I read somewhere that Clark Gable’s talent was in playing himself. Fans lined up to see him, whatever the role, and they were never disappointed. Could he act? Ask me if I care. The version of himself he played in “It Happened One Night” was genuine, charming, and way too handsome for that control freak, Claudette Colbert.
“Cheerfully insolent” is the way a friend of mine describes Gable’s performance. Here’s a guy who thumbs his nose at authority — and at the drivers who pass him by when he’s demonstrating his best hitchhiking technique — yet lives by a clear set of principles. He’s got his pride, of course, but that’s not all. He’s got his own patented procedures for getting undressed, dunking a doughnut and (as I mentioned) hitching a ride. Watch him explain his system to Colbert:
The boyishness. That’s what I love about Gable in this picture. Don’t get me wrong; Rhett Butler has his appeal, but I couldn’t hold a man like him any better than poor Scarlett could. Frankly, my dear, the real-life Gable was a two-timing cad.
Not the guy he plays in “It Happened One Night,” though. Him I could imagine traveling with across the country or around the world. We’d probably end up going standby, and no doubt there’d be any number of mishaps along the way, but that would be part of the adventure. One thing for sure: we’d never be bored.
(25 January 2011)