Happy birthday, Clark Gable!

Warning: Pre-Code Gable may cause your eyes to cross!

Warning: Pre-Code Gable may cause your eyes to cross!

Clark Gable may be best-known for his performance as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, but for my money, he gave us some of his most memorable characters during the pre-Code era. In celebration of his birth, 113 years ago today, I offer you my favorite Gable pre-Code films.

The Easiest Way (1931)

This feature stars Constance Bennett as Laura Murdock, a working girl who finds her way to Easy Street when she becomes the mistress of a wealthy older man (Adolphe Menjou). Gable was featured as Nick, Laura’s brother-in-law, who is none-too-approving of her lifestyle. Amiable, hard-working, and very much in love with his wife, Peg (Anita Page), Nick was a bit of a moralistic ass where Laura was concerned, sniping about her pulling up to his house in a limo and refusing to allow Peg to accept her sister’s fancy hand-me-downs (“My wife don’t have to wear the castoffs of a woman like you.”) But he turned out to be a good egg in the end.

Oh, my . . .

Oh, my . . .

A Free Soul (1931)

Oooh, whee! Gable was something else in this one, portraying gang leader Ace Wilfong (don’t know where they got that name from), who catches the eye of a free-spirited society gal when her dipsomaniac dad defends him for murder. We have no problem seeing why the attorney’s daughter, Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer), falls for Ace – he’s powerful, fearless, and sexy as hell. Later on, though, we’re cheering Jan’s efforts to get as far away from this guy as she can!

Gable in Night Nurse: Not a nice guy. At all. Seriously.

Gable in Night Nurse: Not a nice guy. At all. Seriously.

Night Nurse (1931)

Speaking of wanting to get away from guys, Gable’s character in Night Nurse was 10 times worse than Ace Wilfong ever aspired to be – he portrayed another guy named Nick, this time a dastardly chauffeur whose dirty deeds include trying to kill the two young offspring of his alcoholic employer. He also socks nurse Barbara Stanwyck in the jaw. Bastard!

Possessed (1931)

I loved Gable through and through in this one. He played moneyed attorney Mark Whitney, who has a longtime affair with admitted gold-digger Marian Martin (Joan Crawford), transforming her into a lady and falling for her in the process. There was everything to love and (almost) nothing to dislike – except maybe his reluctance to marry the obviously devoted Marian. But we forgive him even that.

If he knew what was coming, Gene Raymond would’ve stayed on the boat.

Red Dust (1932)

In one of Gable’s best-known pre-Code features, he played rubber plantation owner Dennis Carson, a real man’s man whose magnetism attracted both down-to-earth, good-time gal Vantine (Jean Harlow), and high-class married woman Barbara Willis (Mary Astor). If you look too close, Dennis was actually kind of a jerk – he was rude and intolerant with the workers on his plantation, treated poor Vantine like trash, and had an affair with Barbara under her husband’s nose – but you were still rooting for him in the end.

Dames were always fightin' over Gable.

Dames were always fightin’ over Gable.

Hold Your Man (1933)

Here, Gable was re-teamed with Jean Harlow, this time playing a small-time con man who goes on the lam when he delivers a lucky punch that’s not so lucky after all. Once again, Gable managed to create a likable persona out of a character with less than stellar morals. This is definitely Harlow’s film, but Gable’s character, Eddie, is very much a presence throughout. (Plus, it’s got that great title song!)

So, those are my favorite Clark Gable pre-Codes – what are some of yours?

~ by shadowsandsatin on February 1, 2014.

14 Responses to “Happy birthday, Clark Gable!”

  1. I love the early, bad Clark Gable: gang members, bootleggers, con men, cheating attorneys. Good stuff!

  2. I, too, love the pre-code King. His films with Harlow & Crawford are just dynamite.

  3. What’s the story– when Joan Blondell and Barbara Stanwyck saw Gable for the first time on the set of Night Nurse they grabbed their pinkies together and squealed with joy? Can’t blame ’em for that!

    For ones you skipped, he’s probably the best part of Manhattan Melodrama. And don’t forget It Happened One Night, as nice as he is in it!

    • I love that story, Danny — and I love picturing it! I will have to watch Manhattan Melodrama again one of these days — I feel like I haven’t seen it since the first time, years and years ago.

  4. Pre code Gable is my favorite Gable. The code reined him in a bit. Imagine what his movies with the likes of Lana Turner and post codes with Harlow and Crawford would have been like if not for the code.

    • Mine, too, Charles — he was so much fun to watch. You never knew what he was going to do! Except for GWTW, I can’t think of much after 1934 that is must-see Gable for me. (Maybe I’m forgetting something…)

      • Strange Cargo from 1940, despite a heavy handed religious allegorical theme, comes close to a pre code feel with Gable leading a prison escape and romancing hard boil café “singer” Joan Crawford in one of her characteristic tough, take no s**t roles. And Gable’s last film The Misfits is well worth seeing.

  5. Thought you might be interested in this article on the pre-code film ‘Employee’s Entrance: curnblog.com/2014/02/14/employees-entrance-pre-code-hollywood-american-dream/

  6. I really liked Susan Lenox,Dance,fools,dance and Laughing Sinners.Oh,and It Happened One Night (still counts as a pre-code,right?)

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