Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Collection Christophel / Alamy)

Film

Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Clark Gable

Granted the legendary title of ‘The King of Hollywood’, Clark Gable was one of the most iconic American film stars of the 20th century. Over the course of a career that spanned 37 years, Gable starred in various major productions and established himself as an instantly recognisable leading man and is now remembered as an indispensable part of Hollywood’s history.

Born in Ohio, Gable was fascinated by literary works as well as mechanical activities as a child and dropped out of school to get a job in a tire factory. However, he embarked on a different journey when he saw a production of The Bird of Paradise. Completely mesmerised by the play, the experience convinced Gable to enter the world of performing arts which changed his life forever.

While Gable became a prominent figure in the film industry, it was also reported that he was involved in rampant displays of sexism and manipulation with later investigations uncovering alleged instances of rape. These discoveries definitely complicate Gable’s status within the frameworks of Hollywood, urging many to re-evaluate his legacy in a different way.

Clark Gable’s six definitive films:

Red Dust (Victor Fleming, 1932)

Gable landed this role in Victor Fleming’s 1932 while he was emerging as a promising actor, delivering a fantastic performance which led many to the conclusion that he was now MGM’s most valuable leading man in romantic roles and was seen as a “natural screen partner”.

Starring alongside Jean Harlow and Mary Astor, Red Dust is set on a rubber plantation in Vietnam and offers insights into the French colonies that existed there at the time. A later remake was handled by John Ford which starred Gable as well.

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)

One of the most popular performances from Gable’s storied career, It Happened One Night is a quintessential Frank Capra film. A charming screwball comedy, the film follows the adventures of a rich woman who tries to get away from her controlling father but falls in love with a reporter (Gable) who has other plans.

While Capra had considered other actors for the role, they both ended up enjoying their creative partnership and the film turned out to be a huge success. It won several Academy Awards in major categories, including a Best Actor win for Gable.

Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 1935)

Another critical and commercial success, Frank Lloyd’s 1935 adventure drama is based on the famous eponymous novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Charles Laughton, the director of The Night of the Hunter, stars as a tyrannical captain.

Gable is fantastic as Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, the man who organises a mutiny in protest of the captain’s exceedingly unacceptable behaviour. Mutiny on the Bounty became the highest grossing film of the year and even won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)

The role that brought Gable unprecedented fame and success, Gone with the Wind is seen as a controversial project now due to its sympathetic treatment of slavery but it was regarded as a classic for many years because of its cinematic quality.

Although Gable was initially hesitant about starring in this project, his on-screen partnership with Vivien Leigh proved to be monumental for his career. It also featured one of the most iconic lines in Hollywood’s history, delivered by Gable’s character: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Mogambo (John Ford, 1953)

Mogambo starred Gable in the same role as Red Dust, as John Ford tried to conduct his own interpretation. While the film is now seen as a “lesser” Ford project, Mogambo is still a worthwhile watch just because it came from the brilliant mind of the acclaimed director.

This time around, Gable starred alongside Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly as a hunter who charms Gardner’s character but things get complicated when a love triangle develops. It still remains one of the most memorable onscreen appearances of all the leading stars.

The Misfits (John Huston, 1961)

John Huston’s 1961 western is celebrated for its mastery but it is also remembered as the final film completed film project of both Gable and Marilyn Monroe. While Gable passed away before the film was released, the iconic actress died the following year.

Gable delivers another strong performance as an ageing cowboy while Marilyn Monroe steals the show as a recently divorced woman whose world is inhabited by interesting and rich characters. The Misfits was a commercial misfire when it was released but later re-evaluations have restored its status as a classic.