Friday, June 14, 2019

DEAR MR. GABLE BLOGATHON: Manhattan Melodrama (1934)


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting her second annual Dear Mr. Gable blogathon, a salute to the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable. Click HERE to enjoy the tributes and critiques.

When MGM and other Hollywood studios of the 20th century are referred to as "the dream factory", the description is apt. Like a factory, hundreds of movies were produced and today we enjoy those films as a wonderful art form of collective dreams. The output in terms of quality and quantity staggers the imagination.

Clark Gable was one of MGMs busiest leading men. Manhattan Melodrama is only one of four films Gable released for his home studio in 1934. This is the movie season that saw Gable win his only Oscar for a little Capra movie filmed as a loan-out Columbia. Manhattan Melodrama won its only Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story by Arthur Caesar with the screenplay by H.P. Oliver Garrett and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The superb direction by W.S. Van Dyke and cinematography by James Wong Howe are the guiding hands that bring the story vividly to life.  

Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Butler
"Blackie" Gallagher and Jim Wade

Turn-of-the-20th-century New York City finds youngsters Blackie and Jim tragically orphaned as the film recreates the disaster of the fire and sinking of the General Slocum steamship with the loss of over 1000 lives. Taken in by a dead pal's grieving father, the boys are raised by their "Papa" Rosen until he too is killed. The innocent man was trampled by police in a riot and Blackie swears to get even someday.

Blackie is energetic, emotional and easy to like. He loves to gamble and win, but he also has a sense of fair play all his own from which he will not waiver. Blackie's other great love is for Jim, as a brother and an idol. Jim is studious by nature, caring, and a stickler for his own ideals. Blackie lives for fun and Jim lives to better himself and the world.

Clark Gable, William Powell
"Blackie" Gallagher and Jim Wade

Their life journeys take Blackie and Jim to success built on their distinct personalities. Blackie is a well-known gambler, and Jim is a rising star in the District Attorney's office. The two men understand and love each other while completely understanding that which keeps them apart. Perhaps Blackie understands their differences even more than Jim. Perhaps Jim doesn't want to think of those differences when it comes to their so important bond.

Myrna Loy
Eleanor Packer

"I fell in love with a very little boy who was playing with a great big box of matches, and I don't want that little boy to get burned." 

Blackie is not only a perpetually lucky gambler; he is also lucky in love. The lady in his life, Eleanor is bright and attractive with a delicious sense of humour. One thing that sets Eleanor apart from the usual women in Blackie's environment is her longing for something better for herself and Blackie. Her observation of Blackie's fly-by-night business and the vicious characters with whom he associates fill her with dread.

"I instinctively keyed my women to the personalities of the men. Male-female relationships were much more clearly defined in those days. My job was to vivify those relationships within the framework of the script, the mores, and the abilities of the men. Clark, for instance, suffered so much from the macho thing that love scenes were difficult. He kept very reserved, afraid to be sensitive for fear it would counteract his masculine image. I always played it a little bit tough with him, giving him what-for to bring him out, because he liked girls like that - Carole Lombard had a tough quality."

- Myrna Loy
Being and Becoming, 1987

Election night is a big deal for Jim as he becomes District Attorney, and Blackie arranges for him to meet Eleanor. Eleanor falls hard for Jim and the things he represents for her that have nothing to do with Blackie. Eleanor breaks things off with Blackie but does not pursue Jim. An accidental meeting later brings the pair together, and Eleanor and Jim plan to remain that way. 

Jim's future looks even brighter with his new wife and a bid for the Governor's seat. Meanwhile,  without Eleanor's influence, Blackie has become tougher, meaner, and more morose. Blackie kills the chiseling Manny Arnold and is suspected but there is no evidence to bring him to trial. When Jim's political campaign is threatened by a bitter former assistant, Eleanor mentions the trouble to Blackie. Blackie has killed once for money and pride. What wouldn't he do for his friend Jim? 

