the mature, sensitive way it is handled in this film, with the young and unmarried woman receiving sympathy rather than harsh judgement for her difficult circumstances and the impossible decision she was forced to make. While the messy edits do rob the film of some of its narrative power, ultimately it remains one of the most mature, sophisticated films among the notoriously controversial pre-Codes, and offers Gable one of his most complex roles during this period.
|Strange Interlude (1932) (image via Pinterest)|
Strange Interlude is a film that actually inspired parodies in other films throughout the 1930s, making it perhaps the most contentious entry on this list. For my part, I will never get enough of the sensuous chemistry shared by Clark Gable and Norma Shearer, and it is enough for me to overlook the more glaring flaws of the film. For those not "in the know", the parody-worthy element of this film is ripped straight from the Eugene O'Neill play that it is based on, in which scenes routinely "freeze"--hence "interludes"--and we get the opportunity to hear a character's inner thoughts that they cannot say out loud. This may have worked in the more intimate, visceral stage-setting, but on-screen it comes across as silly. For many viewers, this is too big a hurdle to overcome, but for those who are interested in early developments in film sound, or who really love Gable and Shearer like I do, this controversial melodrama really has a lot to offer its viewers.
|To Please a Lady (1950) (image via fanpop.com)|
I want to end this list on a great note, and indeed To Please a Lady is a great film. In fact, I consider it to be among Gable's best films, especially during this later period of his career. The film re-teams Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck, who previously appeared together as adversaries in Night Nurse, but this time they play a potential couple who are divided by their careers, with Gable as a reckless race-car driver and Stanwyck as a reporter determined to clean up his sport, even if it means throwing him under the bus. While the story-line of the film is fairly standard, it is elevated by the electric chemistry of Gable and Stanwyck, who bring out new sides in each other's acting personas. A particularly interesting moment occurs during a dinner scene between them, where Stanwyck is called to the phone and she refuses, stating that she has something more important to attend to. Gable then says something along the lines of, "Do you really think I'm important?" While we all know Gable has a soft side, this is a level of vulnerability that is unusual for him and that, perhaps, could only be drawn out by fireball Barbara Stanwyck. I love this film, and if you seek out just one entry on this list, I recommend it be this one as I consider it to be a legitimately good, underappreciated film that has a lot to offer for fans of Gable and Stanwyck.
Clark Gable has an incredible body of films, and over the past year especially I have had so much fun delving into them and discovering a lot of hidden gems that nonetheless contain great performances from our beloved King of Hollywood. While each film on this list is flawed in its own way, I absolutely consider all of them to be worth watching by fans of Clark Gable who want a clearer picture of this great actor and his remarkable ability to turn any film, from any genre and of any quality, into something entertaining and worth a watch.
So, have you seen any of these films? Do you agree with my choices, or do you have your own favorite under-seen Clark Gable film that I did not include here? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out all of the other posts celebrating the wonderful Clark Gable!