Friday, July 22, 2011

Dear Mr. Gab-le...

Wise: Happy Friday, Werth!

Werth: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!

Wise: Someone's still on a Clark Gable high after seeing The Misfits last Sunday.

Werth: All Hail the King!

Wise: Even at nearly twice his co-star's age, Gable still exudes a magnetic sex-appeal that makes him a formidable match to Monroe's golden goddess routine.

Werth: Gable always had a way with the ladies. To quote his co-star and on-and-off lover Joan Crawford, Gable had "balls." Gable's matinee idol looks and masculine performances were so recognizable and influential that it's hard to imagine old Hollywood without him. One of his early films, 1932's Red Dust contains the cinematic recipe for Gable's long and successful career, and coincidentally is being shown at Film Forum August 5th. After being paired a year earlier with Greta Garbo (Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall) and Crawford (Possessed), MGM cast Gable with one of their biggest female stars, Jean Harlow. The combination of these two irresistible smart-asses was electric. In Red Dust Gable plays Dennis Carson, the owner of a rubber plantation in the armpit of Indochina.

Wise: It's certainly no Tara. 

Werth: When Vantine (Harlow), a platinum-blond, wise-cracking floozy on the run, winds up on his front step, Gable does what any red-blooded rubber plantation owner would do—

Wise: Rubber?  He hardly knows her. 

Werth: But their budding romance is interrupted by the arrival of a new manager (Gene Raymond) and his wife (the masterful Mary Astor.) 
Astor's icy prim and proper act is like cheese to Gable's rat, so when a conveniently-timed monsoon soaks them both, Gable can't help but take a big, wet bite. Soon he is busy juggling these two personifications of the Madonna-Whore Complex, a jealous husband, and a failing rubber crop.

Wise: That's a lot of balls in the air. 

Werth: Directed by the also man-ly Victor Fleming, Red Dust crackles with adventure, sex and wit. Gable cemented the screen persona that would stay with him most of his career- the lovable cad who can tromp through the jungle one minute and make sweet love to a woman the next. And Harlow is Gable's perfect foil, unable to resist him at the same time she's telling him to get lost. 
Her famous pre-Code water barrel scene gave the Catholic League conniption fits and is as fresh and flirty today as it was in 1932. For those who enjoy their Asian stereotypes turned up to 11, don't miss Willie Fung as the houseboy you wish you could understand.

Wise: Asian houseboys aside, part of what makes Gable so entertaining to watch is the humor he uses to leaven his rugged persona, and nowhere is his wit on better display than in It Happened One Night (1934).  Directed by Frank Capra, the film helped to set the pattern for the screwball comedies that would come to define the era.  Spoiled socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is kidnapped by her father (Walter Connolly) in an attempt to prevent her from marrying a fortune-hunting playboy.  

Werth: Similar to what's keeping me apart from Prince Harry.  

Wise: Escaping from her father's yacht, she is discovered by Peter Warne (Gable), a recently fired reporter who forces her to choose between giving him the exclusive story on her rebellion or contacting her father and collecting the reward.  
Reluctantly, Ellie agrees to the former and the two set off cross-country to deliver her back to her shiftless sweetheart in New York.  After a series of misadventures (including bus rides, doughnut dunking, haystack sleeping and a very famous scene where Ellie uses her gams to hitch a ride with Alan Hale), the two fall in love only to be separated by a misunderstanding at the last minute.  

Werth: Again, just like me and Harry.

Wise: Luckily this is Hollywood and they're reunited before the final fadeout.  It Happened One Night was the first movie to win all five top awards at the Oscars, and was the only picture to have done so until it was joined by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Silence of the Lambs.  It is also one of the most beloved films of old Hollywood with the requisite legends (Gable's fast-talking scene with a carrot inspired Bugs Bunny)—

Werth: Not to mention the cinema legend that the sight of a shirtless Gable made the sales of men's undershirts plummet.

Wise: —and homages (in everything from Grey's Anatomy to Spaceballs).   

Werth: It's great to see Gable appreciated by new generations of moviegoers.  

Wise: Those moviegoers should check in next week and appreciate another edition of Film Gab.

Werth: Now that's something I can give a damn about. 

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