Jim, Eleanor, and Blackie are faced with unimaginable conflict. District Attorney Jim Wade must prosecute his closest friend. Blackie shows only pride in Jim's masterful manipulation of the jury. The death sentence for Blackie is heartwrenching and destructive to Jim and Eleanor. Jim wrestles with his conscious, Eleanor with hers, and Blackie faces death as he faced life.

Clark Gable
"Blackie" Gallagher

"Don't commute me. I don't want it. Hey, look, Jim, if I can't live the way I want then at least let me die when I want."

Gable's performance is charismatic as Blackie, the black sheep of a rootless family. As selfish as some of his actions may seem, he is always looking out for the other guy and has done that since childhood. He can't change even in the face of death.

Clark Gable's Oscar win for It Happened One Night attests to his skill at comedy and double-billed with this sterling drama should convert any doubter about the worthiness of Gable's legendary title as the King of Hollywood.















52 comments:

  1. What are those dots all over Myrna Loy’s face?

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    1. Merely decorative trim on the half veil attached to the beret. Costumes by Dolly Tree.

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  2. I love the combination of these three actors, all of whom I adore individually. They make this story believable and poignant.

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    1. I agree. Such wonderful casting and performances gives the movie a timeless appeal.

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  3. I am a big fan of GABLE. Two of his movies that I really like are BAND OF ANGELS with YVONNE DECARLO(a CANADIAN) and THE MISFITS which was his last movie as it was for MARILYN MONROE. He and MYRNA LOY each did a movie with DORIS DAY. Gable-TEACHERS PET and LOY-MIDNIGHT LACE. By the way, just about a week ago I saw that someone has a little girl with the first name Loy. (I know that MYRNAS given last name was WILLIAMS).

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    1. I have yet to see Band of Angels yet. I don't plan on ever watching the depressing The Misfits ever again. I'm lucky Clark Gable made so many other movies.

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  4. P.S. That picture of GABLE (number 5) is really something(or something else-HA HA)! He certainly had IT! Even in his last movie he still had the sex appeal. He turned 59 that year-in February.

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  5. I like Myrna Loy's approach to her leading men, as in tailoring her character to them. No wonder she seemed to have so much chemistry with her male co-stars.

    As for Clark Gable, I bet he's superb in this film. I'll be looking for this one soon.

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    1. It wasn't until the last decade or so that I garnered a real appreciation for Clark Gable. I "got" the appeal, but I didn't approach him as an actor. I can see now that he knew the craft and he knew how to use his persona within the characters.

      I always appreciated Myrna and reading her autobiography heightened that feeling.

      Manhattan Melodrama is one of the best from the studio. I believe it really holds up and you will be impressed.

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  6. This has always been a favourite of mine - with a great cast and I like the way the film looks. Great review!

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    1. Thanks. It still moves me as much today as it did watching it on the Late Show as a teenager.

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  7. Who are some of the leading ladies that you like with GABLE? Another movie I like is TEACHERS PET with DORIS DAY. Also I had another comment posted. Its number seven down.

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    1. Myrna, of course, and Barbara Stanwyck and Marion Davies appeared with Gable in interesting movies. I liked him with Colbert in It Happened One Night, but less so in Boom Town.

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  8. Have t seen this one. Sounds good. Wasn’t Gable called ‘Blackie’ in San Francisco?

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    1. He was also called Blackie that time around. And again, the character was a "black sheep." It works, if a little unimaginative.

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  9. This is a film I really enjoyed, but then never returned to because I hated that Blackie didn't live. Logically, I know the ending is right, but my Gable-loving heart can't cope with it. Still, it's a fantastic film and I'm glad you brought it to my blogathon!

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    1. I see some sad memories have been stirred. I hadn't seen it in years and did not expect to be as moved as I was when I was younger, but Gable did it, he made me cry.

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  10. I saw that movie a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it. Great cast and very good production values. Like you, Paddy, I used to underestimate Gable as an actor. Obviously he was sexy and that can easily overshadow his acting abilities.

