Thursday, February 5, 2009

Actor In Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time Turns 107

By Lars Trodson

I had not seen “Gone With the Wind” since college, and so I rented it a few weeks back and watched it all including the “Overture” and the “Entr’Acte” -- which is “comedical” for intermission.

Audiences 70 years ago had time for all that, when today we barely have time even for the movie itself. What is the average movie length today, 88 minutes, something like that? Including credits. But GWTW takes its leisurely time at 224 minutes.

The movie is interesting as spectacle, and hard to appreciate as entertainment. I found myself looking at the costumes, and marveling at the accents. Leslie Howard, God bless him, barely tries to hide his deep English tones, and Vivien Leigh has occasional trouble hiding hers. In one scene I was looking at Olivia De Havilland’s dress, and was wondering how long it must have taken the costume department to make it. It was beautiful.

Clark Gable, who was born on Feb. 1, 1901, has no accent at all. He just has that voice, and good for him for not even attempting a southern accent. He was born in Ohio.

I think I rented the movie because an actor who played in an early scene had just died -- he was 90, or more -- and I realized that DeHavilland may very well be the last one, aside from some children who were in the movie. After all, GWTW -- perhaps the earliest movie ever to be known just as an acronym- is now officially 70 years old.

And Clark Gable would have been 107 this year, but as it was he only lived to be 59. I wonder how many kids know him today. While he was in one of the most famous Technicolor movies of all time, it doesn’t seem like he made many color movies at all, and there really isn’t any place to show them now. He died when Hollywood was about to make the transition from black and white to color.

I would have argued not so long ago that movie stardom was probably the most durable stardom of all, but I’m not so sure any more. How many people today look at Chaplin? Or listen to Bing Crosby? Bob Hope, who died only a few years ago, seems to be receding into the past. How could a guy like Gable compete?

One of the problems is that so many movies are being remade, we don’t have to know the originals -- we don’t have to be introduced to those stars. For a new generation, Inspector Clouseau belongs to Steven Martin and not to Peter Sellers, so why rent “A Shot In the Dark”? Did I read somewhere they were remaking “The Wizard of Oz”?

It’s too bad because movies -- right up until the 80s - gave you a sense of what the world looked and sounded like. You can look at a movie like Gable’s “The Hucksters” and get a feel for the mid-1940s. You can see the west dying right before your eyes in “The Misfits”, which was made in 1960 and was Gable’s last film. If you watch that movie you can see Marilyn Monroe, and she’ll break your heart.

So we here at Roundtable Pictures always try to honor the past. We’re indebted to it.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Gable, and congratulations for starring in the movie that has identified as the number one grossing movie of all time.

Here’s the list (check out how many Disney pictures there are here):

And here’s a clip from a forgotten movie that shows just how popular Gable once was: