September 21, 2013
Tonight’s two films are connected in an unusual filmatic way. If you don’t know how, I won’t tell you so you can enjoy seeing it for yourselves. The things that these films do have in common are that they are both pre-Code films, 1933 and 1931, the women are more hardened in these films, especially in Fast Workers and they also have a hard time getting the man they love and want. Maybe because it’s during the Depression, but the women all seem to be, if not quite prostitutes, gold-diggers. Except in these films, especially Fast Workers, any man with two cents to rub together seems worth the effort! No going after rich men here, probably because in the “real world of the Depression era” they would be pretty hard to find. A man with a job, regardless of marital status, was what they were after. Also, the title is very much a double entendre.
In Fast Workers I feel that there may have been some scenes cut out because some of the storyline seems to be missing between certain scenes. Without wanting to give anything away, does Mae Clark’s character actually marry Robert Armstrong’s? If so, when? And why as it’s pre-Code. On further viewing, it is mentioned by Mae Clarke’s character, I believe, that they were married at some point.
Another missing item: I became more aware of Virginia Cherrill who played the blind girl in City Lights after seeing it recently and because I was also reading a biography about Cary Grant and learned that she was Grant’s first wife. She is listed in the cast as playing her namesake, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find her in the film. I went through each scene with a fine-tooth-comb! There’s a very short scene right near the beginning of the film where John Gilbert is dropped off at his work site by a blonde woman. Although she looks different and younger compared to the more sophisticated-looking Virginia in City Lights and this film was made at least two years later, probably more like three or four as it took Chaplin a long time to finish his beloved film, it looks like this is her. I checked out every other woman, but none of the others resemble her. She’s not the nurse, played by Muriel Evans, and she’s definitely not the hat-check woman whose name I can’t find in the credits.
Without me pointing it out, but I am anyway, it’s quite shocking—and amazing—what the working conditions were like when the skyscrapers were being built in New York back then. A little strap to hold you onto the beam while you rivet away! No workmen’s compensation there. But maybe it made working easier than wearing all that heavy equipment? Or maybe those working conditions gave them a good reason to drink like fishes when they were off the job. Pretty scary work for most of us.
As well, lately I’ve been interested in John Gilbert and his films. And he’s also mentioned in the Cary Grant biography which is fairly recent, written in 2004. It’s well written and although the author, Marc Eliot, doesn’t always declare where he got all his facts from, it’s an interesting take on Cary Grant and there’s lots of cross references to other people we know and love. So when the author made a passing mention of John Gilbert and how his voice ruined his career, all of us here know that that is totally false as will be testified tonight. So to this day, the myth lives on and on and on!
If Laughing Sinners hadn’t had this “couldn’t-pass-up” connection, then I would have loved to have paired this with one of Gilbert’s silent films, most probably The Show, also directed by Tod Browning. And speaking of which, most interestingly, Browning’s the uncredited director of this film. It appears after coming off of the worst disappointment of his career with the failure of Freaks, he was not any happier about Fast Worker, and had his name taken off the picture. And of course, Freaks is anything but a failure of a film. And neither is this one. This also was John Gilbert’s last film for MGM and his third last film before he died. Caren
Fast Workers (1933)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Directed by Tod Browning. Play titled “Rivets” by John McDermott. Titles by Ralph Spence. Photographed by J. Peverell Marley. Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons. Film editor: Ben Lewis. Released: March 10, 1933.
John Gilbert………………………………………………………… Gunner Smith
Robert Armstrong…………………………………………………… Bucker Reilly
Mae Clarke…………………………………………………………………….. Mary
Muriel Kirkland………………………………………………………………… Millie
Vince Barnett…………………………………………………………………. Spike
Virginia Cherrill…………………………………………………………….. Virginia
Muriel Evans…………………………………………………………………. Nurse
Sterling Holloway…………………………………………………… Pinky Magoo
Guy Usher…………………………………………………………………. Scudder
Warner Richmond………………………………………………….. Feets Wilson
Bob Burns…………………………………………………………………. Alabam’
Herman Bing……………………………………………………………….. Schultz
Irene Franklin…………………………………………………………….. Lily White
In January 1933 production on Jack’s last assignment under his MGM contract, Rivets (eventually retitled Fast Workers), was announced. It was produced and directed by Tod Browning—late of The Show—and had dialogue by Lawrence Stallings, all of which should have been a great sign.
