Idiot's Delight: Review
You have never seen Clark Gable like this before. In a rare turn as a hoofer with a traveling variety act that includes six backup girls, the then acknowledged "King of Hollywood" takes a turn as the front man in a number you’ll never forget. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is delightful.
When one thinks of Clark Gable one usually thinks of rugged characters such as the ones the no-nonsense actor portrayed in Mutiny on the Bounty, The Misfits and Red Dust (or Mogambo if you prefer the remake). And if he wasn’t out in the wilds of nature Gable was known for being a tough newspaperman (It Happened One Night), businessman (Wife vs. Secretary) or a demanding officer of the military (Command Decision). But never before or since has Gable ever been thought of as a song and dance man - no matter how hard edged. But extraordinarily enough Idiot’s Delight manages to give the devote cynic the opportunity to tread the boards in a unique and believable manner. Honest!
The film is based on a successful Broadway play of the same name. Gable plays a seasoned pro who has had his share of ups and (mostly) downs playing the lesser theaters of the vaudeville circuit. He’s a man who is quick to take advantage of the latest trend in order to attract an audience and secure bookings. So, when it’s time to drop a wholesome young hoofer for a stable of blondes he does so without sentiment regardless of her attachment to him. Sometime passes before the two cross paths again as a part of a group of disparate travelers caught together in a posh Alpine hotel when the borders are closed at the onset of WWII. But Gable can’t be sure it’s the same woman who is now blonde, Russian and, shall we say, worldly. The truth is revealed only at the last moments of the film when both believe their lives may be over due to a massive air battle happening right above their heads.
Now, the woman in question would have to be a pretty amazing actress to fool Gable even if it is in the script. So, for this great feat MGM turned to its own studio Queen, Norma Shearer (The Women) to fill the dual (?) role of the woman/women who attract(s) Gable. The two mega-stars had worked previously to great success on Strange Interlude in 1932 and the studio had high hopes for the re-union, which were justly fulfilled as the public turned out in droves.
The film itself is not particularly spectacular as a story in and of itself. However, it is highly entertaining to watch if only for the immense talents of the two leads and the stable of great actors surrounding them, each one a personal favorite of mine. Edward Arnold plays a less than honorable businessman who uses the countess as a trophy when it suits his pleasure and dumps her when it becomes inconvenient to continue traveling with her. Joseph Schildkraut is a diplomatic soldier caught between chivalry and his professional duty. Burgess Meredith shifts drastically between action and inaction as a man of letters idealizing the theories of Socialism. And the ever lovable Charles Coburn is a little less than so here as a man so concerned with his own safety that he can do nothing more than straddle a moral fence.
As demonstrated by the character descriptions you can see that Idiot’s Delight offers some surprising depth to what might first appear as a kooky little film. It hardly stands up to Gable’s more notable film of the year, Gone With The Wind, but it’s still a fine example of the varied work contract players were required to do during the height of the Studio System. After seeing the film you’ll realize it was very much worth your time, and as amusing as the scene is you’ll also realize why Gable never danced and sang in a film again – definitely a moment not to be missed.