I’ve been kind of an updating machine lately. Wasn’t really planning anything for today, but that’s what insomnia does to you.

We talk about a lot of actors nobody has ever head of on this site, but I always love talking about the lesser known films of the really well known actors. Those hidden gems among the Some Like It Hots and the Casablancas.

Clark Gable is an actor who everyone knows, for Gone With the Wind alone, if for nothing else. He had a really long career as a leading man, spanning over three decades, working with almost every leading lady imaginable. He has so many, many movies that are remembered as classics. It Happened One Night, The Misfits, and Mogambo. But, this being Obscure Classics, I want to talk about those movies that aren’t widely known. And really, I want to talk about some of his movies that don’t really get a lot of talk here. There are a lot of posts that mention movies like Men In White and Possessed, so I’m going to try to spotlight just a few that haven’t gotten so much attention here.

Laughing  Sinners (Harry Beaumont, 1931)
This movie has a criminally low rating on IMDb. It’s not any kind of masterpiece, but it’s certainly not as bad as that 4.9/10 would suggest. It actually is really good. Gable costars here with his frequent leading lady (and sometimes bedmate) Joan Crawford. This is definitely not a light movie, dealing with issues like suicide. Gable and Crawford are always wonderful together, and can say so much without actually saying anything.  Their onscreen relationship, as it always did, feels intense and genuine. Gable is really good here, but it is Crawford’s movie. She gives a very vulnerable performance.

Sporting Blood (Charles Brabin, 1931)
Despite the presence of Gable and the lovely Madge Evans, I really didn’t think I was going to like this one the first time I watched it.  The whole story of race horses and gambling sounded a little silly to me. But the movie is surprisingly gripping and really well told story.  It’s got that struggle and redemption aspect that always gets me. There’s also a genuine affection for horses and horse racing present in the film that’s really effective, even if you’re not really into that whole scene. Gable and Evans are fantastic together. They have chemistry to spare, which is why it’s a huge shame that didn’t work together again.

After Office Hours (Robert Z. Leonard, 1935)
In this fun and light mystery/drama, Gable plays a reporter trying to solve the murder of a socialite. He gets in with wealthy Constance Bennett, an acquaintance of the victim, and he falls for her, but he can’t help himself from using her to get the scoop for his story. It’s not really a comedy, so don’t go in expecting something like The Thin Man, because it’s not very funny. But it is a light and somewhat breezy murder mystery. Gable and Bennett are good together, and their romance is actually convincing instead of feeling tacked on for convention’s sake. It also sports an impressive supporting cast which includes Billie Burke, Henry Travers, and William Demarest.

Somewhere I’ll Find You (Wesley Ruggles, 1942)
I’m actually kind of surprised I don’t talk about this movie more here because it’s one of my very favorite Gable movies. Clark Gable and Lana Turner really are one of the most underrated pairings in classic film. They made a few good movies together, they looked gorgeous when they shared the screen, and they had chemistry. Somewhere I’ll Find You is probably the heaviest of all their movies. It’s set during WWII, and has two brothers (Gable is one of them, Robert Sterling is the other) trying to attract Turner’s attention.  The movie does kind of have Carole Lombard’s death hanging over it, as it was the only movie Gable did between the passing of his wife and his discharge from the military, and the final speech he gives in the film is especially poignant because of it.

By Katie Richardson

While I didn’t have a lot of time to work on the site over the summer, I did find time to fall completely and totally in love with a sexy little show called True Blood. I’ve always enjoyed vampires, but I am a little bit picky when it comes to the subject. (I find Twilight offensive in so very many ways). But True Blood is just all kinds of awesome. And it made me think about all the great vampire movies that came out of the classic era. Of course there are the well known ones, like Dracula with Bela Lugosi, and the silent masterpiece Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. But there are some pretty good vampire movies that aren’t too well known.  So, in honor of my True Blood love, and the fact that the second season will be over in less than two weeks, I’ve decided to write about two of my favorite obscure classic vampire films. One lost silent, and its remake.

London After Midnight (Todd Browning, 1927)
Sadly, the only print of London After Midnight was destroyed in a fire in the 1960s. The only material that exists are several publicity shots and a shooting script. This was enough to create a very thorough reconstruction, however.

The film stars Lon Chaney, easily one of the finest actors of the silent era. Really, one of the finest actors in film history. His makeup is, as usual, wonderful, and even through stills you can tell that his character is quite chilling.

