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

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Year: 1942

Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding

The Major and the Minor is Billy Wilder’s American directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay together with one of his longtime collaberators, Charles Brackett. In a period of thirteen years they wrote more than a dozen classic screenplays together for some of the greatest films in history i.e. Ninotchka, Midnight, Ball Of Fire, The Long Weekend and best of all Sunset Blvd. The Major and the Minor was based on a play by Edward Childs Carpenter.

The ever-lovable Ginger Rogers plays Susan Appleton, a young woman who after a year of starting and failing at twentyfive different jobs in New York City decides to leave the City to go home to Stevenson, Iowa and marry a local boy. When she got to the city a year earlier she held onto an enveloppe with enough money in it for her return ticket home. When she gets to the ticket counter at the train station, she’s told the fairs have gone up in the last year and that she’s five dollars short for her return ticket. She goes into the Woman’s Loung to change her appearance so that she’ll look younger; as a 12 years old girl she’s gets a ticket for half fair.

On the train a couple of conductors aren’t fooled by her masquarede and she flees into the cabin of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). He’s fooled by her scheme and gets mesmerized with this child, which he calls Su-Su. He lets her stay with him in his cabin. The next morning Philip’s fiance Pamela (Rita Johnson) and soon-to-be-father-in-law Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding) decide to pick him up from the train in High Creek, Indiana. When they get there Pamela sees a young woman in her fiancee’s cabin and wants to break off the engagement. Philip asks the “twelve year old” Su-Su to come along to the military academy to settle things straight.

The Major and the Minor is sort of a two faced film for me. It’s a very sweet film. Ginger Rogers is great. At the time she made this, she on the height of her career as an solo actress after her six year collaberation with Fred Astaire. But it’s a movie of it’s time. It couldn’t be made now without many adjustments. Ray Milland’s character threads a twelve year old like a five year old. You would presume his character, Philip Kirby, would have some characteristics of a child predator, if his character himself wouldn’t have been such a naive and very childish character. Wilder as a director is still searching for a style; compared to other Billy Wilder films The Major and the Minor is very static. But all these dubious thoughts are in no contrast to the cheer fun this movie still brings to the audience.

Filmtrivia: Susan (Ginger Rogers) Appleton’s mother is played by Lela E. Rogers (Ginger’s mother).

By Ralph van Zuuren

Year: 1942

Director: Elliott Nugent

Cast: Henry Fonda, Olivia DeHavilland, Jack Caron, Joan Leslie

The “The Male Animal” started as a play a written by two former college roommates, James Thurber and Elliott Nugent. James Thurber was one of America’s best known humorists, mainly of short stories and cartoons. Some of his best works include “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “The Cat Bird Seat”, and “The Dog Who Bit People”. Actor and writer Elliott Nugent probably best known as a film director of such lightweight movies as “The Cat and the Canary” (1939), “My Favorite Brunette”, “Up in Arms”, “Mr. Belvedere Goes to College” and uncharacteristically, the 1949 version of “The Great Gatsby.” The play premiered on Broadway in January of 1940 and was a hit running for about eight months. On stage, Nugent played the role of Tommy Turner later performed in the film by Henry Fonda. Warner Brothers purchased the rights and made it into a film in 1942.

Freedom of speech, the battle between the sexes and brains over brawn are the main themes in this film. Tommy Turner (Fonda) is an English professor at Midwestern University where three professors have recently been fired by the Board of Trustees for allegedly being communist. Tommy meanwhile is teaching a class that will include an example of a well written letter authored by anarchist Bartholomew Vanzetti. When Board of Trustee, Ed Keller (Eugene Palette) hears about it, he threatens to fire Tommy if he reads the letter in class.

Meanwhile there is big football game coming up against Michigan State and former local hero Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson) has come home for the big game. Ferguson and Ellen Turner (Olivia DeHavilland), Tommy’s wife, were once an item back in their college days. Ferguson still has a crush on the beautiful Ellen and makes no bones about making it known. With the possibility of losing his job, Ellen wants Tommy to give up the idea of reading the controversial Vanzetti letter in class. In fact, Tommy is being told by everyone it is not worth losing your job over just to read this letter, however Tommy is a person who does like to be told what he cannot say or say. He also does not like the fact that Joe Ferguson is making moves on his wife. It all is neatly tied together, thanks to a nice screenplay written by Julius and Philip Epstein, with plenty laughs and a subtle message.

Henry Fonda’s performance as the intellectual professor, who in the end, wins his wife back over the former football jock and stands up for freedom of speech is a real highlight. Fonda’s reading of the Vanzetti letter is an inspiring experience giving the film an importance lacking in most comedies. Fonda always imparted a sense of idealism and decency in his roles whether it is the freedom of speech defending Professor Turner, or as Juror # 8 in “12 Angry Men”, or as Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Olivia DeHavilland is spunky as Ellen Turner providing a nice comical performance; however, it is Jack Carson as the football jock, Joe Ferguson and Eugene Palette as the commie hunting head Board of Trustee who provide some real hardy laughs.

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: 1942

Director: Stuart Heisler

Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, Bonita Granville

The Glass Key is the sort of movie you want to start over again just as soon as it is finished. If you were to say otherwise, you would be lying. I say this because the plot twists and turns all over the place as it rockets along through a tale of political corruption, murder, lust and violence.

Alan Ladd plays a resourceful young man who is motivated by loyalty to his good friend Paul Madvig, played by Brian Donlevy. Lucky thing for Madvig too, because he soon finds himself suspected of murdering the uncultivated son of a prominent politician. Ironically, the person he is accused of killing is also the brother to the woman he is smitten with, the sensual Veronica Lake.

Alan Ladd, as Ed Beaumont, works tirelessly to navigate the labyrinth of lies and corruption in order to uncover the truth and clear his friend’s name. He relentlessly and cleverly pursues the truth, even when his persistent perseverance lands him in a world of hurt.

This is a gritty film that must have been exceptionally shocking for its time, with countless depictions of violence, sexuality (including Alan Ladd horizontal on a couch with a married woman), brutality, and even suicide. Ed Beaumont feels like a precursor to James Bond. He is tough, suave, resourceful, and all the women want him. He is an admirable character and part of what makes his character a hero that really wins you over is his loyalty to a friend that quite frankly, is flawed. Brian Donlevy plays a man who is cocky, irreverent, crass, egotistical and boorish, yet Beaumont is faithful to his friend despite his weaknesses.

Some films from the 1940s hold up better then others. This movie is very reflective of films from that era, with some stereotypical portrayals of women, dialogue that comes across as silly at times, melodramatic moments and dated lingo. However, if you can get past the very apparent age of the film, there is a fun ride full of shocking twists, turns and content. This is one that is worth your time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is no official R1 DVD release of this film, but you can obtain a DVD copy of the film at freemoviesondvd.com

By Greg Dickson