Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99
The Baltimore Sun

When 'The King' ruled Hollywood

Clark Gable:The Signature Collection
(Warner Home Video, $60 for the set; $15-$20 each)

Dancing LadyClark Gable was the "King of Hollywood" in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the screen's most enduring icons, he oozed sex appeal and charm, and he sported the most famous mustache in cinema. He won a best actor Oscar for 1934's "It Happened One Night" and was the only choice to play the disarming cad Rhett Butler in 1939's "Gone With the Wind."

Like most superstars of the golden age of Hollywood, Gable worked his way up the acting ranks as a studio contract player. He appeared in bit parts in silent films, made his official debut in 1930's "The Painted Desert" and then scored a big hit as Norma Shearer's gangster-lover in MGM's 1931 melodrama "A Free Soul," in which he uttered the infamous line, "You're mine and I want you!"

By the time he made "Dancing Lady" in 1933, he was one of MGM's major players.

This precode romantic musical casts the actor as a tough-as-nails Broadway musical comedy director who gives struggling dancer-singer Joan Crawford — just get a load of her flat-footed hoofing — the lead in his new Broadway show. Franchot Tone, who later married Crawford, plays a wealthy playboy enamored with her. The production is also noteworthy as the film debut of Fred Astaire. An early incarnation of the Three Stooges — Ted Healy and his Stooges — also appear.

Gable and Crawford exuded such a great sexual chemistry they made eight movies together from 1931 to 1940.

Extras: Two early Stooges shorts, "Plane Nuts" and "Roast Beef & Movies," and the trailer.

China SeasBesides Crawford, Gable was often teamed with the platinum-blond sex symbol Jean Harlow. And this brassy, breezy 1935 seafaring romantic adventure is one of their most pleasurable.

Gable plays a two-fisted, hard-drinking steamer ship captain who sails the pirate-infested waters between Hong Kong and Singapore. And on this voyage, he's carrying a secret cargo of British gold.

Harlow plays a performer who has set her sights on Gable. Wallace Berry is a blustery villain who wants Harlow and the gold, and a young Rosalind Russell is a sophisticated British widow who had once loved Gable.

Extras: The Technicolor "Fitzpatrick TravelTalk" short "Cherry Blossom Time in Japan" and the musical short "A Girl's Best Years."

San FranciscoThis lavish, rip-roaring romantic drama from 1936 features a spectacular — at least for its day — re-creation of the historic 1906 earthquake.

Nominated for seven Oscars, the box-office success features Gable as the lovable rogue Blackie Norton, kingpin of the notorious Barbary Coast.

Jeanette McDonald plays a singer in Blackie's establishment who longs to sing for the opera. And Spencer Tracy, in his first Oscar-nominated best actor performance, makes a strong impression as Blackie's lifelong friend, a priest who keeps telling him to change his shady ways. Songs featured include the classic title tune.

Extras: The alternate ending, two "Fitzpatrick TravelTalk" shorts "Cavalcade of San Francisco" and "Night Descends on Treasure Island" — and the animated short "Bottles."

Wife vs. Secretary In this agreeable romantic comedy-drama from 1936, Gable plays a wealthy, successful magazine publisher (married to Myrna Loy) who depends on his trustworthy, beautiful secretary (Harlow). May Robson plays Gable's mother, who makes a big mistake when she suggests to Loy that her son may be having an affair with Harlow. A young Jimmy Stewart plays Harlow's boyfriend.

Extras: A bizarre musical short "New Shoes" and the dramatic short "The Public Pays."

Boom TownAn immensely entertaining 1940 romantic drama, "Boom Town" marked the last on-screen pairing of Gable and Tracy, who play two wildcat oil men. Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr play the women in their lives, and Frank Morgan of "The Wizard of Oz" fame also stars. Directed by Jack Conway, the motion picture received Oscar nominations for its black-and-white cinematography and special effects.

Extras: A short, "Hollywood Hobbies," that was written by Morey Amsterdam of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and the cartoon "Home on the Range."

MogamboReturning to Hollywood after serving in World War II, Gable found himself saddled in a lot of pictures that wasted his talents. In 1953, though, Gable had the good fortune of being cast in this strong remake of his 1932 hit "Red Dust."

In this version, ably directed by John Ford, Gable plays a no-nonsense big-game trapper living in the African jungles who finds himself in the sights of two women — a Broadway showgirl (Ava Gardner, in a turn for which she nabbed an Oscar nomination for best actress) and the prim-and-proper young wife (Grace Kelly, nominated for supporting actress) of an anthropologist. Shot in Technicolor on location in Africa.

-- Susan King

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun