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.    

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Clark and Jeanette as Blackie and Mary. Image source IMDb.

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.

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Mary in one of her many costumes. Image source IMDb.

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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Blackie, Mary and Tim. Image source IMDb.

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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Blogathons, Comedy, Romance

The Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon : Adam’s Rib (1949)

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Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

What do I think when I hear the names Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn? Well, I’d say that the first word which comes to mind for me is magical. Why magical? Well, it is because I think they are film magic together; this couple were the sort of film partnership that was only dreamt of in the industry, such screen teams really didn’t come along very often, and when one did arrive it was unforgettable and often unmatchable. What you see on screen between Tracy and Hepburn was the real deal, be it sexual tension, affection, or passion. 

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Spencer and Katharine as Adam and Amanda in Adam’s Rib. Screenshot by me.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn truly were one of the greatest couples in film history. They had genuine chemistry, perfect timing, and they fitted perfectly together on screen as a couple.

They also are able to make you feel the sexual tension and affection that their various characters feel for one another. This pair gave us some of the most romantic and sexy scenes in film history.

Both Spencer and Katharine were very successful film actors in the years leading up to their first screen pairing, in Woman Of The Year. Once that film came out, the names of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would be forever after linked in the minds of film audiences. The couple made nine films together. Many of these are considered high points in the romance and comedy genres. 

The pair were in love in real life, and their off screen romance undoubtedly accounts for the warmth and intimacy that is so evident between them on screen. Unfortunately Spencer was married and he was also a Catholic, so despite his own unhappy marriage, there was just no way he was getting divorced. A shame really, he and Katharine were so meant to be together. Katharine helped him with his alcoholism and she also nursed him during his final years. They were the couple who should have been man and wife. Sadly they did not get a happy ending in real life.

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Adam and Amanda in court. Screenshot by me.

Their characters in the films they made together faired much better when it came to a happy ever after. I’m writing about my favourite film that the pair made together. That film is Adam’s Rib (1949). Why this one over the others? Well for starters it is a very, very funny film indeed. There’s lots of physical (especially during some of the courtroom sequences)and verbal comedy to get you laughing.

The comedy is only half of the reason I love it so much though. I really love it so much for the films portrayal of marital happiness and for the affection between Spencer and Katharine’s characters.

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The couple share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

Their characters in this are a couple who are soulmates, best friends and lovers. The way they look at each other in this one just totally melts my heart. In many scenes in this they are so intimate with one another, that it’s like someone left the cameras rolling after a take, and that we are actually watching Spencer and Katharine in genuine private moments together.

The affectionate scenes between them both in this are my favourite moments out of all the films they made together. There is such warmth and obvious love between Spencer and Katharine in this one. It is beautiful to watch and really helps get across how their characters feel about one another.

I especially love them in the scene where they are cuddling up on the sofa after work one evening. Spencer’s character sees that Katharine’s is subdued and gently asks her if she is alright, and says he wouldn’t ever want to think of her not being alright. I think that might just well be my all time favourite Kate and Spence moment on screen (oh alright then, so maybe it’s a tie with their very sexy first meeting in Woman Of The Year.)  🙂

Adam’s Rib was written by husband and wife screenwriting team Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Their inspiration for this story of married lawyers were William and Dorothy Whitney. The Whitney’s were a married couple who were both lawyers and they ended up getting divorced and marrying the clients they were each representing in a high profile case. 

This screenwriting couple saw great potential in two characters who were married lawyers and who had to appear on opposite sides of the court in the same case. Thus Adam and Amanda Bonner were created. 

Adam (Spencer Tracy)and Amanda (Katharine Hepburn)are two well respected and much sought after lawyers. They both love their job, and will both give a case their all. The pair also happen to be married to one another. In court they verbally spar, but then they come home to one another and leave all that outside. These two are such a devoted couple and adore each other.

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Adam and Amanda hug. Screenshot by me.

Across town, Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) follows her husband Warren. Doris is convinced that her husband is having an affair. She catches him with another woman (Jean Hagen) and fires a gun at them, the woman isn’t hurt, but Warren is injured.

The Bonner’s read about the case and each of them has a different opinion on the case and about the people involved. They find it difficult to leave the case alone when Amanda is hired to defend Doris and Adam finds out he is prosecuting the case. Cue arguments, verbal sparring, flirtation, and an extremely spectacular battle of the sexes in the courtroom. Can the pair stop this case from impacting on their personal life?

The talented (and quite often overlooked in comparison to other actresses of the time)Jean Hagen and Judy Holliday both steal all the scenes they are in as the two very different women in Mr. Attinger’s life.

David Wayne is both amusing and annoying as Kip, he is a song writer who fancies Amanda and flirts with her to wind Adam up (he succeeds!). I want to slap Kip so many times, he is just so nosy and annoying.

As for Spencer and Katharine they are both terrific here, and they also look like they are having a great deal of fun in this one.

My favourite scenes are the following. Adam and Amanda talking to each other under the table in court. All the scenes where they debate in court. Amanda putting her head on Adam’s knee when she sees he looks angry and uncomfortable during the scene where they watch home movies. The liquorice gun scene. The massage and slap scene. Adam asking Amanda if she is alright, and saying that he would never want to think of her not being alright. The female weightlifter lifting Adam above her head. The footage from the home movies.

This is a funny and romantic film featuring memorable performances from the entire cast. There’s also plenty of witty dialogue to be enjoyed, and of course there is that undeniable Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn screen magic to enjoy.

The Bonner’s await you in court. Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

As a bonus here are the five films in which I think Katharine and Spencer each give their best performances.

 

Katharine Hepburn

1- Long Day’s Journey Into Night

2- Woman Of The Year

3- Summertime

4 – The Philadelphia Story

5- The Lion In Winter

 

Spencer Tracy

1- Bad Day At Black Rock

2- Adam’s Rib

3- Boys Town

4- Woman Of The Year

5- Inherit The Wind

 

          Here are my five all time favourite Tracy and Hepburn films.

     Spencer Tracy

        1- Woman Of The Year

2- San Francisco

3- Boys Town

4- Adam’s Rib

             5- Men Of Boys Town

 

        Katharine Hepburn

1- Summertime

2- Holiday

3- The Lion in Winter

4- Woman Of The Year

5- Adam’s Rib