Saturday, September 10, 2016

Stubs – Love on the Run (1936)

Love on the Run (1936) Starring: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Screenplay by Gladys Hurlbut, John Lee Mahin, Manuel Seff. Based on the short story "Beauty and the Beat" by Alan Green and Julian Brodie in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Mar 1936). Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Run Time: 80 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Comedy

While Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s was famous for romantic pairings on the screen, sometimes those could be love triangles as is the case with Love on the Run, the eighth pairing of Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, who were both an on-screen and off-screen couple with Crawford’s then husband, Franchot Tone.

By 1936, Clark Gable was already nicknamed The King of Hollywood. Having become a leading man in 1931’s Sporting Blood, Gable would go on to star in nearly 60 films. During that time he would be teamed with several leading ladies, sometimes more than one in the same film. His co-stars included Myrna Loy in seven films, Jean Harlow in six, Lana Turner in four, Norma Shearer in three and Ava Gardner in three. But the actress he appeared the most with was Joan Crawford, eight times.

Almost from the first pairing, in Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), Crawford and Gable started an off-screen affair, even though she was married to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Gable to Maria "Ria" Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham. While Louis B. Mayer told them to stop the affair, he was anxious to get the team back together on screen, even going so far as firing one actor from Laughing Sinners (1931), Johnny Mack Brown, so he could replace him with Gable.

Their love affair took hold again while filming their third film, Possessed (1931). There were even rumors the two stars were discussing marriage, though it never got that far. While Crawford wanted Gable for her film Letty Lynton (1932), Mayer refused, concerned that the stars’ affair would ruin her career and marriage to Fairbanks.

But audiences wanted more Crawford and Gable and Mayer let them be paired in Dancing Lady (1933). By this time the affair had cooled and Crawford, having divorced Fairbanks, was starting a relationship with her soon-to-be second husband, Franchot Tone, whom she’d met on the set of Today We Live (1932). Dancing Lady was such a big success that they were paired again in Chained (1934) and again in Forsaking All Others (1934).

Their affair was over, Crawford had married Tone in 1935 and Gable was falling in love with Carole Lombard by the time they were reunited for Love on the Run. Shot during August and September 1936, the film opens in London, where two American correspondents for rival newspapers, Michael Anthony (Clark Gable) and Barnabas “Barney” Pells (Franchot Tone), share a hotel room. They are in town to cover two stories and flip a coin to determine who will cover which of what they think are boring assignments. Mike gets the story about millionairess Sally Parker's (Joan Crawford) wedding to Prince Igor (Ivan Lebedeff), while Barney takes an interview with aviator Baron Otto Spandermann (Reginald Owen) and his wife Hilda (Mona Barrie).

Barney (Franchot Tone) and Mike (Clark Gable) are rival newspapermen sharing a hotel room.

Mike arrives at the church in time to see Sally run away, still in her wedding dress. Being the news reporter he is, Mike follows her back to her hotel, hoping for a juicy exclusive. At her hotel, he runs into the suspicious Barney, but doesn't tell him what just happened. Barney tries to rope him into the interview with the Baron about their high altitude tests, but Mike manages to sneak into Sally's hotel room. Known for her hatred of reporters, Mike pretends that he’s been an admirer of hers from a distance for years and went to the wedding for one last look. He suggests that he can help her get away from all the attention. Then the prince arrives and tries to woo Sally back to the wedding. The prince thinks that he’s seen Mike somewhere and right before he recognizes him as a reporter, Mike slugs them and he and Sally run away.

Sally (Joan Crawford) runs all the way from the church to her hotel instead of marrying Prince Igor.

Mike locks up the three B’s: the Baron, the Baroness and Barney and steals the flight suits, allowing him and Sally to leave the hotel in disguise. They are taken to the airport and put on the plane for the test flight. Even though neither knows anything about flying, they manage to get the plane off the ground and headed over the English Channel. Barney chases them to the airport, but is too late.

Mike discovers there is no oxygen aboard the plane.

In flight, Mike discovers there is no oxygen for what is supposed to be high altitude tests and Sally finds a munitions map wrapped up in a bouquet of flowers intended for the baroness. They realize that the Baron and Baroness are not aviators, but are really spies. Dressed like farmers, they manage to get to Paris on the back of a wagon with livestock and produce. Once they get to Paris, Mike gets money from his paper. Barney finds them and initially Sally pretends to be a man. Mike passes Barney off to Sally like they’re old college friends. When they are spotted by the Baron and Baroness, three of them steal a delivery van and flee into the countryside.

