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Clark Gable Collection, Vol. 1 (3-DVD)
 

Call of the Wild        Soldier of Fortune        The Tall Men

 

I remember seeing Clark Gable’s star-making performance in “It Happened One Night” (1934) when I was a boy. Seeing as how a good portion of Capra’s clever jokes are easily lost on young viewers, I didn’t really have a particular interest in watching a black-and-white film that I barely understood. However, a decade later, I can still revel in the memory of Clark Gable bringing a goofy smile to my face, which is one of the many great things about the “King of Hollywood”--he has ability to charm even the most skeptical cynic.

What struck me first and foremost about this collection was Fox’s possession of the rights to several Gable films. Given his long-standing contract with MGM, Gable was almost always under the control and supervision of Louis B. Mayer. Occasionally, Mayer would lend Gable’s acting services to other studios (in the interest of financial gain), and that’s precisely how “Call of the Wild” (1935) came to be. Although William A. Wellman’s able direction provides the film with ample entertainment and rousing adventurism, it’s Gable’s charismatic persona that consistently piques audiences’ attention.

In contrast with Gable’s popularity, Wellman’s reputation in Hollywood was that of a temperamental obsessive. He was a director who had difficulty tolerating actors and, in many cases, their over-sized egos. This intolerance allegedly extended to the point where he would exercise physical abuse and fear to obtain desired performances. However, Wellman satisfied studio executives with his perfectionism--a quality that elevated his weaker films to great success and his finest films to masterworks. “Call of the Wild” may reside in Wellman’s lower echelon of productions, but it still has the distinct Wellman touch--a ruggedness and indisputable sense of excitement.

Not surprisingly, Gable, who was equally-opinionated and strong-minded, butted heads with Wellman throughout production. In one dire circumstance, Wellman claimed to have wanted nothing more than to punch Gable in the face. Fortunately for Gable, his good looks, an integral part of his charm and the film, were left unharmed.

Written by Gene Fowler and Leonard Praskins, the script is loosely-adapted from Jack London’s novel “Call of the Wild,” which is also the inspiration for numerous other film incarnations (several of which use “White Fang” as an alternative to the book’s original title). London’s tale of camaraderie is well captured by Gable (in the role of Jack Thornton) and the fierce sled dog, Buck. However, London’s liberal approach to domesticating the untamable is underplayed in this Hollywood adaptation--perhaps for the greater good of non-political entertainment. Above all other distinctions, Reginald Owen’s villainous performance separates Wellman’s “Call of the Wild” from subsequent versions.

Wellman and the screenwriters heighten Owen’s snarling crook to contrast the sappy companionship of a man and his dog, which works to the film’s advantage. Wellman never allows the film to become overly sentimental, regardless of the hints of melodrama. Unfortunately for film aficionados, studio executives scrapped a darker original ending in favor of a more pleasant finale. Although Fox has included Wellman’s compromised vision, the film is still a fine addition to the adventure genre.

In the years following “Call of the Wild,” Gable would become increasingly respected, and his personal life would mirror his professional success. In 1939, he wed actress Carole Lombard, and the two stars were happily married until Lombard’s tragic death three years later in an airplane crash. Gable’s status in Hollywood was that of an icon after his accomplished and noted performance in the immensely popular “Gone With the Wind” (1939). However, his wife’s untimely death brought a halt to his career aspirations and left Gable drifting in depression. Perhaps in an attempt to come to terms with his life, Gable enlisted in WWII. He returned to Hollywood a more mature person, and his performances were noticeably different for better and for worse. Gable’s newfound approach to life and his occupation immediately resulted in conflict with his longtime contacts at MGM, where he was offered roles that he found neither challenging nor exciting enough to suit his interests. In a bout to work on projects that he found more stimulating, Gable left MGM to work independently. Without the guidance of a major Hollywood studio, Gable had his share of hits and misses. Fox encountered a bit of both when they hired him for “Soldier of Fortune” (1955) and “The Tall Men.