The leading man in this movie is Conrad Nagel. Regular readers of this site will know that I’m a huge fan of his. I think that’s one of the saddest things about the loss of this film. Nagel was a wonderful actor, but he’s so little known today, and a lot of his films are lost. It’s just a huge shame that this is yet another of his performances that’s forever gone.

So, even though the film is lost, a very good reconstruction exists. From the shooting script we can see that it has a pretty good story. From its publicity stills, we can tell that it was probably quite creepy. And the presence of Chaney and Nagel assure that the acting was good.

Mark of the Vampire (Todd Browning, 1935)
Mark of the Vampire is a remake of London After Midnight. Being made by the same director, it is apparently an extremely faithful remake, almost shot for shot.

It isn’t a brilliant movie, but I think it’s a lot better than its IMDb rating would have you believe. It’s a little bit hammy, but at the end of the day Todd Browning really knew horror, and despite the ham, the most has a wonderful atmosphere.

It also has an incredible cast. Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi are they big names in this one, and both give good performances. That’s to be expected from them, though, especially Barrymore, who was really never anything but good. The rest of the cast is filled with wonderful character actors. Elizabeth Allan is the female lead, and Lionel Atwill and Jean Hersholt play support.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1935

Director: Victor Fleming

Starring: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, Rosalind Russell

This film is a comedy/musical that oddly morphs into melodrama after an out-of-the-blue tragedy strikes. Ned Reilly (William Powell) is a lawyer with a fondness for gambling. He’s especially close to Granny (May Robson) and her granddaughter Mona Leslie (Jean Harlow). When the picture starts, it is up to old faithful Ned to bail out troublesome Mona from jail for an egregious traffic violation. He works his slick magic and gets Harlow’s character out on a technicality. It’s clear from the outset that while Ned may come on as a family friend, he is undoubtedly interested in Mona romantically. What really catapults this movie above other average fare is the wonderful banter between Ned and the two women. That’s where the picture really gets its heart.

Mona is a successful showgirl. She catches the eye of wealthy playboy Bob Harrison (Franchot Tone) and he simply must have her. Blind to Ned’s secret affections for her, Mona gets caught up in the idea of love and the allure of riches that Bob can bring to the table. The lovers elope immediately. Bob’s family is about as blue blood as rich people get and they are less than happy at the news. When he brings his new bride home to meet everyone not only are they unenthusiastic, but the Harrisons are boorish in their put downs and snobbish behavior toward our blonde. It turns out that Bob was expected to wed Jo Mercer (Rosalind Russell) who comes from a proper family. All the disapprovals build up resentment within Bob and when he finds out that Jo moved on and married someone else, he snaps.

Mona finds herself pregnant and in the midst of a scandal. She has trouble resuming her musical career. Desperate to help the woman he loves, Ned risks everything he has to produce her next show. When the platinum blonde comes on stage and starts to sing the first tune she is met by such a hostile audience that she is forced to stop singing and address their despicable behavior. Finished with her harangue, Harlow’s singer resumes the song and afterward the crowd responds with wild applause and cheering. Evidently her resiliency and determination won them over. The last sentimental shot between Powell and Harlow will not work for everyone but it got to me. As for the other performances, we get a brief couple of moments from Mickey Rooney as he plays a kid running a lemonade stand. Russell shines in kind of a thankless part of the dumped ex-love. Robson’s Granny is really fun to watch as she is quite a spitfire. Reckless shifts too much in tone to be considered a great movie. But the witty repartee between Harlow and Powell carries the day.

Ginger Rogers is my favorite actress. She’s mostly remembered today for being Fred Astaire’s dance partner throughout the 1930s. But Rogers had an acting talent that went beyond that. She was a fantastic and graceful dancer, but she should be remembered as so much more. Her range was unbelievable. She could make a fantastic screwball comedy, and then turn around and make a melodrama, giving great performances in both. Rogers stopped dancing with Astaire in 1939 with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (they’d re-team just once more, ten years later, for The Barkleys of Broadway) to focus on a career in non-musical films. Almost immediately her talent was recognized and she won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle. Unfortunately, though, so many of her sans-Fred films aren’t remembered today. Here are some of the best.

Primrose Path (Gregory La Cava, 1940)

The same year she gave her award winning performance in Kitty Foyle, she gave an even better performance in Primrose Path, as the daughter of a prostitute who tries to escape her life by marrying Joel McCrea. This is one of the most beautiful love stories put out by the studio system. It’s about the importance of honesty in a marriage. It’s surprising that this film got past the Production Code, not just because it featured characters who were clearly prostitutes, but because these characters were sympathetic. Marjorie Rambeau (who received an Oscar nomination for the role) played Rogers’ mother and a basically good woman simply doing what she was taught in order to support her family. Her relationship with Rogers is gentle. She only wants the best for her children. Primrose Path is a really brave film for the time it was made, and it’s just one of the best romance films I’ve ever seen.

