Laughing Sinners (1931)

Directed by Harry Beaumont
Cinematography Charles Rosher

Laughing Sinners is a 1931 American Pre-Code Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature film starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in a story about a cafe entertainer who experiences spiritual redemption. The dialogue by Martin Flavin was based upon the play, Torch Song by Kenyon Nicholson. The film was directed by Harry Beaumont. Laughing Sinners was the second of eight cinematic collaborations between Crawford and Gable.

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Ivy Stevens (Joan Crawford) is a cafe entertainer in love with a shifty salesman (Neil Hamilton) who deserts her. In attempting to commit suicide, she is saved by Carl (Clark Gable), a Salvation Army officer. Encouraged by Carl, Ivy joins the Salvation Army. When her old flame re-enters her life, Ivy finds she is still attracted and begins another affair with him. Carl steps in and urges Ivy to resume her life with the Salvation Army. Ivy realizes that if she continues the affair, her life will only spiral downward. She drops the affair and resumes her commitment to the Salvation Army.

GREAT 1931 CLASSIC FILM!

7 August 2003 | by whpratt1 (United States) – See all my reviews

I have never seen this film up until recently and was amazed at the great talent of Joan Crawford(Ivy “Bunny” Stevens) “Humoresque” ’46 with John Garfield. Joan was very sexy and wore very revealing clothes for the early 1930’s, her dancing and singing was unbelievable and she was so very pretty, slim and trim, not like the real “Mommie Dearest” character her daughter told us about.

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Clark Gable (Carl Loomis),”Gone With the Wind”’39 was Ivy’s prince charming as a Salvation Army convert and when she appears in the park with her beautiful white dress, you just knew there was going to be an immediate CONVERSION OF SOULS! Veteran actor, Roscoe Karns, (Gred Geer) played a great supporting role. This film is filled with surprises, even a little African American Boy stealing a bite from a girls doughnut tore me up, there is many deep soul searching messages in this film and LOTS OF LAUGHTER and one attempted jump off a bridge. ENJOY!

Follow The Fold And Stray No More

6/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
8 December 2008

The second film that had Clark Gable and Joan Crawford together didn’t start out that way. Laughing Sinners started out with Johnny Mack Brown as the Salvation Army Worker who saves Crawford and the film was completed when Louis B. Mayer saw the film and said reshoot it with Gable.

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This was after having seen them together in Dance Fools Dance where Gable was a villain and had only a couple of scenes with Crawford. This is according to Joan herself in a tribute she wrote in the Citadel Film Series Book, The Films of Clark Gable.

Crawford is definitely in her element as singer/dancer and good time Prohibition party girl who falls for the charms of Neil Hamilton, a traveling salesman. You know what a bunch of party animals they are, just ask Arthur Miller. Anyway Hamilton decides though he thinks Joan’s great in the hay, he wants to marry the boss’s daughter and does, leaving her flat and despondent.

One night as she’s ready to throw herself off a bridge, Salvation Army worker Clark Gable stops her. She likes him, but still has a yen for Hamilton and he, her.

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Given Clark Gable’s later image the casting of him as a Salvation Army worker is ludicrous. Mayer knew that and during the course of the film he gives him a nice prison background before he joined Edwin Booth’s Army. The only way Gable could possibly fit the part. Anyway Mayer did it for the obvious chemistry between Gable and Crawford.

It’s more Joan’s picture than his though. Later on her talents as a dancer which brought her to film in the first place would be not seen at all. So Laughing Sinners is a treat in that way.

The film is based on a Broadway play Torch Song which ran for 87 performances the year before and starred Mayo Methot, Reed Brown, and Russell Hicks in the parts that Crawford, Hamilton, and Gable have. Coming over from the Broadway cast is Guy Kibbee in the role of another salesman, the only one to repeat his role from Broadway. Roscoe Karns and Cliff Edwards play another pair of salesmen and Marjorie Rambeau is Crawford’s party girl friend.

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Russell Hicks is definitely more my idea of a Salvation Army worker, but Gable’s more my idea of a leading man opposite Joan Crawford.

Joan sings and does the `farmer dance’

7/10
Author: Jim Tritten from Corrales, NM
25 August 2002

Interesting early talkie with Joan as a laughing sinner who is then cast aside by her love interest and saved by Clark Gable and the Salvation Army. Having seen Cary Grant previously as a temperance league type (`She Done Him Wrong’), I was able to accept Gable in this same role. Good moral messages as we see how traveling men use `loose’ women in small towns and the good that is done by organizations like the Salvation Army.

Aside from that, the best part of the movie is watching Joan dance made up to look like a farmer – with a long noses and a long goatee. She sings and dances as well as anyone. Of course switching later into Adrian-designed gowns makes for an interesting contrast. Early in the movie, there is a great facial shot of Joan as she anticipates meeting her boyfriend upstairs in the cabaret. This is a good story and makes for a pleasant hour and a quarter entertainment. Recommended.

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This film is probably the weakest of the Gable/Crawford film pairings. It’s not that their performances aren’t great, it’s just that they’re not given that much to do. The storyline is very basic – Joan is a performer in a nightspot who has had a long-distance affair going with a traveling salesman, Howard Palmer (Neil Hamilton), for the past two years. He dumps her to marry the boss’ daughter so he can further his career. He doesn’t even have the courage to tell this to her face – he writes it on the back of a menu at the cafe and leaves before she reads it.

This action wounds Ivy (Joan) to the core, and she is about to jump off a bridge one night when she is stopped by a Salvation Army member, Carl Loomis (Clark Gable). The two become friends and pretty soon Ivy is donning a Salvation Army uniform herself. One night a year later, when Ivy and the Salvation Army are proselyting in a nearby town, she runs into her ex-lover Howard Palmer. After a year of separation Howard has decided he would like to have it both ways – he’d like to have his bang (Ivy) and his bucks (his wife of convenience). Will Ivy stand firm on her new beliefs or will she fall? This film does have a few good things going for it. In the first part of the film, when Ivy is still working in the nightclub, we get to see Joan sing and dance for an entire number. She doesn’t do much of that in her long film career and it is always a treat. Then there is the somewhat ridiculous spectacle of Clark Gable as a Salvation Army worker – this is before he became known more as a charming sinner rather than a laughing one. You can chalk up that bit of casting to Louis B. Mayer. This film was originally shot with Johnny Mack Brown in the lead, but Mayer didn’t like the outcome and reshot it with Gable. Finally there is Neil Hamilton as one of the most slippery characters you’ll find. Hard to believe he didn’t have a real career breakthrough for almost another 35 years when he was cast as Batman’s Commissioner Gordon.

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This whole issue of the thin line between good and evil in a person and the fact that those two sides exist in everyone is much more artfully explored in 1932’s Rain, again starring Joan Crawford. That’s a film I highly recommend.

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