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After playing largely uncredited bits in a handful of silent movies, Clark Gable was signed by MGM at the beginning of the sound era and put in one picture after another, mostly small roles and usually thugs or working class stiffs (a laundry man, a milkman, and quite a few gangsters). But Gable had a way with the ladies - the ones in the audience as well as those on screen - and he was soon moved up to substantial roles supporting the likes of Joan Crawford (Dance, Fools, Dance, 1931; Laughing Sinners, 1931), Norma Shearer (A Free Soul, 1931) and Barbara Stanwyck (Night Nurse, 1931). Although not one of the studio's top-drawer titles of the year, Sporting Blood finally earned Gable top-billed status and proved he could carry a picture without the aid of a popular female star. By the end of the year he was a major star in his own right and remained so until his death in 1960.
Not yet wearing his trademark mustache, Gable plays another gangster in Sporting Blood (1931), who wins a racehorse on a bet and soon misuses the champion animal for illegal purposes. When Gable plots to drug his horse to deliberately lose a race, his romantic interest, Madge Evans, schemes to return the horse to its original loving owner. The latter restores the racer to top condition for the climactic Churchill Downs contest.
Although Gable's first starring role, Sporting Blood was overshadowed by his work just before and just after it. Viewing the rushes of the Shearer potboiler A Free Soul, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg thought supporting player Gable (again as a gangster) was stealing the show from its stars, so he insisted on inserting a scene that would keep the audience from sympathizing with the character. But when Gable slapped the rather proper Shearer in the new scene, audiences loved it and began writing the studio demanding more of the rugged newcomer. (Gable's rough treatment of Stanwyck in Night Nurse, released the same day as Sporting Blood, also earned him similar adulation.) He was quickly paired with Crawford again, in Possessed (1931), and with Garbo in Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise (1931) and rounded out the year with another top solo-starrer, the action-packed Hell Divers.
Sporting Blood did little for the career of writer-director Charles Brabin. A veteran of 20 years in the business, he made only a handful of films through 1934 before retiring to live out the next 20 or so years of his life with his wife, former silent screen vamp Theda Bara. The man behind the lens, however, had a highly successful career as one of the studio's master technicians. Harold Rosson (married for a short time in the early 1930s to Jean Harlow) was the cinematographer on many of MGM's top productions over the next 20-plus years, earning Academy Award® nominations for his work on The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and three other pictures, including Gable's Boom Town (1940).
The movie had one other big name attached to it: Vice President of the United States Charles Curtis, who appears in the Churchill Downs crowd.
Two other pictures bore this same title, one released in 1916 by Fox and another by MGM in 1940. Although they, too, centered on horse racing, none of the plots had any direct connection with the others.
Director: Charles Brabin
Screenplay: Charles Brabin, Willard Mack, Wanda Tuchock, based on the story "Horseflesh" by Frederick Hazlitt Brennan
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editing: William S. Gray (uncredited)
Original Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Cast: Clark Gable (Warren "Rid" Riddell), Ernest Torrence (Jim Rellence), Madge Evans (Missy Ruby), Lew Cody (Tip Scanlon), Marie Prevost (Angela Ludeking).
by Rob Nixon