But Browning was perhaps the only man at MGM farther in the doghouse than Jack. After his success at Universal with Dracula (1931), Browning had been hired by Thalberg to come up with another box-office horror hit for MGM. Instead Browning came up with Freaks. Now considered a classic of the horror genre, it was a disaster at the time of its release, and the fact that Thalberg over saw it proved a thorny issue with the prissy Mayer. Freaks was yanked from whatever theatres hadn’t banned it outright, and it lost $164,000 for MGM. Assigning Browning to a John Gilbert film was actually considered a punishment for both men.
Surprisingly for these pre-Code days, Fast Workers still ran into censorship issues. Will Hays ordered Nicholas Schenck to cut a bit where Jack spots two lesbians cuddling at a bar and cracks, “They’re making it tougher for us every day.” “A definite inference of sex perversion, and as such in violation of the Code,” wrote one censor. Even more surprisingly, the line wasn’t touched on first release. An offended Hays wrote Schenck, “The failure of the studio to eliminate this line…was very unfortunate.” MGM finally caved and cut the line for national release, and it is no longer to be heard in the film.
Fast Workers is a cheap, nasty film about cheap, nasty people—but for all that, it is fun and fast moving (at little more than an hour). Though purportedly based on a play by John McDermott, it used the exact same plot as the 1928 silent A Girl in Every Port, which had recently (1931) been remade as Goldie. Indeed, Robert Armstrong reprised his Girl in Every Port role for Fast Workers. The movie concerns two backstabbing, brawling pals—sailors in the earlier films, now New York construction workers-who take great pains to prove that the other’s latest lady love is just a two-bit whore.
Jack was surrounded by an inexpensive but talented cast: Armstrong as his trusting, ape-like pal (he has a terrific moment of homicidal menace toward the end of the film); tough, wise-cracking Mae Clarke and Muriel Kirkland; and fellow riveters Sterling Holloway and Vince Barnett. Only Jack was fatally miscast: the role called for a tough mug like Spencer Tracy (who had played the equivalent role in Goldie) or James Cagney. Jack came off as more of a lounge lizard, the kind of smoking-jacketed smoothie played so effectively by Ralf Harolde and Monroe Owsley in the early ‘30s. He was also starting to show his age. In Fast Workers Jack looked every day of his thirty-four years, and one could see the handsome, weathered middle-aged man he might have become.
The New York Times did not think much of Fast Workers, and downright hated Jack’s character: “The suspicion grows, watching Gunner Smith at his increasingly moronic tricks, that in real life Gunner would be pitched from a convenient skyscraper by his outraged fellow-workers for one-tenth the things he does in this picture.” Fast Workers cost $525,000—still quite a high-budgeted film, especially in the price-cutting year of 1933—and lost $360,000 when it was released in March 1933.
John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars by Eve Golden, (2013)
Jack’s last picture under the “damned contract” was a negligible piece of work directed by Tod Browning, called Fast Workers. It was taken from a play, Rivets, by John McDermott, about life with the construction workers on the tall buildings going up in New York. Again, Jack played a villain, Gunner Smith, a temperamental and sometimes sullen lover. “He drinks freely, punches men he does not like, mistreats his women, deceives his friends and shows himself to be an intolerable braggart,” said The New York Times.
The cast included Mae Clarke, best known for having a grapefruit shoved in her face by Jimmy Cagney the year before (speaking of a new style of lovemaking), and Robert Armstrong, best known a year later as the white hunter who brought in King Kong. Virginia Cherrill, who played the beautiful blind girl in Chaplin’s City Lights also had a part. (She was about to marry Cary Grant, the first of five husbands, eventually working her way up to the ninth Earl of Jersey.) Tod Browning, the director, was being punished. This was his only film of the year. He’d made Freaks the year before, an expensive, ghastly, and grotesque picture (and underground classic) that had to be drastically cut and later shelved after a San Diego preview in which a woman ran screaming up the aisle.
