Warners’ Clark Gable box comes as a relative disappointment. The six MGM pics make welcome DVD bows, but the extras offered are unworthy of an actor called the King when Elvis was still in diapers.
Biggest letdown is the lack of commentaries for the films. Though some cohesion runs through the box — five of the pics date from between 1933 and 1940 — presence of “Mogambo” strikes a false note, as pic is a remake of another Gable title, “Red Dust” (1932), whose absence proves a striking omission. (Ideal would have been a release pairing both, as company did two years ago with the 1940 and 1944 versions of “Gaslight.”)
Romance-cum-disaster pic “San Francisco” claims the most extras, including an alternate ending featuring a montage, instead of a still, of “modern” Frisco superimposed over an image of smoldering rubble, the result of the 1906 quake. Disc also features solid 1996 TNT docu “Clark Gable: Tall, Dark & Handsome,” hosted by Liam Neeson, and two vintage James A. FitzPatrick travelogues, “Cavalcade of San Francisco” and “Night Descends on Treasure Island,” a Technicolor gem documenting the subsequently destroyed Golden Gate Expo of 1939.
The discs for all other pics, save “Mogambo,” include shorts, but they relate only vaguely to accompanying feature. Transfers are first rate — so good, in fact, that flaws are magnified. To wit, irritating white specks mar an otherwise superb “Wife vs. Secretary,” and missing frames blemish a pristine “Dancing Lady.” The exclusion of a jigsaw-puzzle gag in the latter remains unexplained.
Pics, again excepting “Mogambo,” find Gable in his pre-“Gone With the Wind” prime, as virile, charming, often funny. It hardly matters who his co-star is, for there’s always terrific onscreen chemistry, be it with Joan Crawford (“Dancing Lady”), Jean Harlow (“China Seas,” “Wife vs. Secretary”), Jeanette MacDonald (“San Francisco”) or Claudette Colbert (“Boom Town”). Likewise, his affectionate but unthreatening fraternalism with Spencer Tracy (“Boom Town” and “San Francisco”) stands the test of time.
All six movies are eminently watchable, but two especially so: Clarence Brown’s “Wife vs. Secretary,” set in high-society Manhattan, and Jack Conway’s “Boom Town,” with oil-rich Oklahoma as a backdrop. As usual, Warners pads the discs featuring classic pics with vintage cartoons, but it’s galling when more useful extras are absent. The King, deserves better, and so do would-be fans.