Best Movies by Farr: Classic Clark Gable

February 16, 2012 | John Farr

by John Farr

There’s more to the star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, Run Silent, Run Deep, than “Gone with the Wind.” John Farr lists three of The King of Hollywood’s best roles.

It Happened One Night (1934)

What It’s About:
Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a mixed-up heiress, hits the road incognito to escape a loveless impending marriage and a chronically over-protective father (Connolly). Riding with the common folk on a bus, she meets reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who grudgingly befriends this unusual creature, who appears curiously oblivious to the ways and customs of real life. When Peter discovers her true identity, he knows he’s got hold of the story of the century, but by this time, he’s also started to have feelings for Ellie. What’s a desperate, smitten newsman to do?

Why I Love It:
Frank Capra’s sublime romantic comedy swept the 1934 Oscars, and it’s still easy to understand why. Few seventy year old movies hold up like this one. Colbert makes a charming, deft comedienne (check out that hitch-hiking scene!), and Gable was never more appealing, winning his only Oscar for this role. The scene where Peter takes off his shirt and exposes his bare chest was a first, and reportedly, sounded a death knell for the undershirt industry. Hail to the walls of Jericho!

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

What It’s About:
In 18th century Great Britain, sadistic Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) commands the HMS Bounty on a long voyage to Tahiti to collect food supplies. When his consistent cruelty towards his crew goes beyond reasonable limits, second-in-command Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) faces the fateful decision of whether or not to seize control of the ship.

Why I Love It:
MGM’s adaptation of the famous Nordhoff/ Hall book is given top shelf treatment here, with the sneering Laughton the definitive Bligh, and the studio’s biggest star, Gable, playing Christian with gusto (and notably, without either a British accent or his trademark mustache). But never mind- this is grand, sweeping entertainment, suitable for the whole family.

Command Decision (1949)

What It’s About:
During the Second World War, Air Force Brigadier General Casey Dennis (Clark Gable) decides to take advantage of fair weather by sending maximum sorties to decimate German factories where, unbeknownst to his airmen, a new, devastatingly superior jet is being manufactured. But after two days of extremely heavy losses, Dennis faces intense pressure from his senior officer, Major General Roland Kane (Walter Pidgeon), and image-conscious Congressmen, to pick easier targets- or be out of a job.

Why I Love It:
Based on William Wister Haines’s Broadway hit, this impeccably acted drama focuses on the politicking and senior-decision-making behind managing a war–and homeland morale. Gable is superb as the tough-minded general who must defend his top-secret, suicidal Operation Stitch to reluctant pilots and officers alike, while co-stars Pidgeon and Brian Donlevy shine as the supposedly more sensible generals. Charles Bickford has a nice turn, too, as an army reporter who thinks the privately aggrieved Dennis is a glory-hunting butcher, and watch for Edward Arnold as a Capitol Hill bigwig. Obey my “Command”–see this smart, gripping film.

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