Fast Workers, according to the New York Daily Mirror, was a picture that “makes small use of the celebrated Gilbert charm….Gilbert does the best he can in this unfortunate role.”
The New YorkEvening Post said: “That such an indifferent story should have been allotted to Jack Gilbert is a matter to be regretted.…He had always been an excellent performer, although the fact seems to have been largely overlooked in recent years. In his current film he gives a capable performance…but he is obviously handicapped by the limits of the piece.”
Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of the Legendary John Gilbert by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain with John R. Maxim, (1985)
There was nothing wrong with John Gilbert’s voice.
We know that, but let’s start there anyway, as even a few recent articles about The Artist, by people who should know better, reference the old story: John Gilbert, the romantic star of silents, was cursed with a voice that didn’t match his masculine sex appeal, a voice that killed his career.
All you have to do to know this received film history is bogus is watch Queen Christina from 1933, the one sound effort from Gilbert still in wide circulation. He’s hampered by bad hair, but he sounds fine. His speech is in the same register as that of Ronald Colman or Errol Flynn. Gilbert didn’t have their nifty accents, but his slightly flat vowels aren’t an irritant and could have been easily remedied. When sound came in, Mary Astor’s Midwestern intonations were cured by coaching from her then-lover, John Barrymore.
Admittedly, it’s hard to know much about His Glorious Night, Gilbert’s first full-length talkie (the first released, that is; he made another, equally ill-fated one before that, Redemption). The Siren doesn’t know a soul who’s seen it, save John McElwee. He calls Gilbert’s voice “more than adequate” and reminds us that the film that supposedly made Gilbert a laughingstock also turned a tidy profit. There’s a tiny clip on YouTube where Gilbert does sound a bit effete, but that’s mostly a function of the atrocious dialogue. In Singin’ in the Rain, if you recall, it’s Gene Kelly cooing “I love you, I love you, I love you”–like that Youtube clip–that gets ’em rolling in the aisles as much as Lena Lamont’s henhouse screech. But Kelly’s voice is no problem for the talkies; even Singin‘ didn’t sign on for the whole myth.
Someone needs to spring His Glorious Night from whatever archival holding pen it’s occupying, so we can hear for ourselves. The Siren’s willing to bet that Gilbert doesn’t sound bad, not even bad enough to support the old rumor that a vengeful Louis B. Mayer, who by all accounts couldn’t stand Gilbert, ordered the MGM technicians to use trebles, and trebles only.
These thoughts were retrieved from the attic trunk of the Siren’s mind a few weeks ago, because the bottom half of her double bill with Imogen Smith was Fast Workers from 1933, starring John Gilbert, and directed by an uncredited Tod Browning. Off screen Gilbert was miserable, drinking heavily, eking out the last of his MGM contract like a prisoner making hash marks on the wall, but you wouldn’t know it. He moves with the same assurance he had in his silents.
The fast workers are construction men, blessed with well-paid jobs while unemployment’s at 25%. The men relish their privilege, none more than Gunner Smith (Gilbert), whom we first see in the early morning as he’s changing from evening clothes to work duds in the back seat of a car. As you watch him take off his shirt with swift precision, you know it’s at least the second, possibly even the third or fourth time he’s disrobed in as many hours.
Gunner ambles onto the worker’s base platform high above the streets and pow, the rhythm jazzes right up. In any group of friends there’s always such a creature, the easy leader, granted that unelected status by looks, charm, and above all confidence. When the guys go out for drinks, Gunner’s status is even more evident. He half-sits on a barstool, marking out his next conquest and grinning that devilish grin, and his coworkers are happy just to watch him operate.
It isn’t a female-friendly world, to say the least; Gunner’s entire off-duty life is devoted not only to getting laid, but to making sure that his best friend Bucker Reilly (Robert Armstrong) avoids any con jobs from cheap skirts. The preventative is simple and diabolical: Gunner sleeps with Bucker’s crushes himself. Problem solved. No, seriously, that’s what the man believes; Gilbert plays it exactly as though he’s doing his pal a favor. But then Bucker falls genuinely in love with Mary, played by Mae Clarke with a great mix of tough-tootsie grifting and fragile romantic desire. Mary has already been around the block with Gunner, you see…
Tod Browning, coming off the worst disappointment of his career with the failure of Freaks, was no happier about Fast Workers than Gilbert, and had his name taken off the picture. Probably the script wasn’t a good temperamental fit; the goings-on are not so much strange as sordid. There’s a definite Browning feel to the best bits, though, such as a dizzy scene on a girder that’s been tampered with. The rear projection used for the street below the skyscraper is marvelous. And there’s a minor subplot involving baby pigeons that would have fit just fine in Freaks.
