Saturday, August 06, 2005

Clark and Olive

I know, a random pairing. It's just what I've been watching lately.

I’ve read in several books that Clark Gable was never the same after the death of Carole Lombard. Well, who would be. It was evident, the various authors said, by comparing his films before and after 1942. Again, I thought: of course he’s going to be different, he lost his wife in a fiery plane crash and then joined the army and flew bomber missions! Jimmy Stewart did more or less the same, and came back with slightly thinner and grayer hair, maybe, but nothing drastic. How much worse could Gable look?

I found out the other day, when I watched Teacher’s Pet. Okay, granted, this movie was made in 1958, so it was only two years before Gable died and over ten since the war had ended. But yikes, he did not age well. The only other “late Gable” movie I’d seen was Run Silent, Run Deep, and yes he looks old, but you kind of expect the grimness, seeing as how it’s a WWII submarine movie. Teacher’s Pet is a romantic comedy; in brief, Gable the journalist goes undercover to Doris Day’s journalism class to disprove its usefulness, and they fall in love. His character is a crusty sort of newshound, but not overly so. But there’s none of the joy or daffy romance with which Gable would have played this character in say, the 1930’s. I’m reminded of one his own quotes (which I’ve cadged from IMDB): "The only reason they come to see me is that I know that life is great -- and they know I know it." I didn’t get any of that feeling in Teacher’s Pet.

I've also recently watched Forsaking All Others, which is a wonderful light comedy written by Joseph Mankiewicz, which also stars Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, Billie Burke, Rosalind Russell, and Charles Butterworth. The dialogue is full of zingers and the action often borders on the goofy. Gable is smooth and urbane yet also happy and full of boyish mischief, always ready with a wisecrack and a hearty laugh. In comparing these two performances, Teacher’s Pet comes off the worse. (Probably not helped by the fact that Gable seems old enough to be Day’s father.)

Thinking it over, though, it’s not really a good comparison. I suppose to be really fair, I should watch Somewhere I’ll Find You, the movie he was filming when Carole was killed (or maybe Honky Tonk, the one before that), and then Adventure, his first movie after the war (Gable’s back and Garson’s got him, so on and so forth).

Next up was the wee little Olive Thomas Collection, which consisted of a documentary (Olive Thomas: Everybody’s Sweetheart) and a film (The Flapper). I had heard of Olive before, primarily through (I’m ashamed to admit) Hollywood Babylon. That picture of her in the straw hat, with big eyes and long curls down her shoulders, is so lovely. When Netflix suggested the DVD, I went ahead and bumped it to the top of my queue.

The documentary was good, augmented by the inclusion of several of Olive’s family members. Frankly, though, I thought Olive’s many sketches (at the hands of Christie and Vargas, among other illustrators) were more beautiful than Olive herself. In some of her photos, she was very pretty. When I saw her in The Flapper, she was pretty, but not what I would label “the most beautiful girl in New York.” I guess it’s all a matter of what was in vogue at the time, though. Which was not, apparently, perfect teeth. (Okay, I said it. And not to be mean to poor Olive, but I just couldn’t help noticing it through out The Flapper.) I thought she was cute, and enjoyed the movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of the silents, although they’re starting to grow on me.