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Forsaking All Others

Forsaking All Others

In the mid-1930's, Joan Crawford had segued successfully from flapper to what Life magazine called "the Shopgirl's Dream," a working-class gal who struggles and suffers, while wearing Adrian's luxurious fantasy frocks. Comedy was not Crawford's forte, but screwball comedy was on the rise, and MGM decreed that Crawford wipe her tears and take her turn playing a madcap socialite.

Forsaking All Others (1934) was adapted from a successful Broadway play starring Tallulah Bankhead. In the film version, Crawford plays Mary, who's grown up with Jeff (Clark Gable) and Dill (Robert Montgomery). When Jeff, who has been in love with Mary his whole life, returns from Europe to declare his feelings for her, he discovers she's about to marry Dill. Then, Dill jilts Mary at the last minute and she turns to Jeff for comfort. Dill soon realizes he's made a mistake, and there are various romantic complications before Mary chooses the right man.

Crawford was no gifted farceur like Tallulah or Carole Lombard. But with accomplished comedic actors like Gable and Montgomery helping Crawford lighten up, she couldn't fail. Forsaking All Others was the sixth of eight films Crawford made with Gable. The two had been on-and-off lovers since Possessed (1931), and even though Crawford was already involved with Franchot Tone, who would become her second husband, her romantic chemistry with Gable is still evident and potent. The supporting cast also includes such expert farceurs as Billie Burke, Charles Butterworth, Arthur Treacher, and, in one of her earliest films, Rosalind Russell.

Forsaking All Others was Crawford's first collaboration with a young writer newly-arrived from New York, Joseph L. Mankiewicz. When he began working on the script of Forsaking All Others, it was originally intended for a different trio (Mankiewicz recalled it was Loretta Young, George Brent, and Joel McCrea, but that's unlikely, since none of them were under contract at MGM). When the studio decided to turn it into a Joan Crawford vehicle, Mankiewicz was dispatched to the star's house to read the script to her. Crawford reacted favorably, and the two would go on to work on a total of nine films together, with Mankiewicz either writing, producing, or doctoring scripts. He understood the secret of Crawford's appeal: working class women identified with her as one of their own. Mankiewicz also understood that for Crawford, her entire life was a performance, and he behaved accordingly. "She woke up like a movie star, she went to the john like a movie star," he would later tell Crawford biographer Bob Thomas. "She had a special outfit for answering the fan mail. She put on another outfit to have lunch." If Crawford arrived at his office dressed in jewels and furs, Mankiewicz acknowledged her entrance deferentially. If she arrived in slacks, he greeted her informally and gave her a whack on the backside.

Crawford biographer Alexander Walker writes about Forsaking All Others, "Mankiewicz's script had a smart knack of connecting the best personality points of all three stars and director W.S. Van Dyke burlesqued marriage conventions as urbanely as he had done six months earlier in The Thin Man (1934)." Van Dyke, a no-nonsense type, was also compatible with Crawford, and would direct her in two more screwball comedies, I Live My Life (1935) and Love on the Run (1936).

The critics were delighted with Forsaking All Others. Variety called it "Clever and smart, packing a lot of comedy in action, situation, and dialogue...." and praised the performances of the three stars as "superb." Audiences agreed, and the film was a huge success. So much so that the studio had no choice but to renegotiate Crawford's contract, raising her salary and adding bonuses.

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Producer: Bernard H. Hyman
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the play by Edward Barry Roberts and Frank Morgan Cavett
Cinematography: Gregg Toland, George Folsey
Editor: Tom Held
Costume Design: Adrian
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Edwin B. Willis
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Mary Clay), Clark Gable (Jeff Williams), Robert Montgomery (Dill Todd), Charles Butterworth (Shep), Billie Burke (Paula), Frances Drake (Connie), Rosalind Russell (Eleanor), Arthur Treacher (Johnson).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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