On many accounts, “Soldier of Fortune” is the missed opportunity of the three films included in this set. Leo Tover shot the film in Cinemascope and exquisite DeLuxe color, but director Edward Dmytryk rarely took advantage of the widescreen framing (in a case of unfamiliarity with new technology). Nevertheless, Tover’s knack for photography is evident in the lush scenes shot on-location in Hong Kong. It’s when the camera moves to Fox’s soundstages that the weight of Dmytryk’s inexperience is revealed. Although Dmytryk’s contributions are sub-par, he is not entirely responsible for the film’s weaknesses. Ernest K. Gann’s script is largely lifeless and meandering, which is relatively surprising when considering the film’s timely political subject matter. Unfortunately, Gann’s Cold War insights take a backseat to the cheesy romance that has very little to offer audiences other than Susan Hayward’s pleasant figure. Gable’s heroic Hank Lee and Rennie’s police inspector inspire enough fun to prevent the film from drowning in its many clichés, but it’s difficult to revive a film that’s plagued with a feeble script, regardless of one’s acting talent.

After drifting through the insipid melodrama in “Soldier of Fortune,” Raoul Walsh’s “The Tall Men” is a pleasure. The western draws on classic films of the past to inform the focus of Frank Nugent’s witty and intelligent script. Borrowing a major scenario from Howard Hawks’ masterful “Red River” (1948) involving the cattle drive, Nugent expands on the Hawksian themes of camaraderie and loyalty with a bitter rivalry between Gable and Robert Ryan. Again, Leo Tover worked as the cinematographer, and his use of ‘scope accentuates the vast beauty of the west. Director Walsh’s inexperience with comedy is hardly evident as he exploits Jane Russell’s steamy banter and sexually suggestive rendition of “I Want a Tall Man…” But, what’s most surprising is Russell’s handle on the material and her tolerable performance. Long considered a pretty face with a voluptuous stature after being cast in Howard Hughes’s “The Outlaw” for solely that reason, Russell is able to shake the misconceptions of her acting ability, albeit temporarily, for this film. “The Tall Men” is easily the gem in this collection--a western that is begging to be re-discovered by new audiences.

Twentieth Century Fox advertises their release of the “Clark Gable Collection” as a set that contains a selection of Gable’s “most thrilling classics.” While this claim may be stretching the truth, the films included in the box set contain a strong dose of the rollicking entertainment that Gable’s name is now synonymous with. With that said, what better excuse would Fox need to give cineastes and fans of Gable two fine films and a decent one that have yet to be released on DVD.

Kurtis J. Beard


Titles

 


 

The Call of the Wild
Jack Thornton has trouble winning enough at cards for the stake he needs to get to the Alaska gold fields. His luck changes when he pays $250 for Buck, a sled dog that is part wolf to keep him from being shot by an arrogant Englishman also headed for the Yukon. En route to the Yukon with Shorty Houlihan -- who spent time in jail for opening someone else's letter with a map of where gold is to be found -- Jack rescues a woman whose husband was the addressee of that letter. Buck helps Jack win a $1,000 bet to get the supplies he needs. And when Jack and Claire Blake pet Buck one night, fingers touch.

Soldier of Fortune
As Hank Lee, Gable has many connections in Hong Kong, and mainland China during the 50's. Susan Hayward has learned of her husband's capture on trumped-up charges from the Chinese gov't, and is willing to use any means possible to rescue him. This means even recruiting the mysterious Hank Lee, a rogue, a bandit, a smuggler, and those are his good qualities, according to the British crown, represented by Michael Rennie.

The Tall Men
Two brothers, Ben and Clint, join a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. While heading for Texas they save Nella from the Indians, and she decides to ride with them. Ben and Nella start to get romantic, but Ben isn't ambitious enough for her, and she soon meets up with the boss of the cattle drive. Will she make the right choice, and, more importantly, will the cattle make it to Montana !

