Blogathons, Disaster, Drama, Romance

The Clark Gable Blogathon: San Francisco (1936)

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Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Clark Gable. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I think it’s fair to say that Clark Gable was the leading man in 1930’s Hollywood. Strong, handsome, and very charming; Clark could fit right into pretty much any film genre. He also had that whole rugged, tough guy on the outside, who is really just a total sweetheart on the inside act down perfectly as his screen persona. 

I think that Clark Gable’s appeal as an actor lay in the fact that he appealed equally to both men and women. Men wanted to be like Clark, while the women all wanted to be with him. If a film starring Clark was released there would be a lot of people turning up at cinemas to watch it.

Long before watching him in his most famous role, that of the dashing Captain Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, I first saw Clark in a much lesser known film. That film is the 1936 disaster drama, San Francisco.    

This film was one of the first from the classic era that I ever watched. I loved every single minute of it.  I found the songs to be moving and powerful, the romance to be sweet, and I felt that the friendship between Clark’s rogue and Spencer Tracy’s kindly priest came across as real and strong. I loved the beautiful gowns Jeanette got to wear. I was extremely impressed with the earthquake sequences. This one quickly became one of my favourite films. 

I think it’s a shame that hardly anyone seems to know this film nowadays. It is a terrific character piece, has some strong performances and features some memorable songs. It also shows us the San Francisco of the past, the one that was lost forever in the 1906 earthquake (that famous quake plays a key role in the film).

I love Clark quite a bit in this film. I really like the mixed way of how he plays his character. At times his character, Blackie Norton, can be a mean and harsh man; yet at other times Blackie is gentle and loveable. Clark really shows us that although Blackie is certainly flawed, he certainly isn’t all bad and he really does have a great deal of good within him. Clark plays him in such a way that we can forgive him any bad he does, simply because Clark makes him so likeable.  

I also like how Clark conveys Blackie’s growing feelings for Mary to us with expressions alone. We feel his desire to be with this woman, but also that he is not able to change his ways to commit to her. We feel his distress when he doesn’t know if she has survived the quake, and we see how torn up he is thinking he may have lost her. Clark really goes through a wide range of emotions in this film and his performance really brings his character to life and gives him depth. I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

The film begins on the 31st of December, 1905. It’s New Year Eve and the party atmosphere is in full swing throughout the city. Aspiring singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald)arrives in the big city that very evening. Mary is desperate to find work. She is hired by nightclub owner Blackie Norton (Clark Gable)to be one of the singers at his club.

Although she can sing in the upbeat way that his club requires, it is clear that Mary’s voice is much better suited to the opera stage. Mary’s voice really is out of this world and it’s very clear that she has it in her to go far with her singing talent. 

Blackie and Mary fall in love, but it’s clear to us that Blackie doesn’t quite know how to handle his growing feelings. Blackie says and does things that push Mary away from him. Mary is a very pure and religious woman and she doesn’t want to be just a casual fling to Blackie. Mary also struggles in adjusting to her new life in San Francisco.

Blackie is a loveable rogue, and he is also quite the ladies man too. Blackie has a lot of casual relationships with women who work with him, and also with women he knows socially; he treats his women very well and they like him, but he never actually commits to any of them. 

Blackie has a tough and somewhat selfish exterior. His best friend Father Tim Mullin(Spencer Tracy)knows the truth of the matter. He knows that Blackie is in actuality a really nice guy, a good guy, and that he is very decent. Blackie is not religious, but he always helps Tim out when the church needs money, and he will do anything for anyone in need. Tim and Blackie have been friends since childhood and know each other inside out. The pair lead different lives now but they are still a part of each others lives despite their major differences. 

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Mary becomes a star attraction at Blackie’s club and attracts the notice of  the wealthy Jack Burly (Jack Holt)who offers her the job of singer at the Tivoli Opera House in the city. Mary and Jack become involved which then leads to Blackie getting angry and leaves us wondering which man she will choose in the end. 

In the early hours of the 18th of January, 1906, an earthquake strikes the city and then everything changes. Lives are lost, homes and businesses are destroyed, and the city itself is destroyed. In just one night an entire way of life is wiped out forever. Our characters are caught up in this and it has a huge impact on them. The earthquake also serves as a wake up call to Blackie, he learns that love and relationships are more important than work, or putting up a tough guy image as protection in life.