It’s a lowdown lurid little movie that would have done Warner Brothers proud, and how it landed at MGM I’ll never know–seeing MGM stamped on Fast Workers is like discovering your Sunday school teacher looks great in a swimsuit.
Now the Siren has seen Queen Christina (at least eight times, if you insist on a tally) so she knew Gilbert’s voice wasn’t a problem. But she’d gathered that his other talkies were, by and large, unworthy of him. On the Siren’s shelves is Dark Star, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain’s biography of her father, and even Fountain didn’t like Fast Workers. By the time the credits rolled, the Siren was a bit worked up herself, having discovered that she couldn’t have been more misinformed if she’d gone to take the waters in Casablanca. “This is one of his lousy, career-destroying talkies?” she demanded, rhetorically of course, no one was arguing with her, least of all Imogen. “This is Gilbert on the skids? What?”
http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.ca/The Siren, Tuesday, July 10, 2012
In his new picture John Gilbert is a dashing riveter with an enormous talent for persuading young women to make fools of themselves. A temperamental and
sometimes sullen lover, he drinks freely in after-midnight dives, punches men he does not like, mistreats his women, deceives his friends and shows himself to he an intolerable braggart. It requires witty writing to make an audience feel any affection for such a character, and there is little wit in “Fast Workers.” The suspicion grows, watching Gunner Smith at his increasingly moronic tricks, that in real life the Gunner would be pitched from a convenient skyscraper by his outraged fellow-workers for one-tenth the things he does in the picture.
Cut from a familiar pattern, the story presents Robert Armstrong as a dull-witted friend of the Gunner’s who is forever losing his heart and his bankroll to predatory females. One designing girl, excellently played by Mae Clarke, separates Mr. Armstrong from most of his available cash and then completes the job by inducing him to marry her. Meanwhile the Gunner is assisting her to spend his friend’s savings. In a fit of remorse the Gunner exposes the whole arrangement and tries to save his friend from the woman. From comedy the film suddenly drops into melodrama in what is apparently a belated effort to endow Gunner Smith with some human qualities.
As a romantic actor and comedian, Mr. Gilbert is no better than the part he plays. Mr. Armstrong helps the comedy with his portrait of the sentimental dullard, and “Fast Workers” is most acceptable in those scenes where Miss Clarke is filling his ears with tearful stories about her misfortunes in the big city.
The New York Times by A.D.S., March 20, 1933
Laughing Sinners (1931)
So now you all know the connection between the two films. Interesting how Mae Clarke’s character was hardened and also very manipulative yet she knew what Joan Crawford’s character Ivy was going through, probably having gone through all that earlier on in her life but certainly with more experience to be wiser when it came to dealing with Gunner. Made two years earlier, Ivy is a softer character than Mary. As you will see, Ivy isn’t a gold-digger, she’s crazy, madly in love with Neil Hamilton’s character. She’s actually far from promiscuous, although the men from both films are all played as slutty cads, but for one exception in this film, the character played by Clark Gable. And it’s especially odd to see him in this type of role. Prior to Laughing Sinners, he was a gangster in Dance, Fools, Dance, followed by a gangster in A Free Soul and is then about to play his most villainous, violent brute in Night Nurse, truly a repugnant character, even though we can see the sexual appeal smouldering through which leaves the female viewer feeling rather unsettled.
