The Life Aquatic

Let's play pretend: Russell and Gable
photo: Warner Bros.
Let's play pretend: Russell and Gable

Don't call it nostalgia—what's beguiling and hilarious and dazzling today about unpretentious star vehicles like China Seas (1935) are exactly the same lovely resources that suckered audiences in the '30s: personality amperage, fun-loving sexuality, pulp honesty, and the brazen let's-play-pretend energy of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Beauty and talent weren't necessarily issues; then, stars were made of élan, camera rapport, and infinite good humor. A cargo ship, a monsoon, Malay pirates, a jealous upper-crust fiancée (Rosalind Russell), Wallace Beery's leering counterconspirator, Harlow's satin slip, MGM's battery of studio water tanks and rain machines—all of it irreverent background to the stars' sweaty, barking-slang foreplay. It's a comedy disguised as a romantic adventure, but only because the priorities remain with the vibrant humans on board, not curlicue plotting, speed editing, special effects, or fake grandiosity. This Tay Garnett beaut comes in the new Gable box alongside five other features, including the Joan Crawford hit Dancing Lady (1933), which introduced the world to Fred Astaire, and San Francisco (1936), co- starring the first of Spencer Tracy's priests. The box also includes shorts, trailers, and a TCM appreciation of Gable.

 
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