best film:  Gone with the Wind is a masterpiece of epic moviemaking. Whether it is the gorgeous technicolor photography, the striking crane shots (in combination with a myriad of extras to provide proper scope), the writing from Margaret Mitchell’s source material or bravura acting – this is a film that has it all.  It Happened One Night from Frank Capra is Clark Gable’s next best film – and the dip from there to number three or four is substantial.


best performance:  Gone with the Wind again but those who claim it is It Happened One Night are not crazy either. Rhett Butler is justifiably memorable character and Gable brings him to life. This is a sly supporting performance – not a lead. Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O’Hara) is the clear lead – but when Rhett Butler comes along (extraordinarily charming) – Gable commands the screen.  Scarlett drives the film’s narrative and is a sublime character as well of course. Leigh gets to close out the first half of the film with a scene any actor would kill for – but it is Gable who floats along during the bountiful running time and drops in periodically to enchant the screen, take up all the air – and then it is he who gets to lower the boom at the end of the film with the look back and final, transcendent, line of dialogue.


few careers (if any) could top the “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” walk off in a giant masterpiece moment


stylistic innovations/traits: Those without a great depth of knowledge of the films in the era may be surprised Clark Gable is not in the top twenty-five (25) on this list. Those top two films and performances sure look like the resume someone who should be included in the top 25 or even top ten (10) but frankly (my dear), there is not much there after Gone with the Wind in 1939 if one is tracking his career and moving from 1940 on. It is shocking actually that the King of Hollywood had really only one more big performance in his career (The Misfits which he referred to as the second-best part he was ever offered after Gone with the Wind). Of course, during the 1930s he was king. He has a few uncredited silent roles in the 1920s, but he took off in the early 1930s and was both popular and critically acclaimed. He has three Oscar nominations – all in the 1930s – but there are a lot of Clarence Brown and W.S. Van Dyke collaborations in there – some fool’s gold.  Gable is superb in Red Dust, Manhattan Melodrama, Test Pilot and Boom Town but he very rarely in his career aligned with the right auteurs – perhaps Capra was the exception and then solid work with John Huston, Robert Wise and John Ford (Mogambo, basically remaking Red Dust) later in his career. Overall, there is only a total of fifteen (15) archiveable films from Gable and only four (4) from 1940 to 1961 when he died, far too young, tragically at age fifty-nine (59) from a heart attack. For him to come off of Gone with the Wind in 1939, the most popular box office film of all-time when adjusted for inflation, to have only one archiveable film from 1940 to 1952 is a sort of reverse miracle. Of course there was the war – but also Gable’s wife, actress Carole Lombard, tragically died in 1942 – perhaps that was the end of part of Gable as well.


Gable in 1934’s It Happened One Night – his signature role before Rhett Butler


directors worked with:  Clarence Brown (3), Victor Fleming (3), W.S. Van Dyke (3), Frank Capra (1), John Ford (1), Robert Wise (1), John Huston (1)


Gable owned 1930s Hollywood – he was the star (and brilliant) in three best picture winners – 1934’s It Happened One Night, 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty (here), and, of course, Gone with the Wind in Hollywood’s golden year


top five performances:

  1. Gone with the Wind
  2. It Happened One Night
  3. The Misfits
  4. Red Dust
  5. Mutiny on the Bounty


from John Huston’s 1961 film The Misfits – the film features a bombastic Alex North score (Spartacus). The film also touts the involvement of playwright Arthur Miller in the credits. This was an important film and role for Gable. Marilyn Monroe is box office, Montgomery Clift is the talent, Eli Wallach had the pedigree theater background. Gable gets the gut wrenching scene drunk, in the street, yelling for his missing children.


archiveable films

1931- A Free Soul
1932- No Man of Her Own
1932- Red Dust
1933- Night Flight
1934- It Happened One Night
1934- Manhattan Melodrama
1935- Mutiny on the Bounty
1936- San Francisco
1936- Wife vs. Secretary
1938- Test Pilot
1939- Gone with the Wind
1940- Boom Town
1953- Mogambo
1958- Run Silent, Run Deep
1961- The Misfits