Cain and Mabel (1936)

Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Cinematography George Barnes

Cain and Mabel is a 1936 romantic comedy film designed as a vehicle for Marion Davies in which she co-stars with Clark Gable. The story had been filmed before, in 1924, by William Randolph Hearst’s production company, Cosmopolitan, as a silent called The Great White Way, starring Anita Stewart and Oscar Shaw. In this version, Robert Paige introduced the song “I’ll Sing You a Thousand Love Songs”, with music by Harry Warren and words by Al Dubin, who also wrote “Coney Island”, “Here Comes Chiquita” and other songs.

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Give Them The Simple Life

3 January 2007 | by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

Louis B. Mayer got some good currency lending his number one star Clark Gable out to Columbia for It Happened One Night, to 20th Century Fox for Call of the Wild and now to Warner Brothers for Cain and Mabel. Sad to say though this one doesn’t measure up to the other two.

It’s a musical and musicals back in the day had some truly ridiculous plots, but this one kind of defied belief. Davies is a waitress who becomes a Broadway musical star, but after a while she yearns for the simple life. Gable as he describes himself is just a gas jockey with a good punch who becomes heavyweight champion.

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They get thrown together for publicity’s sake due to press agent Roscoe Karns. But of course they get serious for real as it always goes in these films.

For myself I could not swallow that these two people just want to get back to their former nonentity existences. I think that would have been a bit much for Thirties theater audiences as well.

Harry Warren and Al Dubin wrote two songs for the film, I’ll Sing You a Thousand Love Songs and Coney Island, both of which get a semi Busby Berkeley treatment by dance director Bobby Connolly. My guess is that Berkeley probably passed on Cain and Mabel himself.

Look for good performances from Walter Catlett as the Broadway producer and the aforementioned Roscoe Karns. Robert Paige is in this also under the name David Carlyle and he takes care of the vocal department as Davies leading man and a pretty sappy one at that. Then again he’s supposed to not get her.

Davies was very good as a light comedienne, but this material is too much for her.

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The Lady and the Champ

Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida
21 January 2008

CAIN AND MABEL (Warner Brothers, 1936), directed by Lloyd Bacon, sounds like a clever title for a Biblical tale dealing with Cain, and his sister, Mabel, instead of his brother, Abel. Though not quite the Old Testament, it’s an overly familiar story about two people, a heavyweight boxing champion and his feuding relationship with a Broadway dancer. In a product starring MGM performers Marion Davies (a Warners resident since 1935, with another year to go before her retirement) and Clark Gable (on loan from that studio), this reunion, their first since POLLY OF THE CIRCUS (MGM, 1932), is a disappointment regardless of its high production values in the MGM tradition.

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The script, set in New York City’s Broadway district, introduces Mabel O’Dare (Marion Davies), a waitress of two years employed at Champs, a very busy luncheonette. She encounters Aloyisus K. Reilly (Roscoe Karns), an unemployed reporter who, following Mabel’s advise on becoming a publicity man, decides to promote her after being responsible for getting her fired from her job. Roaming around casting offices, Mabel gets her first break auditioning for producer Jake Sherman’s (Walter Catlett) upcoming show, “Words and Music” after Toddy Williams (Pert Kelton), a temperamental star, walks out during rehearsals. With Ronny Caldwell (David Carlyle) her leading man, and Milo (Hobart Cavanaugh) as her dance director, Mabel works long and hard, rehearsing through the night in her room at the Ardington Hotel.

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Lloyd Bacon, Marion Davies, and Roscoe Karns in Cain and Mabel (1936)

The constant tapping on the floor creates a disturbance for Larry Cain (Clark Gable), a prizefighter in the room below trying to rest up for the upcoming fight at Madison Square Garden. Cain goes to her room to ask her to stop, but all he gets is a door slam on his face. His lack of sleep causes Cain to lose the fight and the feud between dancer and boxer. Because Cain and Mabel are faltering in their work, as a publicity stunt, Reilly, knowing that they can’t stand each other, promotes the “greatest love story in America.” When Cain and Mabel do fall in love and make plans to get married, with he giving up the fighting game to work as a garage mechanic and she quitting show business altogether, Reilly does all he can to break up the match through vicious schemes and with the help of Cain’s assistants, Dodo (Allen Jenkins) and “Pop” Walters (William Collier Sr.), and Mabel’s Aunt Mimi (Ruth Donnelly), thus stirring up confusion.