Robert Armstrong’s character, Bucker, was a weak cad. He was looking for a woman he could settle down with, so he thought, but he was totally influenced by and jealous of Gunner. He couldn’t make up his own mind about a woman, and his judgement was way off when he verbalized his thoughts. Gunner was always able to shoot him down with sarcastic remarks that probably went way over his head like, “Yeah, she’d make a great mother.” or just prove him wrong with those pictures. So when Bucker and Mary go to the movies, their comments on Ivy and Neil Hamilton’s character, Howard, are based on what has come prior to the scene we see. He’s comparing Howard to Gunner, who is also a smooth operator when it comes to women, and Mary sees herself, and most women, in Ivy.
Laughing Sinners is kind of an odd pre-Code, I think. It’s a mixture of open sex and religious morality sort of stirred up together. The speech that Clark Gable’s character Carl gives to Ivy near the end of the film would never be found in any dialogue in any film after the Code came into being. But then it also seems kind of odd that Carl and Ivy are just platonic friends for about a year while they are practically living together.
One thing I noticed and wanted to point out is the haircut on the little, obnoxious girl that Clark and Joan talk to when they’re at the picnic. For a kid whose single mother has a number of mouths to feed and very little money to do it with, she sure looks very “Louise Brooks”. Also, I couldn’t help but think about how ”the opposite” Joan treated her kids compared to her character interacting with this girl.
A few of us here saw the film The Showdown, 1928 with a good-looking, dishevelled Neil Hamilton. Here he sports a Gable-like moustache. A leading man in silent films, he was a distant cousin of Margaret Hamilton, famous for playing the Wicked Witch of the West. His later, best known role would probably be Commissioner Gordon on the Batman TV series in the 60s. Even though you don’t imagine his marriage will last long in this film, in real life he was married to his wife, Elsa Whitmer for 62 years until his death at the age of 85 in September 1984.
Interestingly, something you will get to read more about in the notes that follow, Johnny Mack Brown was originally cast in the Clark Gable role.
And last, enjoy character actor Guy Kibbee in a beautiful drunken role. Caren
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Directed by Harry Beaumont. Based on the play “Torch Song” by Kenyon Nicholson. Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons. Cinematography by Charles Rosher (George Gordon Nogle, uncredited). Film Editing by George Hively. Costume Design by Adrian (gowns). Released: February 1, 1931.
Joan Crawford………………………………………………. Ivy ‘Bunny’ Stevens
Neil Hamilton………………………………………….. Howard ‘Howdy’ Palmer
Clark Gable…………………………………………………………… Carl Loomis
Marjorie Rambeau…………………………………………………………… Ruby
Guy Kibbee………………………………………………………… Cass Wheeler
Cliff Edwards………………………………………………………………….. Mike
Roscoe Karns………………………………………………………….. Fred Geer
Gertrude Short……………………………………………………………….. Edna
George Cooper………………………………………………………………… Joe
George F. Marion………………………………………………………… Humpty
Bert Woodruff…………………………………………………………………. Tink
Karen Morley…………………………………….. Estelle (photo in newspaper)
More literal was the figurativeness in Laughing Sinners (1931). On a windswept, rainy night Joan Crawford drives up to a train station to meet her traveling salesman boyfriend. Her face is ecstatic, ravenous with sexual passion: only the most naked lust could compel a woman out on a night like this. She leaps on the train, embraces him, and runs down the train corridor arm in arm with her lover.
According to MPPDA (The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America) secretary Carl Milliken, the need for suggestive inventiveness spurred creative ingenuity. “The Code provides the laws of art for motion pictures and every art must have its laws,” Milliken declared approvingly in 1931. “The Code is making dramatists out of writers.” In other words, as long as the immoral intimations were subtle, tasteful, and mainly offscreen, they were cleared for release. After the imposition of the 1934 Code, “figurative literalness”—though now more figurative than literal—would be preferred, often the only, way to smuggle impure thoughts and deeds onto the Hollywood screen.
Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in the American Cinema by Thomas Patrick Doherty (1999)
Gable’s star was moving fast, though it was difficult to chart the rise in the crowded MGM heavens. But when a star fell, it happened so quickly that no one had time to even make a wish on it. John Mack Brown, who had played Gable’s sidekick in The Secret Six, had just finished Laughing Sinners with Joan Crawford. The audience had liked the Gable-Crawford combination in Dance, Fools, Dance and the studio thought nothing of discarding all the Mack Brown footage and replacing him with Gable.
