When waitress Mabel O'Dare (Marion Davies) loses her job thanks to Aloysius K. Reilly (Roscoe Karns), he gets the bright idea to introduce her to a Broadway producer. Mabel ends up with a job, only because the star has just quit. But there's a problem - Mabel can dance, a little, but not enough to lead a Broadway show. Her dreams of stardom are all but gone when Reilly decides to get some publicity for her by claiming a love affair between Mabel and up-and-coming boxer Larry Cain (Clark Gable). But again, there is a little problem - Larry and Mabel loathe one another.
Thus begins Cain and Mabel (1936), a little froth of a comedy, with a few musical numbers thrown in. While it was fun to see Clark Gable in this very early role, and Marion Davies is a delightful performer, this was probably not the best movie either ever made. The musical routines were a bit tedious - they ended up changing the tone of the film. We know Mabel isn't a great dancer; all the routines do is emphasize that to no purpose. And though the film is a bit long, there are some delightful scenes. The early conversations between Reilly and Mabel are a hoot, and then there is the added presence of Allen Jenkins as Dodo, Larry's fight second. Any time Allen Jenkins is in a movie, you know you are going to have a good time.
We also have Ruth Donnelly as Aunt Mimi, who is also very funny. It should be mentioned though that Mimi is a fairly despicable person. She will go to any lengths to advance Mabel's career, because it is keeping Aunt Mimi in the money. She has no worry that her actions might make Mabel unhappy.
Another interesting appearance is that of Pert Kelton as Toddy, the star whose departure makes way for Mabel. We've seen her in Bed of Roses, and as we mentioned then, later in her career as Shirley Jones' mother in The Music Man. Unfortunately, she doesn't get a whole lot to do here, which is a shame.
Interestingly, Dick Powell was originally slated to play Ronny Caudwell, Mabel's co-star and almost boyfriend. However, the part went to Robert Paige, because William Randolph Heart didn't like Dick Powell. Hearst felt Powell was too attractive and that Davies liked him too much. As I'm sure everyone is aware, Heart and Davies were longtime companions. An interesting bit of trivia - when Hearst was in financial trouble in the 1930s, it was Davies who came to his rescue. She was a very intelligent businesswoman, and used $1 million of her own money to bail him out (much of it invested in jewelry).
This TCM article also tells in some detail the story of how Clark Gable was cast as Larry. Davies did NOT want him in the part - she didn't think he was attractive enough to play Larry! She later changed her mind about him, but Gable never quite forgot the insult. All we have to say is HUH? Gable not attractive? On what planet?
The film is a remake of the silent film The Great White Way, which was filmed by Hearst's company in 1924, which starred Anita Stewart. And while we can't whole-heartedly recommend this one, it has some nice moments. And then there is Gable. We close with the film's trailer: