Cast & Crew
Nightclub performer Ivy Stevens, who has been the mistress of traveling salesman Howard "Howdy" Palmer for two years, lives for their time together. On his most recent visit, he can't bring himself to tell her that he plans to marry the boss's daughter to further his career and so he leaves her a note while she is performing. She is shattered when she reads the note and attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge, but is stopped by Carl, a kind Salvation Army worker. Carl convinces Ivy that everyone follows the wrong path at some time, and she decides to look him up after reading about Howdy's marriage in the newspaper. A year later, Howdy is bored with his continuing life on the road. When he sees Ivy singing with a Salvation Army band, he wants to start their relationship again, but she refuses. Carl assures her that her past doesn't matter, but that evening, when she encounters Howdy at the same hotel where she is staying, they become lovers again. At dawn, Ivy regrets her decision, but feels too guilty to leave. Howdy is summoned to help his friend, Cass Wheeler, to calm a drunken girl, after which Cass goes to Ivy's room. He offers her some whisky and she starts to dance, arousing the curiosity of others at the hotel, including Howdy and Carl. She is ashamed when she sees Carl, but his reassurances help her to reject Howdy for good and remain with Carl.
George F. Marion
Charles H. Gabriel
Ina D. Ogden
Kenyon Nicholson's play Torch Song, about a cafe singer who's dumped by her travelling salesman boyfriend only to find love with a Salvation Army officer, hadn't been much of a hit on Broadway. But with a roster of female stars in need of vehicles, MGM picked up the rights anyway. The leading lady role was a natural for Joan Crawford, who'd also established herself as a singer in early talkies like Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Montana Moon (1930). They even gave her two big numbers in the film: a torch song for the early nightclub scene, "What Can I Do, I Love That Man," and a religious number for her work with the Salvation Army, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are."
Crawford had two leading men in the film. As the two-timing travelling salesman they cast Neil Hamilton, a favorite from silent film days who had first risen to prominence as a model for Arrow Collars and would later play Commissioner Gordon in television's Batman series. Johnny Mack Brown, who had teamed with Crawford in Montana Moon, was initially cast as the Salvation Army officer who changes her life. But when the film previewed under the title Complete Surrender it flopped. True to MGM's nickname, "Retake Valley," studio head Louis B. Mayer ordered extensive re-shooting to save the picture. In particular, he thought they needed a stronger star in place of Brown. Crawford had been impressed with an up-and-coming actor who had played a gangster in her previous film, Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), so she suggested Clark Gable for the role.
Gable had been knocking around Hollywood since the late '20s but hadn't done well. In an era of more spiritual leading men, he was considered too big and earthy for stardom. Success in the touring company of The Last Mile had brought him a shot at an MGM contract, but he'd only played small roles since signing there in 1930. It took the advocacy of friends like Lionel Barrymore to win him better roles. Crawford was one of the first on the lot to discover his intense sex appeal. Of their first meeting while shooting Dance, Fools, Dance, she would later say, "I knew when this man walked on the set, and I didn't know which door he came in, but I knew he was there. That's how great he was."
The magnetism didn't really register in Laughing Sinners. Gable was never well cast as a man of the cloth, as he would prove the following year when he was forced to play the minister who reforms Marion Davies in Polly of the Circus (1932). As a result, Hamilton captured most of the critical attention in the more flamboyant role of the lecherous travelling salesman. That didn't stop Crawford from promoting Gable as the sexiest man on the lot to anyone who would listen, and the rugged actor would become an overnight sensation with his next film, A Free Soul, in which he won legions of female fans by roughing up leading lady Norma Shearer on screen. Gable and Crawford would reunite in Chained (1934), a glossy romance that established them as a top screen team. They would make eight films together and even enjoy a brief offscreen romance. Years later, Crawford would tell television interviewer David Frost that Gable was the most exciting actor she had ever worked with. When he asked why, she responded with words bleeped out by the censors, "Because he had balls."
Director: Harry Beaumont
Screenplay: Bess Meredyth, Martin Flavin, Edith Fitzgerald
Based on the play Torch Song by Kenyon Nicholson
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Martin Broones, Arthur Freed
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Ivy Stevens), Neil Hamilton (Howard Palmer), Clark Gable (Carl Loomis), Marjorie Rambeau (Ruby), Guy Kibbee (Cass Wheeler), Cliff Edwards (Mike), Roscoe Karns (Fred Geer).
BW-73m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
Guy Kibbee recreated his role from the Broadway version of Kenyon Nicholson's play. The title of this picture was originally The Torch Song, then Complete Surrender. According to news items, Johnny Mack Brown was initially cast in a lead role in the picture, along with Joan Crawford and Neil Hamilton. Modern sources state that a preview of the film had such a bad reception that M-G-M production head Irving Thalberg decided to re-shoot part of the picture, replace Brown with Clark Gable, and release it as Laughing Sinners . Clara Blandick was listed in a news item as being in the cast, but, her participation in the completed film has not been determined. This film was one of three in which Gable and Crawford co-starred in 1931, establishing them as a popular romantic "team," during much of the 1930s.