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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Warner Archive Pick --- Somewhere I'll Find You

Certain star images conferred foresight with regards World War Two that make you wish they’d been in charge around Washington rather than having such clairvoyant talents go to waste in Hollywood. These guys knew all along we couldn’t trust the Japanese. Assurances of peace out of Tokyo were the bunk. Clark Gable says as much in opening scenes of Somewhere I’ll Find You, the latter taking place during weeks preceding Pearl Harbor. His assurance of Nippon perfidy makes chumps of those who’d censor Gable’s news dispatches out of China, here depicted as just another backdrop for soldiering of fortune and incidental fortune telling re America’s naivete. When Gable says Wake Up, we best call off peace conferences and prepare immediately for combat. Somewhere I’ll Find You was one of those with a script near dry before bombs dropped on December 7, so rewriters got hasty putting Gable’s hero wise before that surprise attack. The pic began shooting January 15, 1942. Events made it timely and far more than a kissing marathon’s encore (Gable/Lana Turner) to Honky Tonk of the previous year. Gable’s image gained stature for parallels it drew with Rhett Butler and that character’s pre- (Civil) War awareness of battlefield realities. There was a sense of his knowing our enemy long before we woke up to recognition of same. What opportunity Gable (and we) missed for the star’s enlistment in the wake of wife Carole Lombard’s death in an air crash the same month (in fact, the very day after SIFY got started). Combat actioners with him through this war would have been a rewarding lot for credibility Gable accumulated over ten years of onscreen leadership. Maturity attained through that would have made him an ideal man at the head of a (fictional) fighting column. Roosevelt’s advice and a studio’s plea should have been honored. Stay home and do battle where civilian morale and potential recruits could best use it. To put an aging Gable (41 and having smoked/drank to the brim of it) in Army uniform and behind a machine gun was waste of a resource far more needed in theatres. Somewhere I’ll Find You shows promise unfulfilled of what a next three years might have offered toward better winning a war on Metro soundstages.

The pre and post Pearl Harbor elements of Somewhere I’ll Find You make for a kooky mix. Here’s a story that needed more revision than they evidently had time for. Its hot off the presses advantage mitigates lumpiness of a narrative that began as mere parlor setting for innumerable clinches with Gable and Lana Turner. They were The Team That Generates Steam, and no war, not even a world-encompassing one, was going to get in the way of that. Was MGM aware of the serious conflict we’d gotten into, or did they figure their public wasn’t? Kissing scenes were permissible (only just) as sex stimulus for Code-shackled audiences. Close-up smooching timed on a stopwatch was socially accepted pornography for folks denied (or ashamed to go out in pursuit of) the real thing. Women in trade ads shown here weren’t fantasy. Millions lined up to see Lana crushed in Gable’s arms. No telling how many Honky Tonk babies were conceived in 1941, and more would go into pipelines thanks to Somewhere I’ll Find You. Sex figures like Gable and Turner generated manpower production for future wars and did so with probable greater efficiency than those working swing shifts at ball-bearing plants. They were, for good or ill, a then-patron’s most accessible models for lovemaking and courtship ritual. When Gable and his women collided, Metro cameras rolled up to facing profiles so close we risked getting sprayed (and said formatting rule was inflexible --- even John Ford was obliged to assume the position in Mogambo). Imagine such three-ways in theatres with the voyeur’s object(s) blown forty feet high. Such erotica could be but fully absorbed in a dark auditorium with overpowering images, that shared blackness concealing ragged breathing and beads of sweat forming on viewers drawn into shared embrace with idols they could nearly touch. And don’t ignore the yawning chasm between generations removed DVD’s and glistening nitrate 35mm prints these folks reveled in. Based on ways Gable and Turner go at it in Somewhere I’ll Find You, I wonder how patron couples delayed their own consummations till at least getting out to parked cars.

At a halfway point where story gears shift abruptly (right after Pearl Harbor?), Lana Turner and Gable decamp to a soundstage labeled "Indo-China," mostly Tarzan foliage with dry ice fog. Phony sets patently enough so always suit me better than actual locations, sort of like models and miniatures standing in for bridges and trains. Movies are most magical when they’re confined to facilities close at hand where artisans improvise with what they’ve got. Metro often went with layers of process screening to make you think 3-D’s come early to features. Gable, clad in suit and tie (but loosened slightly) searches an easily penetrable jungle only briefly before greeting Lana Turner’s picturesque arrival in what looks like a Chinese touring gondola. It’s just outrageously silly enough to be completely endearing, the sort of experience you might have if folks at Disney World let you romp through backstage Frontierland. People nowadays (condescendingly) imagine that 1942 onlookers were childish enough to take all this for the truth of foreign climes and conditions. I don’t think for a minute they did. Somewhere I’ll Find You makes winning this war look so easy that you wonder why we weren’t all back home before the picture could be released. There is a climactic battle sequence almost balletic in its absurdity. Japanese invaders appear like insects at a distance toward which flit bombs are tossed with stunning accuracy. They blow up and/or are buried alive by MGM juveniles hopeful of a wartime contract and paying off for Pearl (starting out Van Johnson is among them, as is Keenan Wynn). Did boys turning eighteen or just out of high school watch this and make for recruiting stations? I wonder how much enlistment could be traced to 1942’s first brace of war-themed shows girding our loins for a fight. No one took polls measuring the true influence of movies during those years. How could they? --- but I’d venture this one had affects we’d not dream of for watching it so casually after these many years.

Pictures like Somewhere I’ll Find You had directors. It just didn’t matter so much who they were. MGM would run a man in and out for days here and there, then replace him with scant regard to signature styles other companies might value more. Wesley Ruggles was credited on this occasion, but who’s to know if Clarence Brown or Jack Conway didn’t come in some mornings to pinch-hit? Metro’s house organ The Lion’s Roar (so elaborate a publication that I hesitate calling it that) profiled Ruggles for a SIFY cover story. He was by this account efficient and unassuming. They said he kept a pad by his bed so as to write down ideas that came during the night, but would a rigid Metro mill have let him implement them the following day? Ruggles once directed Cimarron and that won Best Picture in earlier talkie days. He was what kinder modern scribes call a journeyman. Those with less tact would leave it at hack. He was another that died before people cared much about vintage movies, let alone factory marshmallows like Somewhere I’ll Find You. The real drama connected with SIFY, and the one for which it’s remembered, if at all, is the industry (and Gable’s) loss of Carole Lombard going in. There’s been lots written about how he finished the picture in mourning. In fact, it was almost all shot after her death (Somewhere I’ll Find You wouldn’t wrap until April 22). By then, Gable had made up his mind to enlist (Send me where the going’s roughest), so maybe by chance but likelier intent, his concluding scene in SIFY plays like a valedictory not unlike Joel McCrea’s close to 1940’s Foreign Correspondent. Gable’s monologue, dictated to furiously typing Lana Turner, is in effect telling us he’ll be gone for the next few years, but to keep lamps burning and maintain the fight. It’s one of the actor’s all-time blockbusting scenes. No wonder they missed him so much afterward. Somewhere I’ll Find You stayed in circulation longer than most off MGM’s fast assembly line. Our Liberty Theatre brought it back after a (first) year of Gable deprivation. Audience hunger was such as to allow even Fox to cash its own ration ticket by reissuing Call Of The Wild to $730,000 in fresh domestic rentals (for eventual profits of $502,000). Somewhere I’ll Find You, released September 1942, scored $2.8 million in domestic rentals (with $1.1 foreign) and ended with profits of $1.7 million. It would be February 1946 before Clark Gable would return with Adventure.


Anonymous sjack said...

Can't help noting that after he returned to MGM, that with the exception of "Adventure" (his first film after returning), his looks seemed to have faded a lot. He was still handsome and had the same animal magnetism, but things just weren't the same. I can't put my finger on it, he just seems different and most of it is due to the deterioration of his looks on screen. In his late 40's movies he looks older than he really is -- in his fifties rather than his forties. Made it a bit less believable when he was cast opposite actresses like Ava Gardner and Alexis Smith -- actresses in their 20's. Those years lost to the war *were* costly to him and MGM. Still a great actor with great films yet to do but very different from the pre war Gable.

I wonder if you have any information on the grosses/profits from his postwar films? Not that it would be telling, since the entire industry went into decline starting in the late 1940's.

10:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi sjack --- I do have postwar Gable figures and while his pictures continued to gross (none of the Metros lost money), the costs got higher as did his salary, so consequently there were less profits. I'll be doing more on Gable as he's always been a favorite and his post-war vehicles particularly so since these were the ones I mostly saw on TV back in the 60's.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I too love Gable older...I just watched Run Silent, Run Deep. I don't think age hurt him too much. He wasn't a pretty boy ever. I wonder how his career would have gone if he had lived to old age...what kind of roles he would have played in the 60's and 70's?

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I tend to believe that Gable, had he lived, would have wound up like Cary Grant in dignified retirement. Then again, Grant didn't have a Gone With the Wind coming out every seven years to keep him in the public eye (plus, after 1967 GWTW stayed in release forever). Gable might well have gracefully transitioned into the kinds of roles Melvyn Douglas wound up with -- I can easily picture Gable as Paul Newman's father in Hud, and winning an Oscar for it.

Changing the subject, I love today's banner of the U-I players bon voyage-ing Francis the Talking Mule. First, I tried to pick out Clint Eastwood in the crowd, then to identify any of the faces, but no dice on both counts. (Any guesses out there?) Failing that, it was fun to check out the ones playing straight to the camera, and those at least pretending to look at the mule while giving the camera their best side.

My favorite, though, is the dark-haired fellow in the back, right hand listlessly waving, his face plainly showing, even at that distance, his dismay at what he has to do to be a working actor. (No doubt he's beginning to suspect that the damned mule is a bigger star than he'll ever be.)

3:44 PM  
Blogger Booksteve said...

Makes an interesting companion piece (or the other way around) to my Carole Lombard piece posted this week at This is truly the golden age of movie history.

11:11 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...


What took me back was the shot of Lankersheim Blvd. in the background, and a couple of those landmarks I instantly recognized from childhood, when Dad was working out at U-I about ten-years later. How things have changed!

3:35 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Steve, that link you included didn't work for me, but I found the artcle (and a very nice one) and here's a link to the site:

Really like what you're doing there --- a neat concept.

Jim, I hadn't thought of Gable in father roles, but you're right ... he'd have been great in "Hud". I do know he was in talks to do "Diamond Head" for Columbia when he died...

RJ, how would you like to have some of those neat U-I street and entrance signs? I know I would!

4:00 PM  
Blogger WelcometoLA said...

One of my favorite Gables. Underrated. Thanks for the insights.

9:33 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks Demarest, and I really do like your blog ...

10:03 PM  

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