December 24, 2013

Clark Gable, It Happened One Night

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor

Hop onto Google Images and type in "leading man" and the first three men to pop up (ignoring the several photos of Jon Bon Jovi who I guess starred in a picture called The Leading Man...the more you know) are Leo DiCaprio, Cary Grant, and Clark Gable. I've always thought that Gable was as definitively a leading man as you could get--aside from his classic good looks, there is an air of arrogance in the smirks you see him giving in all those old Hollywood photographs of his, and reports such as his not wanting to do a crying scene as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind or his alleged unhappiness over Spencer Tracy upstaging him in San Francisco only solidifies this perception of Gable as your typical man's man. I had my qualms about Gable here as I thought it would be another William Powell situation, wherein the leading man ideal is epitomized perfectly but the performance as a whole lacks depth...

 photo CLARK5.png...But turns out, I was wrong. Peter Warne is a role that complements Gable's assets and qualities quite well. Those arrogant smirks of Gable's that suggest a little bit of a pompous bastard are vindicated by the fact that Peter Warne himself is a bit of a pompous bastard. I completely adored his introduction in the film, in which he is drunk and trying to be as much of an asshole as possible to his boss on the phone in a strange tone that I can only describe as borderline ebonics. The way he saves face after getting fired while walking away from the phone booth, where he is surrounded by an entourage of drunk friends who are singing his praises hilariously alludes to his real life--Clark Gable the movie star--adored by many--as well as Clark Gable the trouble maker, he who demanded higher wages and was thus punished by Louis B. Mayer and forced to make It Happened One Night at Columbia. His snappy banter with Claudette Colbert throughout the film is always a hoot to see. Further, Gable's "manliness" is supported by the obvious traditional gender roles of Peter and Ellie. This is after all, a tale of a spoiled heiress who, despite being defiant towards a powerful man in the beginning--jumping off her dad's yacht and swimming away to escape him--she ironically ends up completely hopeless and entirely reliant on a different man. It Happened One Night takes place in a man's world, and Peter is more than up to task--whether it's chasing down the man that steals Ellie's luggage early on, or chasing down the car that drives away with his stuff only to return to Ellie with said car and informing us all that he socked the guy in the face and tied him up to a tree. (And tell me you didn't fawn even a little bit as he's setting up Ellie's bed of hay and goes to fetch her some carrots when she complains about being hungry.) And of course, Gable's handsomeness is only enhanced as a romantic interest--his hardened, often cranky man's man has got overtones of a romantic softie which only helps to make his character that much more irresistible. and only gets the audience more excited once he realizes he's in love with Ellie--the effect wouldn't work at all if it were say, Wallace Beery's mug instead. So much like how many components of It Happened One Night fell together to create a delightful picture, many of Peter Warne's characteristics is practically tailor-made for Gable, the result being a piece of work that's as entertaining as it is naturally instinctive.

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There are other moments where Gable shines as well--aside from his top-notch comedic timing, he was surprisingly chilling and hostile in that faux confrontation with Oscar Shapeley in the woods. When he storms into his boss's office where he admits he's in love with Ellie and pleads for an advance, he is touching in his vulnerability and desperation. Good 'ol trusty Inside Oscar notes that of all the 1934 nominations, Clark Gable's Best Actor nod was "an unpredicted one", so his narrow victory over Frank Morgan must have been a slight surprise at the time. Regardless, his performance, as well as his film, have held up excellently in the eighty or so years since its release. This is a lovely comedic performance by a star in top form, and his win is definitely one of the more refreshing ones I've seen.

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