Sally uses the opportunity to change from her farmer duds into a sparkly formal hanging in the back.

Mike drives the stolen van with Barney and Sally.

When the van runs out of gas, they get out to walk, but Mike tricks Barney into getting into the back of the van and he locks him in. Mike convinces Sally that Barney is a lowlife reporter and would even tell her that he was a reporter, too. They take off walking and, by nightfall, arrive at the Palace of Fontainbleau and sneak in to spend the night.

The caretaker (Donald Meeks) hears them break in, when Mike breaks the glass on a door with a bottle of milk that had been delivered, but not picked up by nightfall. The caretaker is delusional, he has an imaginary dog, and thinks Sally and Mike are the ghosts of a queen and king that used to live in the palace. By midnight, Mike and Sally realize they are in love.

The caretaker (Donald Meeks) is delusional and mistakes Mike and Sally for ghosts.

Like a bad penny, Barney shows up at the Palace and for some reason decides to take a dip in a pond. While he’s in the water, the caretaker comes out and gathers up his clothes and takes them away.

The next morning, Barney breaks into the Palace and, dressed in period clothes, breaks into Sally’s bedroom. A tour of the palace finds Mike sleeping on a couch and once again the three are on the run, with Barney chasing after the caretaker to get his clothes back.

Barney, dressed in period clothes, breaks into Sally's bedroom.

Mike feels compelled to come clean with Sally and shows her a newspaper with his byline and she realizes what he has done. Unbeknownst to Mike, his editor back in New York, Berger (William Demarest), has played up the story, even starting a contest about it. Mike apologizes for lying to her and tells her he loves her, but she sends him away.

Of course, Barney finds her. Seeking revenge on Mike, she tells Barney that she will give him the greatest story of his career, and they go off to make headlines. A short time later, on a train to Nice, Sally realizes that she still loves Mike and wants to go to him, but just then the baron and baroness come into their compartment with guns and demand that Sally give them the map. They strip search Sally (off screen) but do not find the map and the Baron pushes Barney off the train. They let Sally go, counting on her leading them to the map.

Bruised and limping, Barney somehow finds Mike at a cafe in Paris and tells him that they, Baron and Baroness, have taken Sally as a prisoner. Mike convinces Barney to hand him all his money and he leaves him to settle an expensive meal bill and heads to Nice. He finds her in her hotel room and they escape just ahead of the Baron and Baroness. At the train station, the Baroness follows Sally into the ladies room and forcefully changes clothes with her. Mike doesn’t discover the switch until they are onboard the train. With the Baron holding a gun on him, Mike is forced to strip.

Sally, with help, frees herself, but the Baron is back at the train station. He takes her to a restaurant and uses lipstick and writes on the menu telling the waiter to get the police. But the two policemen who arrive believe the Baron’s story, that Sally had stolen his plane. They won’t listen to her as she tries to tell them the Baron is a spy. The police even accept the Baron’s invitation for a ride back to police headquarters. Once in the car, he kidnaps them all and takes them to his chateau where the Baroness has taken Mike.

Barney follows Mike to the chateau, where he finally thinks his rival is getting his comeuppance. But Mike convinces Barney to trade places with him and leaves him tied up. Sally, Mike and the policemen manage to capture the Baron and the Baroness. At first, Sally and Mike leave Barney tied up, but Mike has a change of heart and returns, finding Barney struggling on the floor to make a call and get his story to his editor. Under duress, Barney agrees to file a joint byline, and Sally and Mike agree that they will soon be married.

Sally and Mike share a kiss over Barney, who is tied to a chair.

The film’s plot has a lot in common with another Gable film, It Happened One Night (1934). In that film, Gable plays a newspaper man covering the wedding of an heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), who ends up on the run with the bride, who, despite learning he’s a newspaperman, falls in love with him. Add a sidekick reporter and an overwritten plot about espionage and you pretty much have the same movie. Oh yeah, there’s one more thing that It Happened One Night has that Love on the Run doesn’t; humor.

