“Great love stories are always unhappy ones.”
And in this case the love story did prove to be unhappy, well not really unhappy just not that great. If you ever read about Parnell you will read that it is not one of Clark Gable’s or Myrna Loy’s best films and that it horribly flopped (it cost $1,547,000 and it only grossed $1,576,000 according to IMDB).
Charles Stewart Parnell (Gable) is fighting for Home Rule and independence from England in the British Parliament. Many people see Parnell as a problem and a rebel but to the people of Ireland he is their uncrowned king.
Parnell meets an English woman named Katie O’Shea (Loy). Katie believes in Parnell and what he is fighting for. When he is in trouble and needs a place to stay she lets him stay at her English country home. The two start to fall in love but unfortunately Katie is married to a political man and he will not divorce her until after he is elected and mostly because it would not look good having Parnell in the house at the time people would know Katie was cheating.
Thanks to the hard work of Parnell and his followers Parliament is willing to consider the Home Rule. But everything can come crashing down when Katie’s husband wants to divorce and names Parnell in the separation. Parnell starts to lose followers and respect because he will not defend himself believing that his and Katie’s private lives are nobody’s business. The people feel that if he cannot defend himself how will he ever defend his country.
Soapy, romantic, historic story will a soapy ending.
So yes this is not the best film from the two leads but their acting was not bad. Clark Gable was the all American tough guy playing an Irish man with no accent (well to defend that the studios did not want their stars to play with accents so that is not entirely Gable’s fault) who is in love and he moaps about it. Definitely not the Gable we are used to seeing but his acting was not bad at all he just does not fit in period films. I know I will have things flying in my direction but I really do not think he even fit that well in Gone With the Wind, he was not great in period films. Myrna Loy was the modern, sophisticated, quick witted 1930s woman she was very out of place, like Gable, in a period film. Loy looked weird in the period costumes after seeing her so many times in fabulous Art Deco clothing (she still looked gorgeous though). Loy brings up a great point in her book: people were so used to seeing them as characters like Blackie Norton from Manhattan Melodrama and Nora Charles that there was a bit of an uproar over them playing in a period piece. She says for God’s sake they were actors! But that was the problem back then the studios had them so type casted. Loy also says that she liked this film and she thinks that Gable has one of his most romantic and best scenes in it. Surprisingly Gable and Loy were crowned “King and Queen of Hollywood” the same year in a nationwide poll… well maybe not surprisingly they were always awesome with Parnell just a blip.
I found it so odd that Billie Burke was in this film mostly because the year before Loy played her in The Great Ziegfeld. Burke played Loy’s sister and I do not know if it was awkward because I was thinking of The Great Ziegfeld or if it was because Burke’s character was outrageously annoying (most likely the latter).
Adrian designed the costumes for the film. Even in a period piece his costumes still managed to maintain some kind of modern aspect. He was just a genius all his costumes are wonderful.
I think I definitely have to blame the problem of the film on the director John Stahl. The direction was just not good at all if it had been in the hands of a better director the film would most likely not have bombed as bad. As great as Myrna Loy and Clark Gable are at acting it felt like they dragging along like Stahl was not getting anything out of them. Stahl was known for his weepy women’s films so that is most likely why Gable is a huge pile of fluff. Loy could pull off dramatic roles she did a dozen times but Gable just could not.
Parnell is a boring film no doubt about it and it does have its faults with the casting and the direction but for the most part it is not an awful biographical film. Besides the romantic stuff and making Parnell soft the film is as accurate as MGM could make it. I could definitely see where the audiences of the time were disappointed in the film, I thought to myself if I saw the film in the theaters when it was released I would have been disappointed if I had paid to see it. As I said the film is boring and the direction and writing not the greatest but if Parnell is ever released on DVD I will no doubt be buying it haha.