Rafter Romance (William A. Seiter, 1933)

Rafter Romance is actually a pre-Fred film. It’s a simple but incredible sweet and pretty funny romance. Rogers and Norman Foster play two people who share an apartment – he lives there during the day, she lives there at night. They never meet, but they still can’t stand each other. Of course, they meet outside of the apartment, not realizing the other is the person they believe they can’t stand, and they fall in love. This is definitely one of the most original romantic comedies of the early 1930s. Rogers is completely charming, and Norman Foster is a good match for her. They’re both just so endlessly cute.

Romance In Manhattan (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

It’s amazing that such a simple romantic dramady can be so moving. Francis Lederer plays an immigrant who is in the country illegally. He’s taken in by Rogers and her kid brother. It’s really as simple as that. The three just try to make a living and stay afloat while Lederer and Rogers fall in love. But it’s such a sincere and genuine romance. It’s made with so much heart from all involved. And it has one of the funniest finales ever.

Star of Midnight (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

Star of Midnight is my favorite Thin Man knockoff. It’s central mystery is really very interesting, and it has a certain “strange” feeling that I think sets it apart from other screwball mysteries. Powell stars in this (and he’s great, as always) with Rogers as his much younger and very eager love interest. She goes after everything with determination and vigor, whether it’s trying to solve the case or trying to get Powell to marry her. I really wish these two had made more movies together. They were a perfect fit.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Vivacious Lady is a sweet romantic comedy made great by the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and James Stewart. They both had an “everyman” feel to them, which made them an incredibly relatable couple. You want so badly for them to be happy together because they’re so normal and remind you of yourself. I also like that it’s not really a movie about two people falling in love. They get married early on in the film. The movie is about them trying to break the news to his family, and staying together while they do it. It’s just an adorable movie.

Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, 1939)

This is one of Rogers’ very best performances. She plays a woman who has to raise an orphaned baby she finds on her own because nobody believes it’s not hers. In the meantime, she begins to fall in love with David Niven, her boss’s son who takes an interest in caring for the baby as well. This movie is so great because, in addition to the great romance between Rogers and Niven, it’s wonderful to watch Rogers’ love for the baby, that’s not even hers, grow. It’s one of the most interesting and beautiful relationships in film.

5th Avenue Girl (Gregory La Cava, 1939)

5th Avenue Girl is such a good movie because it has so much going for it. First would be the relationship between Rogers and Walter Connolly. Connolly plays a wealthy man who is ignored by his family, she when he meets Rogers on a park bench he takes her in and the two pretend they’re having an affair in the hopes that the family will finally pay attention to what he’s doing. Rogers and Connolly bond and form a really nice father/daughter relationship that’s the heart of the movie. But the movie has three love stories going on. Throughout the film, Connolly and his wife eventually find their way back to each other. Connolly’s daughter is in love with the chauffer, who seems to be something of a communist. The best love story, though, you don’t realize is there until about halfway through the movie. Rogers and Connolly’s son, Tim Holt, fall in love. It’s a strangely done romance, I’m not even sure I can really describe it, but it’s a really strong film all together.

Tom, Dick, and Harry (Garson Kanin, 1941)

Rogers played a character in Tom, Dick, and Harry who was a little… simpler than most of her other characters. She dreams of romance and love, but can’t choose between three different guys: the regular guy who’s working his way up to management at a local store, the millionaire, and the poor guy. The best part about this movie is that each of the guys has their pros and their cons, and you really have no idea who she’ll choose in the end. She gives a really adorable performance, and this movie is just cute.

Tales of Manhattan (Julian Duvivier, 1942)

In this series of loosely connected vignettes, Ginger Rogers has one of the best stories. It’s a little, short, self contained story about Rogers finding out her fiancee is a cad and realizing his pal, Henry Fonda, is perfect for her. It’s short, sweet, and funny. And Rogers and Fonda are SO good together. Watching this, it’s hard to believe they never made any other films together. They were such a good pairing.