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With all the feuding and fussing, CAIN AND MABEL takes time for two lavish scale production numbers choreographed by Bobby Connelly and score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. The first, “Coney Island” sung and performed by Sammy White and Marion Davies, is played for laughs. White and Davies (the latter dressed in slacks and hat that has her resembling a female Buster Brown) go through costume changes at a blink of an eye as they encounter legendary figures as Napoleon, the Smith Brothers, Julius Caesar and Popeye the Sailor in a wax museum. Although a lively tune, it’s not as classic as other Warren and Dubin’s New York related tunes as “42nd Street” or “Lullaby of Broadway.” The second, “I Sing You a Thousand Love Songs” sung by David Carlyle (voice dubbed), the film’s best song, is mixed in with French tune, “L’Amour, Toujours, L’Amour,” “Those Endearing Young Charms,” “The Rose in Her Hair” and “The Shadow Waltz” before reverting to its original song. This number is given a real lavish scale treatment with dancers waltzing about and Davies in a Cinderella-type wedding gown surrounded by giant human pipe organs playing to “Here Comes the Bride.” This number might have succeeded had it not been overblown to extreme measures. “Here Comes Chiquita,” the third production number of the evening, coming late in the story, is sung by male chorus waiting for its star principle, Mabel. Due to some merry mix-up, it’s never performed or heard in its entirety.

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In spite of a fine cast with a story with possibilities, CAIN AND MABEL, which was filmed before in the silent era as THE GREAT WHITE WAY (1923), comes across as weak and contrived, especially in its final half hour. During its 90 minutes, it makes every effort to become a classic backstage story but with nothing new to offer. It tries to make due with amusing situations, but few good one-liners and having the lead players pouring water at one another doesn’t make it a great comedy. Even when going so far as being a tender love story, it almost works thanks to the chemistry of Gable and Davies, but without a well developed script, everything falls flat. While Davies is a fine comedienne when good material allows, Gable, minus his famous mustache this time around, appears uneasy at times, looking as though he’d like to throw in the towel. Roscoe Karns, in a sort of role excelled by Pat O’Brien many times over, seems miscast in this one, turning out his obnoxious character into a truly unlikable one. Maybe Karns and Jenkins should have switched parts here. Although mediocre, it gets by due to its principle players.

Having never been distributed on video cassette, CAIN AND MABEL turns up occasionally on cable’s television’s all-movie channel, Turner Classic Movies. (**)

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Despite being a financial and critical disappointment, this film’s production was a great source of publicity for Warner Brothers, particularly when it came to the expansion of Stage 16, so that the musical number “A Thousand Love Songs” could be filmed there. Sheilah Graham, a syndicated entertainment columnist, reported that raising the stage 35 feet in height took four weeks (with 200) workers, and cost $300,000.

When does the star singer-dancer appear?

5/10
Author: SimonJack from United States
29 April 2016
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of the very few Clark Gable movies that I score below six stars. But I must do so with “Cain and Mabel” because it barely makes it as entertainment. Even then, my five stars are for a few specific points. First, this is an early look at Gable sans mustache, and he is good in a lousy role. Second, the extravagant staged musical production – seemingly inserted from another film, is quit good by itself, and I do find most things about musicals very entertaining. Third, it has a very fine supporting cast who do very well with what they have in their roles. Allen Jenkins is Dodo, Walter Catlett is Jake Sherman, Ruth Donnelly is Aunt Mimi, William Collier Sr. is Pop Walters, and Roscoe Karns is Reilly.

I like Marion Davies as an actress. She definitely had the looks and a special appeal in her big broad-eyed face. Had Davies not been in a 30-year affair with the married William Randolph Hearst, or had he not pushed so hard on Hollywood to give her fame, she may well have had a much better career. She may have had some better films than she made. Other reviewers have made this point. I like her in some, but in most of her films she is mediocre at best. And, I agree that while she can act, she is not a great actress and was often cast over her head.