The earthquake sequence is the highlight of the film and it is so realistic. It perfectly captures the horror, the confusion, the panic, and the terror of an earthquake. It’s a scary and distressing sequence and I think it stands up very well when viewed today. It’s a very impressive sequence and all the actors (both stars and extras)do a superb job of portraying their fear and confusion. This sequence is that good, that it’s almost like someone filmed the real quake and what we see in the film is documentary footage. I’d say the film is worth watching for this sequence alone.

The human drama is just as memorable as the quake sequence and the actors all do a good job of keeping our interest throughout. Clark is excellent in the role of Blackie, and he makes Blackie a very believable character who has strengths, weaknesses and also flaws. He isn’t perfect and he tries to change his ways. I really like how Clark shows Blackie as being more vulnerable as the film goes on. He is especially excellent towards the end of the film set during the earthquake.

If you are not a fan of Jeanette or her singing, then I think you might struggle to watch many of the scenes in the film. There are many scenes of her singing, but if you do like her and you like opera this will be a real treat.

I’m not the biggest fan of Jeanette, but I do like her and I consider this to be one of her best films. I like how she lets us see this woman is really struggling against her growing feelings for Blackie, and also shows her struggling against her principles and morals in her love for him. Jeanette’s performance is also one that is all in the expressions, her face conveys to us what her character is going through.

Spencer Tracy is excellent in the role of the decent, loyal best friend and the kind and caring priest. Spencer oozes goodness and compassion in this film. He makes you wish that you had a friend like Father Tim in your life. This performance could also be seen as warm up for his famous performances as a kind priest, in Boy’s Town and Men Of Boy’s Town.

If there is a downside to the film, I’d say it perhaps lies in focusing too much on the singing career of Mary. If you’re not a fan of opera then these sequences will no doubt be difficult to get through. I would have liked to have seen a few more scenes between Tim and Blackie. I would also liked to have seen more of the aftermath of the quake to see what the survivors did next. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Father Tim ringing Blackie to thank him for the organ. Blackie and Mary’s first meeting and him letting her stay the night in his apartment. Blackie falling to his knees and praying (Clark’s performance in this moment never fails to me to tears). Blackie punching Tim. Mary singing with choir at the church. Father Tim’s conversation with Mary in the church. The entire earthquake sequence and final scenes of the film.

Singin’ In The Rain fans need to listen out closely to Jeanette’s singing scenes, as at one point she can be heard singing the song Would You. This song  of course became famous for its use in that 1952 musical.

The other memorable tune in this is the very catchy song San Francisco. This one has stayed with me since the first time I ever watched this. I just love the way that Jeanette sings it, and I think it is a bouncy and uplifting tune.

There are also many religious overtones to be found throughout this film. If you view the film from that perspective, I suppose that the earthquake at the end could be seen to almost serve as a force sent to wipe away the perceived decadence and possibly immoral lifestyle of one San Francisco, and allowing for a new and fresh city and better life to be built in its place.

Some viewers take issue with the end of the film where everyone, even people who don’t believe in god, are seen at the end to be praying to god. I myself find this to be something of a leap. I doubt a traumatic event like this would have any non believers turning religious.

Having said that though, I do think that in a terrible event such as an earthquake, people who are not religious, and who do survive, will beg out for their loved ones lives to be spared also. They probably will say a thank you for surviving. They might not say these words to a god, they may just think them in their head, or they may say them out loud to no one in particular.  

In my opinion this is one of the best American films of the 1930’s. I think that it has a bit of everything in it for people to be able to enjoy. The film has some romance and drama, there are tears, good visual effects and also some very impressive stunts too. There are some stunning costumes in this too, I really envy Jeanette for having been able to wear such gorgeous dresses. 

Clark Gable really is at his best here and I think that he got to show us what dramatic acting heights he could reach. 

My five favourite Clark Gable films are the following.

1- It Happened One Night

2- San Francisco

3- Gone With The Wind

4- Teacher’s Pet

5- Red Dust

Any other fans of San Francisco? What do you think of Gable’s performance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Disaster

On The Beach (1959)

What would you do if you knew the world was coming to an end? How would you react to such news, and how would you cope with having this new fact in your life?Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film tackles all these questions and more. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 novel of the same name, written by Nevil Shute.

