Clark Gable has his “Summer Under the Stars” day on Wednesday, Aug. 12.
Turner Classic Movies will present thirteen of the actor’s films, all of which have been shown before. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what a rare Clark Gable movie would be, unless one includes the pre-1931 films in which Gable was an extra. Else, I believe that just about every single one of those films in which he starred or had supporting roles have been shown either on TCM or elsewhere a number of times – something that’s quite unusual.
Now, the King of Hollywood would never have risen to the throne had I had any say in the matter, but I didn’t. Lots of other people, however, did. Gable was a top box office draw for more than two decades, and remained highly popular until his death in 1960 at age 59. Strangely, unlike other tough male superstars of the era such as Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, Gable’s wattage has dimmed somewhat with the passing of the years. I can’t quite understand why that’s happened, considering that his cockiness and macho posing remain a fixture of today’s male movie stars, so I won’t even hazard a guess.
Among TCM’s Gable films, the three I’d most recommend are the lesser-known Strange Interlude (1932), China Seas (1935, above), and Idiot’s Delight (1939).
- Strange Interlude is a failure as a film, but it’s worth a look because it’s so damn weird – especially for an MGM production of that era. Robert Z. Leonard does what he can with this drastically shortened adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play (credited to Bess Meredyth and C. Gardner Sullivan), but this tale of an unconventional woman trying to cope with love, lust, insanity, and motherhood never quite gels. Norma Shearer, then the Queen of MGM, Ralph Morgan, Alexander Kirkland, May Robson, Robert Young, and Maureen O’Sullivan are the other chief players.
- Directed by the now unjustly forgotten Tay Garnett, China Seas is an enjoyable romp with Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, and Rosalind Russell having a grand old time playing off of one another. As so often happens in Gable’s films, the women come out on top in terms of both interest and acting abilities. Anyhow, the Academy Award-winning Mutiny on the Bounty may have been the more prestigious production that year, but I find China Seas’ more mundane pleasures – a quirky love triangle, modern-day pirates – much more enjoyable.
- Adapted by Robert E. Sherwood from his own pacifist play, Idiot’s Delight is another strange MGM movie; what with all the (however bowdlerized) political commentary about pre-World War II Europe. Gable stars as a small-time, American vaudeville performer who, while playing in an Alpine village, meets up with former flame Norma Shearer, now disguised as a Russian aristocrat named Irene Fellara – and all the while doing a brilliant Greta Garbo parody. The ending is a letdown, but Clarence Brown’s direction keeps things moving at a good pace. Also of interest is the appearance of several silent film performers in bit parts, among them Paul Panzer, Claire McDowell, Barbara Bedford, and Mitchell Lewis.
After Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight, movie critics, historians, audiences must have wondered whether MGM would be churning out at least one all-star picture per year. Those hoping for such treats must have been sorely disappointed, even though from the mid-1930s onwards Hollywood studios loosened up their “certified star” rules so that more and more actors found themselves billed above the title. But mostly no more than two or three at a time.
Clark Gable movies: TCM schedule (PDT)
3:00 AM Strange Interlude (1932)
A doctor’s daughter defies convention in her fight for love and her child. Cast: Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, May Robson. Maureen O’Sullivan. Robert Young. Director: Robert Z. Leonard. Black and white. 109 min.
5:00 AM Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
Boyhood friends grow up on opposite sides of the law. Cast: Clark Gable, William Powell, Myrna Loy. Director: W.S. Van Dyke II. Black and white. 90 min.
6:45 AM China Seas (1935)
A sea captain caught in a romantic triangle has to fight off modern-day pirates. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery. Rosalind Russell. Director: Tay Garnett. Black and white. 87 min.
8:15 AM They Met in Bombay (1941)
Rival jewel thieves on the run find love in the Far East. Cast: Clark Gable, Rosalind Russell, Peter Lorre. Director: Clarence Brown. Black and white. 92 min.
10:00 AM Betrayed (1954)
During World War II, a U.S. officer falls for a Resistance fighter suspected of being an enemy spy. Cast: Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Victor Mature. Director: Gottfried Reinhardt. Color. 109 min.
12:00 PM Idiot’s Delight (1939)
A hoofer and a fake Russian countess are caught behind enemy lines at the outbreak of World War II. Cast: Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Edward Arnold. Director: Clarence Brown. Black and white. 110 min.
3:30 PM Love on the Run (1936)
Rival newsmen get mixed up with a runaway heiress and a ring of spies. Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone. Director: W.S. Van Dyke II. Black and white. 80 min.
5:00 PM Red Dust (1932)
A plantation overseer in Indochina is torn between a married woman and a lady of the evening. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Mary Astor. Gene Raymond. Director: Victor Fleming. Black and white. 83 min.
6:30 PM Mogambo (1953)
In this remake of Red Dust, an African hunter is torn between a lusty showgirl and a married woman. Cast: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden. Director: John Ford. Color. 116 min.
8:30 PM Test Pilot (1938)
An irresponsible test pilot’s wife and best friend try to get him to grow up. Cast: Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy. Director: Victor Fleming. Black and white. 119 min.
10:45 PM Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Classic adventure about the sadistic Captain Bligh, who drove his men to revolt during a South Seas expedition. Cast: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone. Director: Frank Lloyd. Black and white. 133 min.
1:00 AM Command Decision (1948)
A senior officer faces the horror of sending his men on suicide missions over Germany during the last days of World War II. Cast: Clark Gable, Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon. Director: Sam Wood. Black and white. 112 min.