Friday, 7 October 2016

Film Friday: "No Man of Her Own" (1932)

For this week's "Film Friday," I initially thought of writing about a June Allyson picture, since today is her 99th birthday. But then I realized that I have already written about quite a few of her films, so I have decided to honor instead Carole Lombard's 108th birthday, which was yesterday, by telling you about one of the very first films that I saw her in. This also happens to be the picture that introduced her to her future husband, Clark Gable.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wesley Ruggles, No Man of Her Own (1932) concerns Jerry "Babe" Stewart (Clark Gable), a smooth conman who swindles wealthy executives in rigged card games. When his ex-mistress, Kay Everly (Dorothy Mackaill), theatrens to expose him, Babe leaves New York for the small town of Glendale. There, he becomes infatuated with the local librarian, Connie Randall (Carole Lombard), who is desperate to escape her stiffling environment. Babe pretends to be a wealthy businessman to impress Connie, but she refuses his advances. Eventually, he flips a coin to decide whether or not they should get married. The coin forces them to wed and Connie soon finds herself falling in love with Babe.

Back in New York, Babe continues his conning and loses at cards to his partners Charlie Vane (Grant Mitchell) and Vargas (Paul Ellis) in order to evade Detective Collins (J. Farrell MacDonald), who has been observing him for some time. Meanwhile, Connie does not suspect of her husband's real occupation, believing that he works on Wall Street. Babe subterfuge works until Connie discovers his marked deck in his desk and shuffles the cards before an important game, causing him to lose. Angry at Connie's meddling in his affairs, Babe sends his wife back to Glendale and tells her that he is leaving for South America. Realizing his love for her, however, Babe turns himself in to Detective Collins to serve his 90-day jail sentence for running a crooked card game. When a pregnant Connie goes back to New York for her husband's supposed homecoming from South America, Kay unexpectedly visits her and tells her the truth about where Babe has been for the past three months. Babe returns to Connie, unaware that she knows of his deception, and the couple embraces. Sure that he is reformed, Connie is happy to be reunited with her husband.

Jerry "Babe" Stewart: [repeated line] I never go back on a coin.

The maternal nephew of actress Alla Nazimova, Val Lewton began his professional career as a reporter for various newspapers, including The Bridgeport Herald and The New York Morning World. However, he was fired from each one and, in his own words, "acquired a reputation as one of the world's worst reporters." Undaunted by his lack of competence as a journalist, Lewton turned to writing fiction, submitting his work to several periodicals. His first two novels, Improved Road and The Cossack Sword, were released by the Scottish publishing house Collins and Sons in 1924 and 1926, respectively. Also in 1926, Lewton secured a position as a publicity writer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's New York City office, where Nazimova had also worked. He was placed under the supervision of Howard Dietz, the noted lyricist of Tin Pan Alley, and entrusted with the task of writing novelizations of popular MGM films for serialization in magazines. In 1930, apart from his work at MGM, Lewton produced two more novels: the mystery The Fateful Star Murder, printed in 1931 by Mohawk Press; and an exotic adventure called Where the Cobra Sings, published under the pseudonym "Cosmo Forbes" early the next year by Macaulay Publishing Company.

In mid-1932, Vanguard Press released Lewton's fifth novel, No Bed of Her Own, the story of Rose Mahoney, a bold, no-nonsense stenographer who turns to prostitution after losing her job in the Great Depression. Unlike the author's previous works, this "grade 'B' pulp noir potboiler" became an overnight success. According to Lewton, "No Bed of Her Own was translated into nine languages and published in twelve different countries. It was particularly popular in Germany, where it appeared as Rose Mahoney: Her Depression. It was also included on the list of books burned on Hitler's orders." In spite of its dubious potential as a film, No Bed of Her Own caught the attention of Paramount Pictures, which purchased the rights to the novel for a possible screen adaptation. Austin Parker wrote a treatment and screenplay from Lewton's book, but the Hays Office deemed the material unfilmable. To appease the censors, Paramount's front office resolved to eliminate Lewton's original story completely and use only his novel's racy title. Ultimately, however, even the title was scrapped and changed to No Man of Her Own. With a script penned by Milton Herbert Gropper and Maurine Dallas Watkins, from a story by Benjamin Glazer and Edmund Goulding, the project was greenlighted as a vehicle for George Raft and Miriam Hopkins.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
Meanwhile, back at MGM, Marion Davies decided that she wanted Paramount contract player Bing Crosby, America's number-one crooner at the time, as her leading man in her next picture, the musical Going Hollywood (1933). To please his mistress, multi-millionaire William Randolph Hearst convinced MGM chief Louis B. Mayer to offer Clark Gable to Paramount in trade for Crosby. A major box-office attraction after such popular films as Possessed (1931) and Red Dust (1932), Gable was to work on a project of his choice until Crosby was finished with Going Hollywood. He looked over the available properties and the only one that interested him was No Man of Her Own, which Raft had just abandoned. When Gable signed on to play crooked gambler Babe Stewart, Hopkins too withdrew from the production, apparently because she did not want to be billed over the 31-year-old actor as MGM had demanded in the loan-out deal. Carole Lombard, a rising star on the Paramount lot, was chosen to replace Hopkins.

No Man of Her Own began filming in late 1932 under the helm of Wesley Ruggles, who replaced original director Lowell Sherman. A former actor, Ruggles directed more than 50 silet pictures including The Plastic Age (1925), which featured both Gable and Lombard in minor uncredited roles before gaining acclaim with Cimarron (1931), the Best Picture winner at the 4th Academy Awards. Ruggles would later worked with Lombard in Bolero (1934) and True Confession (1937) and with Gable in Somewhere I'll Find You (1942).

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable
Throughout production on No Man of Her Own, Gable and Lombard thought nothing particular significant about each other; for them it was purely just another job. Things were relatively smoothly, although filming was held up for a short time when both actors came down with a bout of flu. While Gable may have been gathering quite a following of young admirers, Lombard was not charmed by him at this point. By the end of filming, she made her feelings known by giving him a gift that she said represented his acting abilities a big ham with his picture firmly pasted on the wrapper. Not to be outdone, Gable presented her with a pair of oversized ballet shoes he said to match her inflated prima donna ego. It would be four years before romantic sparks began to fly. They were married in 1939 and were by most accounts one of Hollywood's happiest couples until her tragic death in a plane crash in 1942 at the age of 33.

No Man of Her Own had its New York premiere at the Paramount Theatre on December 15, 1932, two weeks before being released to the general public. Critical reviews were fairly positive. Film Daily said: "Just a nice little piece of entertainment, in which Clark Gable again is transformed by love from a though guy into a tame one [...] Gable is in his element and Miss Lombard gives a natural impersonation of the smart country girl. Lots of laughs are produced by director Wesley Ruggles' handling of situations." Variety wrote, "It is largely the good cast, direction and some of the comedy arising mostly out of the wisecracks that makes No Man of Her Own acceptable film fare." Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times liked the pairing of Gable and Lombard, commenting, "Miss Lombard and Mr. Gable are amusing and competent players. Between them they keep a rather usual sort of melodrama hustling along at a lively clip and sustain a pleasing illusion of handsome romantics and dashing humor." Unlike Mayer's original prediction that Paramount would not be able to profit from Crosby's loan, No Man of Her Own was very successful at the box-office.

Clark Gable: Biography, Filmography, Bibliography by Chrystopher J. Spicer (2002) | Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career by Edmund G. Bansak (2003) | Carole Lombard: Twentieth-Century Star by Michelle Morgan (2016) |

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