Clark Gable and Constance Bennett spar in... After Office Hours (1935)


Sharon Norwood: "You know, you're a strange man. I wonder if by any chance you could be nice?"
Jim Branch, imitating Popeye: "I yam what I yam, just a newspaper man. Nothing more and I hope nothing less."

Is there any other actor who became so identified with a profession like Clark Gable did with newspapermen? As a man who excelled at fast-talking, mischievous characters who never lost their charm, it is easy to see why the actor was cast time and time again as a man in the newspaper industry. After winning an Oscar for his iconic performance as reporter Peter Warne, Gable would star as newspaper editor Jim Branch in After Office Hours, a little-known gem in the King of Hollywood's filmography.


It's a bit difficult to define what genre After Office Hours belongs to. What starts as a romantic comedy turns into a murder mystery (which isn't quite a mystery because the audience knows who the killer is), with a few elements of screwball comedy lightly sprinkled in. That being said, the film doesn't feel schizophrenic. Herman J. Mankiewicz's script, which had some uncredited dialogue from Joseph Mankiewicz, knows exactly how to blend these genres and delivers a fun 72-minute ride.

As the film starts, socialite Sharon Norwood, played by a sparkling Constance Bennett, arrives at the offices of The News Record. Eager to get work experience, she found a position as a critic at the paper thanks to a family connection, but soon gets fired by editor Jim Branch when he accuses Sharon's writing of being too highbrow. She is quickly rehired, though, when Jim discovers that she is close to Tommy Bannister (Harvey Stephens), a man who is rumored to be having an affair with the wealthy and married Julia Patterson. Obsessed with getting the lowdown on the scandal, Jim hopes to use Sharon to get the dirt he needs, despite the very real romance that blossoms between them. The stakes are raised even more when Julia is murdered and Jim believes Tommy is the culprit, an idea that Sharon resists.


The film's strongest aspect is its leading couple. Unbelievably gorgeous and hilariously witty, Gable and Bennett are heavenly together. Because of the short runtime, their characters fall in love rather quickly, but their banter is so delectable and their ease with each other is so apparent that their fast courtship feels right. What keeps them apart throughout the film, however, is Jim's dishonesty and Sharon's loyalty to her friends. The latter is definitely more admirable: Sharon believes Tommy when he says he and Julia are just pals, and she sticks by him when Julia is later killed. Jim's lying and scheming, meanwhile, understandably infuriates Sharon, but we realize that although he is after a juicy story, his primary purpose is to pursue and publish the truth.

Bennett and Gable were a terrific team, but unfortunately, aside from Gable's bit part as a milkman in Bennett's 1931 pre-Code The Easiest WayAfter Office Hours was their sole pairing. One of my favorite things this past year has been discovering Bennett. Every time I see her, regardless of whether the film is good or bad, I'm riveted. Sadly, during her heyday in the '30s, her popularity was often credited to her stunning wardrobe on and off the screen. Indeed, her Adrian-designed clothes in After Office Hours are the epitome of chic elegance:












Bennett developed a reputation as a clotheshorse instead of an actress, which was an unfair evaluation of her talent. Films like Topper, Merrily We Live, and Two-Faced Woman illustrate what a divine comedienne she was, and I'm always delighted by the many smart, self-reliant women she portrayed. Part of why I enjoy the character of Sharon so much is that although she could live off of her fortune for the rest of her life, she likes being a career woman and she takes her work seriously.

In addition to Adrian's costumes, the film derives its glamour from Cedric Gibbons's stellar art direction. I absolutely adore the opulence of film sets in the '30s. They're so sleek and so exaggerated and I just love it. Take, for example, the River Club, a restaurant who takes it nautical theme to the extreme:







Then there is Sharon and her mother's (Billie Burke) giant apartment, which I wish we saw more of:





The best and most ridiculous set, though, is Tommy's small country home. While upstairs is like a cozy apartment, the downstairs is, as Jim puts it, a "garage, boathouse, and gymnasium all in one." It's like a stylish basement where you can relax in a beautiful living room-type space... but you can also do your exercises, park your car, and dock your motorboat there:







A zippy film with loads of charisma, After Office Hours will make you wonder how it ever fell through the cracks of Gable and Bennett's respective filmographies. With its wonderful barbs ("You've got a mind like Einstein, boss." "Thanks." "I mean Mac Einstein that runs the lunch room on Beesy Street."), alluring romance, and great plot, this is a fun little movie that you don't want to miss.














































__________________

This is my contribution to my second Clark Gable Blogathon. You can read the other marvelous tributes to the legend here!

Comments

  1. I'm sold! I'll come for the wit and the fashion show, but I'll stay because I will want to live in those sets.

    PS: Speaking of over-the-top nautically themed restaurants, have you seen Our Relations, 1936? The Laurel and Hardy movie features a place called The Pirate Club, and it carries the theme to extremes as well.

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    1. Aren't those places amazing? I haven't seen Our Relations, but that sounds great! Another delightful nautically themed restaurant is in The Bride Goes Wild. It cracks me up every time because it's so ridiculous.

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  2. Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. It's always been a film I really liked, but doesn't rank high in reviewers opinions normally. I agree that Gable and Bennett make a good pairing. I've always been a fan of Bennett as well despite the fact that she was in many mediocre films. But when she got a good comedy role, she was on par with the best of the Thirties comediennes. Plus, she does know how to wear clothes and there's nothing wrong with that.

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    1. How nice to hear you like it, too! I've been catching up on Bennett's filmography this past month thanks to TCM programming a full day to her, and it's been fantastic. I agree she often didn't get good material -- probably because she was considered a fashion plate more than an actress. But she was definitely much, much better than Hollywood gave her credit for.

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  3. Constance was a glamorous woman AND a good actress. I wouldn't be commenting on her if she was just a clotheshorse. Classic TV Fan

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    1. Indeed! She was and still is very underrated.

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  4. I saw my first Constance Bennett movie in 1987. It was MERRILY WE LIVE which had the delightful BILLIE BURKE as her mother again. Later I saw WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? and two movies where Constance played supporting roles. AS YOUNG AS YOU FEEL with MONTY WOOLEY, DAVID WAYNE, JEAN PETERS & MARILYN MONROE and CENTENNIAL SUMMER with CORNEL WILDE, LINDA DARNELL & JEANNE CRAIN. By the way, Constance was once married to GILBERT ROLAND.

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  5. I just commented on Constance including Gilbert Roland. I think I forgot to put my handle-Classic TV Fan.

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  6. I want to see this one. I'll keep an eye on it. Thanks for the review. :)

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    1. Thanks for reading! If you have TCM, they play it once in a while. It's also on DVD, thankfully.

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  7. Sounds delicious! Must see it. Love Connie Bennett.

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    1. Me too! She always seemed so natural and charismatic. I've loved all of her performances so far.

      Thanks for reading!

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  8. What are your favorite movies so far that Constance did? I like MERRILY WE LIVE. Have you seen many movies of JOAN BENNETT(the sister of CONSTANCE)? Classic TV Fan

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    1. I love Merrily We Live! Topper, its sequel, The Unsuspected, and Two-Faced Woman are great, too. Madame X is a bit soapy, but it has an amazing, prickly performance from her and I believe it was her last one.

      I like Joan, but I've never become a fan of hers.

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  9. How interesting! I had never heard about this movie. I also need to see more Constance Bennett films, so this one will be up in the top of the list. Your review is so engaging and interesting!
    Thanks for hosting this fun blogathon!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Aw, thanks! Connie Bennett deserves to be more well-known, so that's great that you want to seek her out more. The material she was given wasn't always good, but I just love her.

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