The TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: Clark Gable in Laughing Sinners (1931)
I had a copy of Laughing Sinners (1931) in my movie collection for years before I first watched it. Why did it take me so long to check it out? Simple. I’d read this description:
“Cabaret singer finds solace in joining the Salvation Army.”
Yawn-fest, right? But I should’ve known better. A pre-Code starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable? Believe me – it’s worth a look.
Crawford plays love-struck, ever-faithful Ivy “Bunny” Stevens, a nightclub performer who, early in the movie, gets dumped by her traveling salesman lover, Howard Palmer (Neil Hamilton). The cut is made deeper by the fact that “Howdy” doesn’t even have the guts to tell Ivy face-to-face that he’s decided to marry his childhood sweetheart – “Sometimes things change,” he tells her vaguely, before leaving her a note and skipping town.
Despairing, Ivy tries to end it all, but she’s saved by a Salvation Army worker who happens to be passing by – Carl Loomis (Clark Gable), an ex-con who has found himself by devoting his life to serving others.
(Incidentally, I have to admit – this is not my favorite Clark Gable role. For most of the movie, he’s just a bit too smiley, too mild-mannered, too goody-goody. Here’s one of his typical observations: “It’s funny how living for others makes you forget yourself, isn’t it?” Or this one: “We all stumble. All we can do is pick ourselves up again and go on and on and on, ‘til we find ourselves through our own mistakes.” He dons an apron and cooks scrambled eggs over a hot plate, for cryin’ out loud! Ah, well. All things considered, he’ll do in a pinch.)
The plot of Laughing Sinners is a simple one – after Ivy’s life is saved by Carl, she finds contentment with the Salvation Army – that is, until Howard comes back into her life and coaxes her into revisiting her wanton ways of old. Will she be able to redeem herself and allow her inner core of goodness to rise to the forefront? Or will she yield to temptation and descend into an adulterous, booze-fueled coupling with her former lover?
I’ll let you find that out for yourself. (Bet you can’t guess!) Meanwhile, I’ll let you in on a few highlights.
I have two favorite scenes; the first features Joan Crawford in a dance number at the nightclub where she works. She starts out dressed like a scarecrow, complete with floppy straw hat; long, fake nose and false beard; and patched, wide-legged pants. After she dances around for a while in a comedic routine, her background singers remove the pants from her costume, along with her beard, nose and hat, and she goes into an exuberant number featuring lots of flailing arms and legs. I defy you to watch it without a big, goofy smile on your face. Crawford was no Ginger Rogers, goodness knows, but she sure knew her way around a dance floor.
In my other favorite scene, Carl confronts Howard after discovering Ivy in Howard’s room. I don’t want to give away any plot points, so I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that Howard ends up on the floor. It’s very satisfying.
And here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Sorry, Bunny, but it’s impossible for me to be in the same room with you and not make love to you. You can put on robes and wings and all the paraphernalia, but you’d still look just like what you always were – warm and alive and passionate.” Howard (Neil Hamilton)
“I wish there was some sort of dope that I could take the minute you left town [and] sleep until you came back.” Ivy (Joan Crawford)
“I’m a little lost sheep, and I’m gonna stay lost!” Ivy (Joan Crawford)
And to wrap things up, check out these trivial bits of tid…
Actor Johnny Mack Brown was originally cast in the role of the Salvation Army officer who saves Ivy’s life – Brown actually filmed all of his scenes for the picture, which was originally titled Complete Surrender. After a poorly received preview of the film, however, MGM re-shot pars of the picture, replacing Brown with Clark Gable and releasing the movie as Laughing Sinners.
Laughing Sinners was the second of eight films in which Clark Gable appeared with Joan Crawford. He was teamed with Crawford more often than any other actress, and was reportedly the love of her life.
The director of Laughing Sinners, Harry Beaumont, also directed Gable and Crawford in Dance, Fools, Dance (1931). In addition, he helmed The Broadway Melody (1929), the first talkie to win the Best Picture Oscar.
The “hometown” sweetheart that Howard marries does not have a role in the film, but she is pictured in a newspaper article announcing the wedding. The woman seen in the article is actress Karen Morley.
On his label as the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable once said: “This ‘King’ stuff is pure bullshit. I eat and sleep and go to the bathroom just like everybody else. There’s no special life that shines inside me and makes me a star. I’m just a lucky slob from Ohio. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I had a lot of smart guys helping me – that’s all.”
Check out Laughing Sinners – if you love Gable and Crawford, you’ll be glad you did! (You only owe it to yourself.)
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