Posters

Theatrical Releases: Various from 1935-55

  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: 20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

   

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Distribution 20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC
Times: Respectively - 1:20:45 + 1:35:54 + 2:02:00
Bitrate: Call of the Wild
Bitrate:  Soldier of Fortune
Bitrate: The Tall Men
Audio English (mono and Stereo - 4.0 on The Tall Men), Optional Spanish and French mono DUBs in The Tall Men and Soldier of Fortune.
Subtitles English, Spanish, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios

(where widescreen)

Edition Details:

• Commentary by Darwin Porter on Call of the Wild
• Commentary by Danforth Prince on Soldier of Fortune
• Restoration comparisons for Call of the Wild and Soldier of Fortune

• Photo galleries, Production Stills galleries
• Trailers
• 8-page liner notes booklet (film synopsis and Gable bio info)

DVD Release Date: August 15th, 2006

3 Keep cases cases inside a cardboard box
Chapters:
20,20, 24 (respectively)

 

Comments:

NOTE: Although the 3 main features of this boxset are housed in individual keep cases (see images above and below) they are not sold separately at this time and can only be obtained in Fox's Clark Gable Collection, Vol. 1.

Technical specifications of the discs: All region 1 coded in the NTSC standard and all are, progressive. Call of the Wild is original 1.33, Soldier of Fortune is anamorphic in the around a 2.55:1 ratio. The Tall Men is also anamorphic in the cinemascope 2.55:1 ratio. Two of the discs (Call of the Wild and Soldier of Fortune) offer audio commentaries.

Image: All three images look quite good with The Tall Men being the best..

Audio - The Tall Men offers its original 4.0 channel - the other two are 2.0 stereo. I noticed no excessive dropouts and dialogue was clear and consistent. There are some DUBs - a Spanish and French options in Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men. The Call of the Wild offers original English mono or stereo.

Extras - aside from some filler galleries, there are two commentary tracks offered - Danforth Prince's commentary on Soldier of Fortune is very good and very frank - he discusses many production details (voice-coach deepening of Haywards voice, Gable's decline etc.) and he knows his stuff. Few if any gaps - I felt he could have talked all day. Darwin Porter's comments on Call of the Wild are also extremely well prepared or he simply knows all this information off the cuff. Regardless Gable fans will be keen on his litany of classic Hollywood knowledge. Both are worth listening to - Fox has made good choices. Included as well is a skimpy liner notes booklet - a rarity for most DVD production studios but it's a nice addition if they continue to build upon the concept.

Overall impression: Obviously these aren't the films that shaped Gable's legendary status ala Gone With The Wind, Mutiny On The Bounty, San Francisco or Boom Town (as one Amazon reviewer put it), BUT these 3 films have never seen the light of DVD-dom before which is a big part of their appeal. Raoul Walsh's superb The Tall Men may be the prize - a severely underrated western. Both Call of the Wild and to a lesser extent Soldier of Fortune (where Dmytryk never seems comfortable with the super widescreen) are worthy entries for the price. I, for one reason or another, had not seen a lot of Gable until I watched Warner's Signature Collection box. This package represents competent work on all fronts by Fox but a trifecta commentary on The Tall Men would have been the crowning jewel - still we recommend.    

Gary W. Tooze

 





DVD Menus


 

Extras:

Restoration demos (see below) and poster galleries, trailers etc.

 


 

Individual Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Call of the Wild USA 1935 Directed by William A. Wellman


Starring Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Jack Oakie, Reginald Owen, Frank Conroy

 

 


Individual Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Soldier of Fortune USA 1955 Directed by Edward Dmytryk


Starring Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Michael Rennie, Gene Barry and Alexander D'Arcy

 

 

 


Individual Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

The Tall Men USA 1955 Directed by Raoul Walsh


Starring Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Ryan, Cameron Mitchell and Juan García

 

 


 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution 20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC

 




 

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