It must have given Gable a clue that his fortunes were rising, but it was a hollow victory. He was cast as a Salvation Army worker who redeemed Crawford from becoming the mistress of a rogué, played by Neil Hamilton. The two men could have exchanged roles to each other’s advantage.
In today’s hit-or-miss star market, Laughing Sinners could have scuttled Gable, but in his year of the decisive dozen, the tempo was hit and run. His big break came directly afterwards, when Norma Shearer, Thalberg’s wife, requested Gable for A Free Soul. Acting with the boss’s wife was the equivalent of marrying the boss’s daughter and A Free Soul was a landmark in Gable’s progress.
Clark Gable by René Jordan (1974)
As soon as Secret Six ended, Miss Crawford requested Clark for another film, a penny dreadful called Laughing Sinners….When somebody up there didn’t like Brown, his footage was clipped and then reshot with Gable. They shouldn’t have bothered. There were enough Crawford fans around to support the film, but not enough scenes between the potential lovers to ignite their relationship. The film did nothing for Clark, and if romance was what she had in mind, less for Joan.
Long Live the King, a Biography of Clark Gable by Lyn Tornabene (1976)
Dance, Fools, Dance is most noteworthy for providing Clark Gable’s first appearance in a Crawford vehicle….More than anything else, audiences noted the potent magnetism between Gable and Crawford, and clamoured for more of the same.
The opportunity came sooner than anyone had anticipated. Crawford’s next effort, Complete Surrender, was having serous problems during production as the chemistry between Crawford and her frequent co-star Johnny Mack Brown refused to jell this time. The studio then decided to replace Brown with Gable and reshoot the necessary footage under the new title of Laughing Sinners (1931). Crawford once again is found living a disillusioned and sordid existence as a tank-town night-club performer involved with a faithless traveling salesman, played by Neil Hamilton. The rest of the picture centers on the struggle between Hamilton and Gable as a Salvation Army captain for Crawford’s capricious soul. As the wayward Ivy, she looked well and performed vibrantly, and the new Gable-Crawford combination caught on as expected. This was remarkable feat considering that Gable was oddly cast as a blandly sanctimonious moralizer, and seemed as uneasy in the role as did Cary Grant opposite Mae West in She Done Him Wrong two years later.
Joan Crawford by Stephen Harvey (1974)
Laughing Sinners was originally titled Complete Surrender and co-starred Johnny Mack Brown with Joan. Midway during production, Brown was replaced by Clark Gable. Much of the film was reshot, and the title was changed.
Talking about the film, Joan said, “I’m not ashamed. I think it was a step forward in career-building, not exactly a giant step, more of a baby step, but in high heels. One of the great things about this film for me, professionally and personally, was Clark Gable. He wasn’t the really famous Gable the, but he had it, ‘it’ being what makes a star on the screen, and in life, too.”
Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler (2008)
Despite their mutual terror (of what each thought of the other’s professional past), the Crawford-Gable combination clicked. Their rough, proletarian manners—so contrasted to the Broadway and British actors imported for talkies—fit perfectly into the temp of America in 1931. Louis B. Mayer, with his uncanny sense of public taste, recognized the electricity of the pair. Crawford had meanwhile starred in Complete Surrender as a cabaret dancer who is saved from suicide by a Salvation Army man, Johnny Mack Brown. After a preview audience failed to respond, Mayer ordered a complete remake with Gable in the Salvation Army role. Retitled Laughing Sinners, the movie proved a success.
Joan Crawford, a Biography by Bob Thomas (1978)
Adapted from the stage play “The Torch Song” and not so good, but if you’re a Joan Crawford fan you may like it. Clark Gable, as a Salvation Army worker, causes Joan to go straight after Neil Hamilton, the cad, does her wrong. Hamilton’s work is splendid in a dirty-dog role. The title came out of a grab-bag.
Photoplay, – (Jul-Dec 1931)
After Laughing Sinners we have decided that Joan Crawford is a beauty and a vibrant personality, but when it comes to acting she’s certainly no Garbo.
Leona Andrews and Her Gang, LaFayette, Ind.
