SPOTLIGHT: Dashing Pre-Code Gable (VI)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our series on the Pre-Code films of Clark Gable, the first male star to get a spotlight here on That’s Entertainment! Over this past year, we’ve actually covered a handful of Pre-Code Gable films during our examinations of the works of some of his frequent leading ladies. This blog has already featured: A Free Soul (1931) with Norma Shearer, Possessed (1931) with Joan Crawford,Red Dust (1932) with Jean Harlow and Mary Astor, Hold Your Man (1933) with Jean Harlow, Night Flight (1933) with Myrna Loy and Helen Hayes,Dancing Lady (1933) with Joan Crawford, It Happened One Night (1934) with Claudette Colbert, and Manhattan Melodrama (1934) with Myrna Loy. We’ve also covered two of Gable’s Post-Code films with Joan Crawford:Forsaking All Others (1934) and Love On The Run (1936). In the Gable series, we’ve covered Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), The Secret Six (1931), Night Nurse (1931), Susan Lenox (Her Fall And Rise) (1931), and Strange Interlude (1932). Today…

 

No Man Of Her Own (1932)

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A card sharp on the run falls for a beautiful librarian. Starring Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Dorothy Mackaill, and Grant Mitchell. Story by Edmund Goulding and Benjamin Glazer. Screenplay by Maurine Dallas Watkins and Milton Herbert Gropper. Directed by Wesley Ruggles.

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This rather ordinary picture — Gable as a hoodlum who’s tamed by the love of a good woman — is notable pretty much exclusively for the first, last, and only pairing of real-life couple Gable and Lombard, whose relationship wouldn’t begin until several years after the release of this film. Not tops on either of these great stars’ resumes, the picture’s claim to fame is this coupling — our only celluloid taste of what a film with them together is like.

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“Crooked gambler Babe Stewart leaves Manhattan for the small town of Glendale when his ex-mistress, Kay Everly, threatens to expose him. There he tries to seduce librarian Connie Randall, who refuses him until he flips a coin and agrees to marry her. Back in New York, Babe loses at cards to his partners Vane and Vargas in order to evade Detective Collins, a friend of Babe’s most recent victim. Unsuspecting, Connie wakes Babe for work each morning and he is forced to spend his days on Wall Street. His subterfuge works until Connie discovers his marked deck and shuffles the cards before an important game, causing Babe to lose. Angry at Connie’s meddling, Babe plans a trip to Rio de Janeiro for some big money and sends Connie back to Glendale. Realizing his love for her, however, he gives himself up to Collins for a ninety-day jail sentence. When Connie returns to New York, pregnant, for Babe’s homecoming from Rio, she learns the truth, and the couple embraces.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.) 

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Gable has his ‘lovable ruffian (and criminal, because who isn’t a criminal in Pre-Code films?) who sacrifices his freedom for love’ character down pat. The script affords him several nice moments, but nothing that allows for a stretch in what we’ve come to expect. Lombard, meanwhile, is a few years before her talents as a comedienne would come to the forefront, and she’s saddled with the script’s blander part, although she does get a few a snappy lines. Fortunately, she does make the most of it, and she does get to play a handful of cute scenes with the King. Their “meet cute” (well, the moment where Gable arranges their “meet cute”) is probably the best scene in the picture and the moment in which their coupling is the strongest.

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Interestingly, however, the pair never achieves the chemistry that one would anticipate a future couple to have. (Reportedly, they were no more than cordial to each other during production; it wasn’t until 1936 that romance blossomed.) They’re functional, not electric — as Gable had been with Crawford, Harlow, Shearer, and even Garbo. That said, I blame much of this on the script, and had Lombard been given a more multi-dimensional role, the chemistry would be tighter, instead of something applied by audiences in hindsight. Yet, there’s something there, something that should have been developed in a later, and better, picture.

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As a Pre-Code lover, what’s even more interesting about this film is the presence of Dorothy Mackaill, a star in her own right, as the female opposite of the Lombard character: the moll. She lights up the screen with a delicious seediness, imbuing the picture with a sense of realism that works quite nicely with the more idealistic teaming of Gable and Lombard, which is largely sweet and lovely. So this film is recommended to Mackaill fans — she made too few films — and fans of Gable and Lombard as a couple. Fans of either individually need only see this film as a curiosity piece. It’s no one’s finest hour, but, as mentioned above, No Man Of Her Own is the only chance we have to see them together in a picture. And that’s worth something. It is a good film; but not a great one. If you want something pleasing and unchallenging, this picture fits the bill. Yet one just can’t help but wish that it was better.

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Come back next Friday for one more Pre-Code Gable picture! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week of fun on That’s Entertainment

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