At the time of the films release there was great public fear of Atomic and Nuclear weapons. I’m sure this film chilled many viewers to the bone at the time, particularly due to its unflinching look at the aftermath of one of these weapons being used.

I like how the film captures how many different reactions various people have to the news of the end of mankind. Some people escape into booze, some go to extremes to feel and experience life while it still exists, and some simply refuse to accept that there is no hope of survival. It always makes me think how I would react in such a situation.

The film is set in Australia. The entire worlds population(apart from those in Australia)have died due to radiation sickness following a Nuclear war. The radiation is being spread on the winds, and it is estimated to arrive in Australia in around five months time. The citizens there are trying to come to terms with the war, and with the fact of their own impending fate.

An American submarine, the U.S.S. Sawfish, surfaces in Australia. It was submerged when the war began and therefore the crew haven’t been exposed to the radiation. The submarine has been travelling around surfacing at various countries, only to find no sign of life. Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck)and his crew dock in Australia and come ashore. Despite Dwight’s wife and children being killed in the war, he just cannot accept that painful fact.

Whilst ashore, Dwight befriends Moira (Ava Gardner), and the two slowly fall in love with one another. Dwight however cannot permit himself to act on his feelings though because he still considers himself married.

Dwight and his men take to sea again after a Morse signal is picked up coming from a city in America. The crew must try and find out if anyone has somehow managed to survive.

This is a bleak film and is not an easy watch at all. The performances of the cast make it a must see. I find it to be extremely moving and it captures so well the horror and tragedy such an event would bring about.

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Gregory Peck is completely heartbreaking as a man trying to appear in control, but who inside is consumed with grief that he cannot display publically. Gregory shows us the tough façade cracking a few times. Thanks to his performance we see Dwight really struggling to stay in control, and wrestling with his conscience in regards to his undeniable feelings for Moira.

Fred Astaire is best remembered today for his incredible dancing skills, but he was also a fine dramatic actor. His performance here as Julian Osborn is one of the best he ever gave. Julian was a Nuclear scientist and feels guilt that something he helped to build destroyed humanity. Fred steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he is in the background but you keep your focus on him to see how he is reacting at certain moments.

Ava Gardner touches my heart as the boozy Moira. She has so much love to give, and she wants to spend her final days with Dwight. Ava perfectly conveys this woman’s inner turmoil, as she struggles to blot out the pain of the present and at the same time finds in Dwight a reason to stay alive.

Anthony Perkins is excellent as the young Lt. Peter Holmes. Peter and his wife have recently had a baby, and his wife is struggling to accept the truth of what is about to happen to everyone. Anthony perfectly captures the emotional and moral distress Peter is in, when he has to decide if he and his young family will take the government issued suicide pills or not.

It is the kind of decision that nobody should ever have to make, but the film forces you to think what you would do in his place. Would you accept the slow, painful and deeply unpleasant death caused by radiation? Or would you have one last beautiful day surrounded by those you love, still being healthy and in control of your life, and then peacefully slip away?

Donna Anderson breaks my heart every time I watch this. Donna plays Peter’s wife, Mary. This woman is terrified of the truth, but she won’t accept or even talk about it. She too must decide how to meet her end. I think many people would react like Mary, still holding out for hope even when faced with the opposite reality. Donna portrays Mary’s hysteria and terror very well indeed.

John Tate is Admiral Bridie. John only appears in a few scenes, but he is excellent when he does. I really like how he subtly conveys his love for his much younger secretary, Lt. Hosgood (Lola Brooks). It’s there in the way he looks at her. I love their final scene together where they share a drink together, that scene moves me each time I watch and is beautifully played by both actors.

If you are among the few people on the planet who actually believe we should have Nuclear weapons; then I would hope that this film (particularly the final ten minutes, and especially the final shot)would make you change your opinion. I would also recommend you watch the TV miniseries Threads and The Day After.  Just one of these weapons is one too many and these films show what will happen if we ever use them.

It annoys me so much that some members of our species are intent on creating ways of bringing about our destruction. We should learn to love each other, because at the end of the day we are all the same, we are all human and will all die one day. Why can’t our time on earth be filled with happiness instead of war and hate? This film focuses on the good points about humanity – love, compassion, friendship and kindness. It makes you think that you should value life, as you could lose it at any time.

My favourite scenes are the following. Julian and Peter’s conversation on the submarine. Dwight trying to explain to Moira at the train station how he feels about his dead family. The young sailor leaving the submarine and going ashore in San Francisco, he chooses to die there (his home city)but he will do so alone. Bridie and Hosgood sharing a drink and an important  conversation. The scene during the boat race between Dwight and Moira. Moira watching the submarine submerge. Moira and Julian’s conversation in his garage. The final scene.

A powerful film, with an equally powerful message to deliver. Strong performances from all the cast and a beautiful score. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking its best.

I highly recommend the novel too. It goes into more detail about how the war started. It also graphically describes the symptoms of radiation sickness, while the film only hints at those horrors.

Any other fans of this one? Please leave your thoughts below.

 

 

British Cinema, Disaster, True Story

A Night To Remember (1958)

On this day, in April 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship R.M.S Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. In just a couple of hours this luxurious ship on her maiden voyage had sunk. 1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors.

In the years following this disaster there have been many other shipping disasters, but even now, over 100 years later, the Titanic disaster is still the most famous of them all. Why is that?

I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage. The Titanic had also been marketed as being unsinkable, and it was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time. This disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

So many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc.

There were too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone. The ones that were aboard were not filled to capacity. This is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction novel about the sinking. Lord spoke to Titanic survivors at length, and he published their accounts in his 1955 novel A Night To Remember.

For me Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there about this disaster. It accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night, and does a superb job of depicting in detail the horrors of the sinking.

James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film was, but it is Baker’s film which makes us feel like we are there on that cold April night. It does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was.

Interestingly this film depicts the ship as going down in one piece. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened. When Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreck in 1985, the ship was on the seabed in two pieces.  We’ll never know for sure if it broke above the surface, or did so when it hit the seabed, we only know that is in two pieces now. For anyone who believes it broke apart above the surface, try and remember that this film was made before the wreck was discovered and was based on witness testimony. 

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew. We follow the ship from her launch in Southampton, out to France and Ireland, and then out into the Atlantic on to New York.

The character we follow the most in this is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring More, and he is excellent as the proud and heroic officer trying to save lives and keep panic from spreading as the boats are lowered. For the first half of the film More is really just in a supporting role, as the film goes on he becomes the main focus.

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There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More, Michael Goodliffe(as ships builder Thomas Andrews) , Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship The Carpathia),Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler) , Kenneth Griffith (as wireless operator John Phillips)and Laurence Naismith(as Captain Smith).

A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Goodliffe gives the best performance as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in mind he has long gone.)Anyone else catch that he is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next.  Goodliffe is a much underrated actor, and I think A Night To Remember is his finest screen hour.

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch. The passengers at the stern as the ship sinks who start praying in different languages. The old steward finding the little boy and realising they are most likely going to die(as the ship sinks he hugs the boy and says “we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get to a lifeboat or jump overboard. The band playing on as the ship sinks.  Mr. Andrews pleading with a young stewardess to put on a lifejacket. Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband and get into a boat.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye as she gets into a lifeboat with their children; the father (having had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews)knows he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again. I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, you know he is scared and brokenhearted.

A powerful depiction of courage and tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster, and it has many moments that I have found extremely hard to forget. Scenes such as the young couple killed by the falling funnel.  Andrews preparing himself to die. Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat after the ship has sunk. The baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water. The passengers and crew at the stern praying and screaming.

My favourite scenes are the following. The steerage passengers playing football with the chunks of ice from the iceberg than landed on deck. Ismay in the dining room demonstrating how steady and secure the ship is, only for a woman to knock the table and shake everything.  Lightoller trying to persuade the gambler to join him on top of the collapsible boat, only for him to swim off. Andrews speech to the young honeymoon couple. Molly Brown (Tucker McGuire) in the lifeboat saying “you get fresh with me son, and I’ll throw you overboard!”. The Titanic leaving Southampton. The passengers praying on the stern. Mr.Yates passing a young woman getting into a lifeboat a letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s(Richard Leech) accusatory look to Ismay when Murdoch sees him sitting in a lifeboat.

An excellent film filled with many performances that have a real emotional impact on the viewer. I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today.

I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but it was Baker’s version which got me interested in the real disaster itself and I think his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

R.I.P to all the Titanic victims.

Any other fans? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend it.