    I too like Myrna's approach to her leading men. In Manhattan Melodrama we can really see how differently she reacts and plays to Gable and Powell.

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    1. Nothing in Manhattan Melodrama feels false and think that accounts for its being able to hold audiences all these years. Myrna was a smart and skillful actress, and a perpetual joy to watch.

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  11. I liked MYRNA in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. I think she and DANA ANDREWS should have got an OSCAR nom. She made a good couple with CLIFTON WEBB in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN. Now that I think about it she made a good couple when she was paired up with CARY GRANT-in MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE and THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER. ALSO with FREDRIC MARCH in the first movie I mentioned.

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    1. Another of Myrna's roles that impressed me was as the mother in the 1949 film of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. It is a thoughtful and quiet performance in a lovely film, and one that doesn't get mentioned as often as I believe it should.

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  12. PEYTON PLACE trivia-After working with Gable both LANA TURNER & ELEANOR PARKER both played CONSTANCE MCKENZIE. Lana in the original one and Eleanor in the sequel. Ive never seen any of the movies Gable did with Lana. If you've seen any of them what was your opinion of them as a couple?

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    1. I believe I've only seen Honky Tonk with Gable and Turner, and it was an enjoyable movie.

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  13. I think MANHATTAN MELODRAMA features one of Clark Gable's best performances, in part because the well-written role of Blackie contains shades of gray. Blackie is not a bad guy nor a good guy. By the way, this film is also famous for playing at the cinema where gangster John Dillinger was shot and killed.

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    1. I agree. This is a fine showcase for the three stars, and Gable in particular.

      Myrna Loy didn't like to think that Dillinger went to the movies that night because he was a fan of hers as some had said. She believes it was the plot involving a gangster that grabbed his interest. At least he saw a good movie.

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  14. I was reading about a movie that GABLE did with CONSTANCE BENNETT-AFTER OFFICE HOURS(1935). Billie Burke played her mother just like in MERRILY WE LIVE. I didn't know that Miss Burke had been in a movie with Gable. So it had an actor who would go on to GWTW and an actress who would do THE WIZARD OF OZ. Burke, of course, played the GOOD WITCH. We mentioned earlier the ending of FINISHING SCHOOL. That Billie Burke-she sure was great as ditzy society ladies!

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    1. Like most actresses, Billie Burke could play a range of characters but we associate her most pleasantly with that fluttery character she perfected. She really deserved her Oscar nomination for Merrily We Live. After Office Hours is certainly on my "must see" list.

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  15. I looked up the credits for HONKY TONK(41) with GABLE & TURNER and noticed the names of FRANK MORGAN and CLAIRE TREVOR. GABLE was in GONE WITH THE WIND(of course), Morgan was in THE WIZARD OF OZ-as the Wizard and Miss Trevor was in STAGECOACH with JOHN WAYNE. All three of these movies came out in 1939 and two of them are probably the best-known(and watched) movies of all time. Then the three people were in Honky Tonk just two years later. MURDER, SHE WROTE alert-Claire Trevor was in an ep that also had JULIET MILLS as a lawyer.(Her sister Hayley Mills(POLLYANNA) also did an ep as did MAXWELL CAULFIELD(the prime-time soap THE COLBYS)-the husband of Juliet Mills.)

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    1. As I recall, the episode of Murder, She Wrote with Claire Trevor was set in Quebec.

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  16. Indeed, Gable is very charismatic as Blackie - something so necessary for us to root for him. He loves Jim so much - more than he had even loved Eleanor - and this is the mosit important relationship in the picture. Well written, my friend!
    As for Wesley Ruggles and Cimarron, I saw the opening credits again and it's only "a Wesley Ruggles production". There was no one actually credited as a director. Anyway, I added this tidbit to my review.
    Thanks for always reading and commenting!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Obviously, it's been a long time since I saw Cimarron. There is a story there yet to be told.

      I am certain that it is roles like Blackie that sustained Gable's popularity with his public.