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Among many different people there likely will be many different tastes. For that reason, I don’t like to take exception to other reviewers directly. But I find it hard to fathom an average rating of 8.0 for “Cain and Mabel” as of the end of April 2016. Especially with more than 1,200 votes cast. Could it be that the ghost of William Randolph Hearst is haunting viewers and pushing the numbers?

Here are some specific points on the downside of this film. The idea of the plot is hokey, but OK if it works. But it doesn’t. The story squirms all over the place and the screenplay is terrible. It does have a few funny lines interspersed here and there. But it is not at all a witty script. There is absolutely no chemistry between Davies and Gable, and when they come together toward the end, it just seems phony. Gable’s character, Larry Cain, hardly seems to be a heavyweight contender because he doesn’t have energy. Only toward the end with some ring shots do we ever get an idea that he really might be a boxer.

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Marion Davies wasn’t a singer, although I thought I heard her utter a couple of short lines as though she were singing here. They were off key. Her dancing looked amateurish in the beginning, and we saw very little of it. Surely, the producers don’t want us to believe that the short routine she was constantly having to practice passes as dancing in this movie. Her brief moments in the big production number are barely passable.

So, where is the singer/dancer leading lady that she was supposed to be playing – Mabel O’Dare? In that long musical section we simply see Marion in three or four different gowns standing and smiling, while different male tenors sing songs, and choruses chime in and ensembles of dancers perform below and around her. So where is the Marion Davies/Mabel O’Dare star? Is that the limit of her talent? Is that what the movie would have us believe people on Broadway would pay to go see? A big name star who doesn’t sing or dance (well, once) but stands around as eye candy while the whole rest of the troop perform?

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This was a hard movie to sit through, even with my refrigerator breaks at home. The script just seemed so forced, the occasional snappy lines just seemed like snapping at people. And nary a spark between the two leads, let alone a fire. I can’t recommend this film as one people are likely to enjoy.

Here are the best samples of funny dialog in this film. Jake, “I’ll tell you frankly, the ushers are quitting because they’re afraid to be alone in the dark.” Pop Walters, “Now listen, Larry. This guy Reed’s got a good night’s sleep in both hands.”

There were many very good comedy-romance musicals made during this period and into the 1940s. The lead actresses sang, danced or did both. I can recommend any films with Jeanette MacDonald (singing), Eleanor Powell (dancing), Judy Garland (singing and dancing), Doris Day (singing and dancing), Deanna Durbin (singing), Jane Powell (singing and dancing). While their films all are well rated, none of them have averages as high as 8.0.

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Great stuff!

10/10
Author: JohnHowardReid
11 September 2016
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Louis B. Mayer and William Randolph Hearst had a terrific row, as a result of which Hearst pulled up stakes and moved his entire unit from M-G-M to Warner Bros where he was personally welcomed by Jack Warner. My guess is that Warner interceded for Hearst with Mayer and that Marion Davies was blamed for the split. In any event, Mayer and Warner remained on extremely friendly terms and here we see Mayer lending his top star, Clark Gable, to Warner, something I don’t think he ever did for anyone else. Mayer and Warner were also staging a friendly competition as to who could underwrite the most expensive musical number. Mayer won, but number two comes mighty close. Coney Island is a delight too. Yes, the screenplay does tend to strain its metaphors, but it’s sharply acted by both Hearst’s mistress and Mayer’s top star. The wonderful musical interludes were brilliantly directed by Bobby Connolly, and these were allied to a noisy, fast-talking screenplay with the sort of wisecracks that most people (including me) find highly amusing. Busby Berkeley was the original choice to direct both the movie itself and the musical numbers, but when Marion Davies heard of Busby’s reputation as a slave driver, she said no-no! So Bobby Connolly was hired for the musical numbers and dapper clotheshorse Lloyd Bacon (who was always nice to the ladies but would scream and fling one of his $200 hats at actors who missed their cues) became the director.

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