Sunday 21 December 2008

Adventure (1945)

It smacks of a little arrogance to call a film something as generic as Adventure. It can't help but suggest that it's the definitive adventure film of all time and with an implied boast like that it's doomed to failure. Sure enough, even with a decent cast it quickly falls apart at the seams and makes next to no sense whatsoever. The title also makes it harder to find given that any search for it brings up half the other films ever made too. As such it's my 60th Clark Gable, putting me three quarters of the way through his filmography.

Gable is Harry Patterson, a bo'sun in the Merchant Marines whose ship is promptly torpedoed not far out of Chile and not far into the movie. He's one of five sailors who survive on a makeshift raft and are rescued after five days, but by that time Harry's friend Mudgin has promised God everything under the sun: he won't drink, he won't play with girls, he won't pull a knife in a fight and he'll give his life's savings to the church. Of course back on land in San Francisco, he breaks all four of his promises on day one, though one was accidental, and so he witnesses his immortal soul leaving his body.

And so off goes Mudgin to find some sort of redemption, with Harry in tow to help him, and they end up in a library talking to Emily Sears. Mudgin is played by Thomas Mitchell, so is as sincere and heartfelt as you could imagine, but Harry and Emily are so much at loggerheads that you can almost see steam coming out of the ears when they're talking to each other. Gable didn't tend to play the most sophisticated characters but this one blisters into Emily's life like an uncouth tornado who not only can't whisper, he can't talk either: he spends the entire film barking out whatever he feels like and he doesn't hold back with his cynicism.

Emily hates everything he stands for, which may not have been much of a stretch for Greer Garson, who apparently didn't like Gable at all. So naturally it takes about a week for them to get married, even though Harry is chasing after her roommate Helen Melohn, played with no end of full on snorting, pouting and wide eyed gaping by Joan Blondell. No, this doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I'm not sure how or why the filmmakers ever thought it did. Gable and Garson don't work well as a pair, though there are two pairs here that do: Gable and Blondell spark well off each other, though both are overacting shamelessly; and Garson and Mitchell have some great scenes together.

Unfortunately there's not a lot here at the end of the day. Mitchell steals the show, as he was wont to do, though there's decent support from the other sailors: Tom Tully, John Qualen and Richard Haydn. But with the quality of the cast, it really surprises how painful and embarrassing the film gets. There are odd points at which the story says something profound and the actors fall in line with it and it works. And then two minutes later it's all over and the rest of the film pales into comparison. It plays like a waste of a lot of powerful talent and it deserves to be hard to find amongst all the other films with Adventure in the title.

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