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  17. I saw the remake of Cimarron with GLENN FORD. Actor CHARLES RUGGLES was the younger brother of WESLEY RUGGLES. I think he was called Charlie. I really liked him in two DISNEY movies. THE PARENT TRAP with HAYLEY MILLS. He played the grandpa of the twins. He was delightful! Also he was in THE UGLY DACHSHUND with DEAN JONES. Charlie guest-starred on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES as the dad of MRS. DRYSDALE. He did 3 eps. I also remember him from an ep of BEWITCED where he was a warlock who was an old flame of AUNT CLARA.

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    1. Only once did I ever dislike Charlie Ruggles on screen. His character in Murders in the Zoo was beyond annoying.

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  18. Besides CLARK GABLE who are some of your favorite actors from classic movies if you were to pick 5 others? Or even 10 if there were more? Off the top of my head here is my list of 5(not counting GABLE and in no particular order). JOHN WAYNE,GLENN FORD, RICHARD WIDMARK, CARY GRANT & WILLIAM HOLDEN.

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    1. Your list are definite faves of mine. I will mix it up with five others: Henry Fonda, Basil Rathbone, Charles Laughton, Joel McCrea, and Bing Crosby.

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  19. I thought of JOEL MCREA earlier today because I remembered that CLAIRE TREVOR was in DEAD END that had Joel and also WENDY BARRIE. (Like you mentioned one time we both share an appreciation for Joel, his wife FRANCES DEE and their son JODY. I think Ive only seen Jody in BIKINI BEACH and BEACH BLANKET BINGO but I don't think many people could forget that goofy character he played!) Did you see Frances in MR. SCOUTMASTER where she played the wife of CLIFON WEBB? Mike, the main boy, was played by GEORGE WINSLOW who had worked with MARILYN MONROE & JANE RUSSELL in GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES. I believe he was also in that movie you mentioned WIDMARK was in-I think it was called MY PAL GUS. P.S. From what Ive read Joel & Frances were a classy and devoted couple.

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    1. I don't recall seeing Mister Scoutmaster, but it sounds like a fun movie that I am sure I would enjoy.

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  20. I was thinking of different women that didn't work with Gable but it might have been interesting to watch. KIM NOVAK and IRENE DUNNE. Could you see him with GINGER ROGERS or BETTY GRABLE? I read that Betty wanted to work with him. Can you think of any women that it wouldn't seem like a good match acting-wise?

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  21. I read that some people thought DALE ROBERTSON was copying GABLE when it came to his voice/speech. This was at the beginning of Dales career. I never thought ROBERTSON sounded like GABLE. However, that was Dales natural way of talking. Dale and Clark were both from Oklahoma.

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    1. I can't say I have ever considered possible leading ladies for Gable.

      I have noted the similarity of speech pattern between Gable and Robertson, but never felt it was a conscious copy, but just a coincidence.

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  22. CLARK GABLE was nominated for two GOLDEN GLOBES-both were comedies he did with blondes. TEACHERS PET with DORIS DAY and BUT NOT FOR ME with CARROLL BAKER. (GWTW came out in 1939 and the GOLDEN GLOBES weren't until 1943, I believe.) I really like him and DORIS in their movie. I like the other one too but not nearly as much. Speaking of Carroll she played a more average demure character in BUT NOT FOR ME. If she & GABLE had done a different movie together where she was like she was in THE CARPETBAGGERS and HARLOW Im sure they would have made a sizzling couple. GABLE worked with JEAN HARLOW several times and then Carroll one time then Carroll got to play HARLOW but it was HIGHLY fictional. Also I know there are two of his leading ladies who are still living-MISS BAKER and SOPHIA LOREN. Sophia was in IT STARTED IN NAPLES.

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    1. I'd never made that Harlow/Baker connection. Nice trivia.

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  23. Do you like GABLE best in drama, comedy or westerns? What about war movies? I know you said THE MISFITS was depressing but did you like the performances in it? THELMA RITTER was delightful as always. I remember one scene where THELMA was talking to GABLE about some man she used to see and GABLE got this funny/silly look on his face. I really liked that part. I also liked ELI WALLACH in it. (I liked GABLE, MONTGOMERY CLIFT and MARILYN MONROE in it too.)

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    1. I admire great comedic work by actors, but truly have no preference if the role is well-written and the performance movies me.

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  24. Gable is SO sexy in this movie, but I have to wonder about that casting of Mickey Rooney of Gable as a small boy -- it just doesn't seem to fit... I think what the film is best remembered for today is the astonishing chemistry between Loy and Powell, in their 1st film together, which led to their casting in the Thin Man movies and screen immortality -- their mutual sympatico is so real, you can feel it off bouncing off the screen! Gable seems to have made a number of movies in which he's in a triangle with his leading lady and another leading man, most frequently Spencer Tracy (San Francisco w/Jeannette McDonald, though technically Tracy's a priest; Test Pilot with Myrna Loy; and Boom Town with Claudette Colbert). Gable and Tracy had such a great screen partnership that it's interesting to wonder what Manhattan Melodrama would have been like if Tracy had been in the Powell role.

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    1. Mickey Rooney had such personality that he works as a young Blackie for me.

      I have read that Gable was intimidated by Tracy's talent, but you certainly can't tell by watching them on screen.

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  25. Earlier I mentioned possible leading ladies for GABLE. Later I realized that Gable hardly ever played a father. But if he had I think it would have been good to see him in a movie that concerned both his love life and the love life of his daughter. Especially if it was a drams (like RICHARD EGAN & SANDRA DEE did in A SUMMER PLACE). If it was a blonde these actresses were already in movies by 1960-SANDRA DEE, TUESDAY WELD(she was in the comedy ILL TAKE SWEDEN with BOB HOPE & DINA MERRILL), CONNIE STEVENS and CAROL LYNLEY. For a dark-haired one there was NATALIE WOOD. Even though Gable worked for MGM and SHIRLEY TEMPLE for 20th Century Fox I wonder if they would have made a good team especially in a serious film like the one she did with GARY COOPER & CAROLE LOMBARD(who, of course, later became the wife of GABLE). It was titled NOW AND FOREVER, I believe.

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    1. I think playing a father in a melodrama would have been a good challenge for Clark Gable. We know from Gone With the Wind that beautifully portrayed a father's affection and grief.

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  26. For more possible leading ladies there were MAUREEN OHARA and STELLA STEVENS. Even though Stella was young enough to be his daughter I could see them playing a couple. Maureen was a feisty redhead who held her own paired up with JOHN WAYNE. Clark worked really well with DORIS DAY in TEACHERS PET. Im like you in that I don't think about the actors ages when watching a movie(and I don't care). Back when I watched a lot of classic movies I didn't know hardly any of their ages anyway. Clark didn't look too old for Doris but I just realized that he was 21 years older. He was born in 1901 and she was born in 1922(not 1924 like they used to say).

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    1. I enjoyed the pairing of Gable with Alexis Smith in Any Number Can Play, and with Ava Gardner in Mogambo. I expected better from his work with Eleanor Parker. The one movie they made, A King and Four Queens is rather boring. And in The Tall Men, Jane Russell gave the best performance. He had nice chemistry with Susan Hayward in Soldier of Fortune, but that movie belonged to Michael Rennie (in my eyes).

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  27. RHONDA FLEMING did a lot of westerns. She and GABLE might have made a good couple. Then I thought of VERA MILES(I remember shes one of your faves) and BARBARA RUSH. Vera Miles did movies for ALFRED HITCHCOCK, JOHN FORD and WALT DISNEY. According to WIKI Rhonda is 95, Vera is 89 and Barbara is 92. Barbara is the only one that has already had her birthday this year.

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    1. A trio of lovely actresses whom I enjoy very much. I think they each would have brought out something interesting in Gable as a leading man should that opportunity have arisen. Movie food for thought.

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THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS BLOGATHON: Stubby Pringle's Christmas, 1978

Today's article is part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society . The good cheer runs ...