I’ll Be Seeing You (William Dieterle, 1944)

This movie is SO amazing. While there were a lot of movies being made to show how awesome soldiers were and to spread patriotic propaganda during the war, I’ll Be Seeing You was one of the first films to really take a look at the negative effects the war was having on the soldiers. This movie gives us two incredibly flawed, complicated, and damaged characters and allows them to fall in love. It’s just such a beautiful movie. You really didn’t see movies and characters like this too much in classic film.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1935

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Kay Francis, George Brent, Warren William, Helen Lowell

Terry Parker (Brent) walks away from a plane crash that kills his family. The loss causes him to feel massive guilt since he was the pilot, and makes him feel as though he’s living on borrowed time, making him preoccupied with death and danger, with his head constantly in the clouds. He meets Amy Prentiss (Francis), who is engaged to his best friend, Gibraltar Pritcham (William). They fall in love, and Gibraltar loves both of them enough to let them be together. They marry, and while Amy tries to be supportive, the marriage runs in to difficulties due to Terry’s problems.

Living On Velvet is exactly the kind of film where Borzage seemed most at home – the small, intimate romances. Borzage had a fixation on the relationship between love and spirituality, and this is one of his most literal uses of those themes. Terry’s struggle comes from his issues with spirituality, wondering why he didn’t die along with his family and coping with the thought that he doesn’t belong on this earth. When Amy enters the picture, there’s a mingling not just of their spirits, but of their spiritual ideals. Terry doesn’t know how to bring his closer to Amy’s earthier and realistic ones.

While Francis’ solid performance and character anchor the film, it’s heart and soul is Brent’s Terry. The film is about Terry’s changing spirit and his rebirth. Amy is the catalyst for this rebirth, and his anchor throughout. The dialogue of the film shows constantly that she completely understand him, that their minds and spirits are linked. So often Terry doesn’t have to speak for Amy to know what he wants to say.

As the film goes on is becomes clear that Amy is more than wife, she’s also acting as Terry’s mother. Terry is little more than a child. He can’t be expected to follow simple instructions without allowing his mind to be preoccupied with more romantic and dangerous ideas. He can neither act like an adult husband or like a member of the society to which he belongs until he’s overcome his problems.

Early in the film, it is Gibraltor who is in the role of supporter until Amy enters the picture and takes over that role. But whereas Gibraltor seemed to be an enabler, Amy gently prods Terry into fighting his demons. This leads to a very interesting revelation between the characters that love is not enough to sustain their relationship, and not enough to fill the void in Terry’s soul.

Year: 1935

Director: Stephen Roberts

Starring: William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Paul Kelly, Gene Lockhart, Ralph Morgan, Leslie Fenton

The screwball mystery was an extremely popular film genre throughout the 1930s. Following The Thin Man in 1934, studios began putting out several knockoffs to cash in on the film’s popularity. Some were good, some weren’t. The two best knockoffs, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and Star of Midnight, starred William Powell, who was also the star of The Thin Man. The Ex-Mrs. Bradford was a charming remarriage comedy costarring Jean Arthur. Star of Midnight, slightly better than Bradford, featured Powell as a high power lawyer with a particular knack for solving crimes.

Powell’s ends up working the case of Mary Smith, a popular, but mysterious singer when she disappears in the middle of one of her shows. Star of Midnight has a slightly more mysterious, even surreal, feeling to it because we never see the subject of the case. Whereas in films like The Thin Man we usually see the victim before they are murdered or disappear, in Star of Midnight Mary Smith is just as mysterious as her disappearance. This is what helps to set this film apart from so many other films of this type. The comedy in a screwball mystery is usually by far stronger than the actual mystery part. But the absence of Mary Smith throughout the entire film makes Star of Midnight a but more evenly balanced. The comedy is fantastic and sharp, but the mystery matches up and is really very intriguing.

Powell’s partner and romantic match in this film is the wonderful Ginger Rogers. This was the only film they made together, and they’re such an excellent match it’s actually sad that they didn’t do any others. Powell was almost always several years older than his leading lady, but it was never brought up or made an issue of. That’s another unique thing that Star of Midnight has going for it. Powell was 19 years older than Rogers, and that’s actually a fact used in the film. Rogers plays the daughter of an old friend of Powell’s. It’s a childhood crush turned into love, and it’s completely adorable. They’re a great match. They trade verbal quips with complete ease and their chemistry is completely on the mark, and the writing for them is excellent. Because of the noted age difference, they have an interesting dynamic and their dialog makes great use of it.

With a sparkling script, a fun and interesting mystery, and the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and William Powell, Star of Midnight is one of the very best screwball mysteries of the 1930s.

Availability: http://www.freemoviesondvd.com

By: Katie Richardson