Despite everyone’s best intentions, Love On the Run just isn’t funny. If you only had this film to watch, you’d wonder what was so hot about the on-screen chemistry between Clark and Crawford that would lead to their pairing eight times. (They would be paired one more time after this film, 1940’s Strange Cargo.) And if the old adage is true that no onscreen chemistry means there is something going on off-screen, then Tone and Crawford’s marriage would have been hot and heavy about this time. She seems more bothered by his presence in the film than anything else.

Franchot Tone is best remembered for the dramatic role of Byam, for which he was nominated as Best Supporting Actor, in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), which also co-starred Gable and Charles Laughton. His marriage to Crawford, his first of four, lasted only four years, 1935 to 1939. They were paired on screen seven times, including Today We Live (1933), Dancing Lady, Sadie McKee (1934), No More Ladies (1935), The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Love on the Run and The Bride Wore Red (1937). In Love on the Run, Tone comes across as more hammy than funny.

Franchot Tone

I didn’t find Tone’s Barney to be a believable news reporter, even for what’s billed as a comedy. He is supposed to be a rival news hound to Mike, as well as a rival love interest for Sally, but his character fails miserably at both. Barney all too easily falls for Mike’s schemes throughout the film, losing bylines, money and his dignity. After a while he comes off as Mike’s punching bag and not as a real or believable character. It’s hard to imagine someone so naïve and gullible could make it to be a foreign correspondent.

Mike, on the other hand, is a clever, fast-talking scoundrel, the way successful newspaper reporters are often depicted in the 1930’s. His character seems like it would have been right at home in the screwball comedy newsroom of His Girl Friday (1940) and other such comedies. Still, while he has the right characteristics, the funny isn’t there.

Crawford, who is still very pretty at this stage of her career, was very popular when this film was released. While Life magazine would declare her the Queen of the Movies in 1937, her popularity would quickly fade. The Bride Wore Black, her last film with Tone, would be one of MGM’s biggest failures at the box office and by May 1938, Crawford would be placed in some very famous company by the Independent Film Journal, who called her box office poison. (She’s on a list with the likes of Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Norma Shearer and Marlene Dietrich). While her career at MGM would end in 1943, when her contract was terminated by mutual consent, she would sign a contract with Warner Bros. only a couple of years later and would regain her star status with films like Mildred Pierce (1945).

Joan Crawford, the Queen of the Movies.

While Crawford’s career at MGM had peaked by the time this film was released, Gable’s was still on the rise. He would go onto to star in what is still, adjusted for inflation, the biggest film of all time, Gone With the Wind (1939). That film was bigger than Gable, being based on a huge best seller, not to mention the publicity build up, but it wouldn’t have been the same film if the King of Hollywood wasn’t Rhett Butler. Taking off time to serve during World War II, Gable would appear less frequently in films through the 40’s and 50’s. He became increasingly displeased with the mediocre films he was being offered and MGM considered his salary excessive. He was fired by the studio in 1951. His last film was The Misfits (1961) opposite Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.

Clark Gable, the King of Hollywood.

Donald Meeks’ eccentric night watchman comes off as more crazy than funny, with his invisible dog companion. His big scene with Crawford and Gable seems to summarize what I think is wrong with the film. In the scene, the three dance a minuet but it looks more labored than funny. It is clear that Gable is not a dancer or light on his feet and when Meeks and Crawford accidentally bump into each other more than once, it comes across as awkward fumbling for laughs. The director was known for letting his actors ad-lib, so I wonder if perhaps the blame for this can be passed around.

Director W. S. Van Dyke got his start in 1916 as an assistant director for D.W. Griffith on Intolerance. Known as One-Take Woody and as One-Take Van Dyke for his speed in completion of his assignments, he was a major director for early M-G-M. He directed several memorable movies, including Tarzan The Ape Man (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), San Francisco (1936) and four of the Thin Man movies with Myrna Loy and William Powell, The Thin Man (1934), After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941). He would commit suicide in 1943.

Having heard a lot about the onscreen pairings of Gable and Crawford, I found Love On the Run to be a disappointment. While the film had been profitable for MGM when it was released, it doesn’t appear to have aged well. Even though I haven’t seen it, I have to imagine Dancing Lady would be a better film with which to start a retrospective of the Gable/Crawford pairing. Love on the Run is strictly for devoted fans only.

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