For Reel

Laughing Sinners (1931)
March 18, 2012, 9:08 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Harry Beaumont

In their second of eight collaborations, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable are paired as members of the Salvation Army in Laughing Sinners. Though neither actor seems particularly fit for their role as preacher, it is precisely their miscasting that brings tremendous interest to the material. Crawford plays a cafe entertainer who attempts to commit suicide after being dumped by her salesman boyfriend, played with foul, oversexed aggression by Neil Hamilton. Her rescue comes in the form of Gable, a Salvation Army officer who encourages her to join the cause. Gable was just starting to get noticed at MGM, and it is clear that casting him as a man of the cloth was misguided – he was simply too sexy, too libidinous for so saccharine a role. His chemistry with Crawford, then, transforms the role of the well-meaning, noble spiritual advisor to someone who is no less sexually opportunistic than Hamilton. Consider, for example, a scene in which Gable and Crawford are shown in the same room in what appears to be the early morning. A bed is framed prominently in the background behind them. Although he is afforded more virtue than Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson, for instance, it is clear that Gable’s relationship with Crawford is more than platonic. For that reason and more, it would be a mistake to dismiss the film as being too moralizing – it is a fully identifiable example of the pre-Code era, rife with all of the innuendo and debauchery that the those years entailed. Watch for one terrifying sequence in which Hamilton rents the hotel room next to Crawford’s, harasses her, and finally rapes her. As the broken woman, Crawford is at the top of her game.

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