SPOTLIGHT: Dashing Pre-Code Gable (VII)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the conclusion 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), Strange Interlude (1932), and No Man Of Her Own (1932). Today…

 

Men In White (1934)

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A young doctor has to choose between his studies and his marriage to a society girl. Starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean Hersholt, Elizabeth Allen, and Otto Kruger. Screenplay by Waldermar Young. Based on the play by Sidney Kingsley. Directed by Richard Boleslawski.

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Months after writing a Wildcard Wednesday post on the 1933 Pulitzer Prize winning play from which this film was adapted, I have finally seen the silver screen incarnation, starring Clark Gable and our last spotlighted star, Myrna Loy. Much of this post will be dedicated to comparing the film to the stage play, so I encourage you all to check out this post from March of this year here. Though the concept of a medical drama may be tired today, for audiences of 1934, it was still fascination. Here’s a very brief recap of the plot: “A dedicated young doctor places his patients above everyone else in his life. Unfortunately, his social register fianceé can’t accept the fact that he considers an appointment in the operating room more important that attending a cocktail party. He soon drifts into an affair with a pretty nurse who shares his passion for healing, but complications arise when she undergoes a medical crisis…” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of IMDb.)

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Though most certainly a Pre-Code film, everything about the story is watered down: the characters are more likable, the abortion subplot is less explicit, and Hochberg’s preaching about the glories of modern medicine is not as heavy-handed. However, much of the story is the same, and while I think (it has been about five months since I’ve read the play) most of the dialogue and scenic construction is changed, the film does an admirable (for adaptations of the era) job of presenting the play and its thematic constructs. Naturally, the film does attempt to open itself up more by including scenes set in places other than the hospital, as is to be expected, but the cinematography lacks the visual punch implied by Kingsley’s verbiage in the stage directions and the still photos we have of the original production. The haunting power of the tableau that ends the second act — absent here. And nothing comes close to rivaling that sensation.

Our two stars make for two really interesting casting decisions. (I wouldn’t have pictured them at all while reading the play.) Loy does exactly what I anticipated she would: she makes the Laura character, who in the play lacks the dimensionality of the other principals, sympathetic. This does make things more complicated for our hero, but also inadvertently removes her bite, and renders the story less adult. Meanwhile, Gable, whom I really wouldn’t have pictured in this role, does a nice job of conveying the noble doctor who gives in to temptation and then hopes to set things right. However, he is shockingly easy to like here (too easy), and while his performance is very nuanced — he listens and reacts so dynamically off of his screen partners — it too lacks bite. I guess I wanted the characters to be more flawed — closer to how they were presented in the play.

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Speaking of flaws, I won’t go in to what I thought of the narrative, because that was covered in full in that Wildcard Wednesday post (again, click here to read my thoughts). As the film is moderately faithful to the source material, all of the regular flaws are still around. Even with the watering down of the grittier elements, and the decision to create more sympathetic characters, Hochberg (played finely by Jean Hersholt) is still the hardest part of the piece with which to engage — even though he isn’t as vocal in the film as in the play. Yet, like the play, the film is a fascinating watch (though I do wish the cinematography was more distinguished). However, for fans of Pre-Code, and more importantly, for fans of the medical drama genre, this is a film you should seek out. (And afterwards, go read the play!)

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Come back next Friday for the start of a whole new spotlighted star! And tune in on Monday for a new week on That’s Entertainment! 

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