Joan Crawford in Laughing Sinners was great. But what I can’t understand is why her hair was dark at the beginning and blonde at the end. Tell Joan to stick to her own red hair. That’s the way we like her.
Anne Ovesky, Minneapolis, Minn.
Clark Gable is marvellous. I’ve just seen him in Laughing Sinners. When I saw him in Dance Fools Dance, I knew he would be wonderful if he had half a chance. I hope he won’t be cast again as the tough, heartless gangster for he can be so kind and—yes—loving!
Alberta Finch, Zionsville, Ind.
Photoplay Letters – (Jul-Dec 1931)
…So when at midnight or earlier an unmarried Salvation Army girl of a year’s training as well as abstention from former pleasures finds in her room in a small hotel the old lover who had deserted her to marry a woman of wealth what more to be expected than that the scene should fade out and be followed by a fade in with the clock pointing to 6 and the now utterly dejected girl still in the same room with the debonair former lover?
The action is not without the possibilities; more than that it is in line with the expected reaction from everyday human impulses.
But why pick on the Salvation Army in the building of a dramatic effect that could as well have been secured in choosing for the part of Ivy a garb worn by a woman from one of the Protestant or Catholic or Jewish churches? If right in the case of a Salvation Army girl it would have been right in the case of one wearing a flowing black robe.
The latter of course is unthinkable—not only ethically but also from the standpoint of ordinary business practice—which of course would have meant business suicide. No screen producer in any land outside of Russia for a moment would have considered the implied smearing of any woman under the protection of a powerful church. No longer does he even take a chance in showing male clerics in any other than a benevolent role. Too many times in the past has his house been brought down around his ears. And the average producer is gifted with a keen memory.
So in seeking a short which sometimes is a lazy cut to a sure-fire dramatic climax it would be interesting to know the excuse for taking a smack at the Salvation Army girl—who because of her record of large public service and through her long hours and hard work with meagre physical comforts and even more meagre financial remuneration is entitled to a degree of respect at least equal to that accorded her more fortunate and tenderly shielded sisters of older ecclesiastical backgrounds.
The International Photographer – July, 1932
About the time Joan Crawford and Clark Gable started walking hand in hand through the park to the soft music of “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” it seemed pretty clear to an impartial observer at the Capitol that evangelism had scored decisively over that little thing called love. But the spectacle of Miss Crawford not getting her man meant something else again to a feverish Joan Crawford delegation which had found “Laughing Sinners” for three-quarters of its length a typical high, wide and handsome Crawford spectacle. It meant that the M.-G.-M. cinema-smiths had blundered in transferring Kenyon Nicholson’s “Torch Song” to the screen, that they had ended their story on a sentimental but undeniably false note; that they had permitted it in its final twenty-five minutes to wabble as dangerously as Guy Kibbee when that vastly amusing player wandered into Miss Crawford’s room under the impression that it was his own.
But if the narrative carries Ivy Stevens a little preposterously from the floor of a Middle Western cabaret to street-corner evangelism—for no more pressing reason than a broken heart—there is enough in “Laughing Sinners” to distract the not too critical entertainment hunter. Miss Crawford has seldom looked so radiantly alive and beautiful; she has tempered the intense and not a little self-conscious quality of her acting without hurting her vibrant and breath-catching spirit. In the cabaret she gets through her dancing scenes in excellent fashion and even manages a torch song called “What Can I Do?—I Love That Man,” very commendably.
Mr. Gable gives his usually intelligent performance as a reformed evangelist who converts the brokenhearted girl after her traveling-salesman lover deserts her. Neil Hamilton is a properly handsome go-getter in this latter rôle. The scenes in a small-town hotel, where the girl meets her old lover after she has put him out of mind, offer some amusing sidelights on the habits of the traveling gentry. Here Mr. Kibbee has his moments as a mortician’s supply man—”underground novelties,” he calls his product. Cliff Edwards strums a banjo to good effect in a minor rôle and Marjorie Rambeau titters her way along as a sentimental entertainer of ancient vintage.
The production is smooth and good-looking and yesterday’s audiences responded to it with some show of enthusiasm, except when that little matter of a story began to be taken very seriously by the director.
The New York Times, July 4, 1931