Friday, February 1, 2013

Clark Gable, 1901-1960

Clark Gable in A Free Soul (1931), which won't be airing during 31 Days of Oscar

Those actors who were born in February never get a day devoted to them on TCM, now that TCM spends the entire month of February doing 31 Days of Oscar (the 31 days coming from the days when the Oscars were awarded in March). Clark Gable would be a good one to kick off a month of February birthdays. Unfortunately, since Gable worked at MGM during much of the 1930s and TCM is running Warner Bros. films for the beginning of 31 Days of Oscar, they're not showing any of Gable's films. I was going to do a lazy photo post of pictures I've used in previous posts of his movies, until I noticed that the 1931 version of Possessed has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Gable is the male lead, but the actual star is Joan Crawford, who in 1931 was bigger than Gable. Crawford plays Marian, a young woman in one of those factory towns in otherwise rural Pennsylvania. There's a stable place for her here, since her childhood friend Al (Wallace Ford) is more than willing to marry her. But Crawford doesn't want the small town; she wants excitement out of life! One day, while the train to the big city stops in town, she sees the big city people in one of the train cars through the window, and one of the men on the train suggests she join him. That little bit is enough to put the kibosh on the relationship between Al and Marian, which as far as Marian is concerned is fine by her. So she heads off to New York, and looks up the guy on that railroad car.

In Baby Face, which came out two years after Possessed, Barbara Stanwyck gets told by Alphonse Ethier to "use men to get the things you want". Joan Crawford's Marian is given a similar but milder form of advice, in that it's suggested she could do well by herself if she became a mistress to one of those wealthy men that populate the polite side of New York City. Marian eventually gets Mark Whitney (birthday boy Gable), who can provide her all of the things she wants in life, except for one: a wedding ring. It seems Mark has an ex-wife, and he doesn't want to be hurt by Marian the way he was by his ex-wife. Complicating matters is the fact that Mark wants to run for governor, and a relationship with Marian might be a problem. That, and the fact that Al has made good back in the small town and when he sees Marian in the big city, wants her, now that he can provide all of the things he wouldn't have been able to give her just working at the factory. What's a girl to do?

Possessed is a product of its times, with an interesting and surprisingly frank story that is unfortunately saddled with a resolution that strains credulity. Still, Joan Crawford gives a great performance, and for people who only know her from her Mildred Pierce and beyond days, this should be a revelation. Clark Gable is quite good too, you can see why all the men wanted to be like him and all the women wanted to be with him. Also of note is a small scene with Marjorie White as another mistress, but one who doesn't have the discretion that Crawford's Marian has. Hers is an important scene as it shows why men like Mark are reluctant to marry women like Marian, and White plays it well.

As I said at the beginning of the post, Possessed is available on DVD, but be careful it you want to pick up a copy. Joan Crawford made another movie called Possessed with a completely different story line 16 years later, and there are several other movies named Possessed.

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