Part 2 – Gilbert’s film career
Silent to Sound
|Poster from "The Big Parade"|
EVE GOLDEN: Of the silent films, his favorite was certainly, The Big Parade and I have to agree. I’m not crazy about Karl Dane in that; too much broad comedy from Karl Dane, but that is probably his best silent along with “Love,” which I think is the best Garbo/Gilbert film, except of course, for the horrible ending they tacked on.
The best talkie is definitely “Downstairs,” but I also like “The Captain Hates the Sea;” which I think it’s as good as “Grand Hotel.” It’s low budget and it’s no “Dinner at Eight,” but for an ensemble piece, with comedy and tragedy, and all these little ins and outs, it’s good. And he gives a wonderful performance’ in it. That scene when he is alone in his little cabin listening to the record that his fiancé made, I think it’s just brilliant.
Gilbert in "Downstairs"
LD: Speaking of Grand Hotel, one of the questions I was going to ask you is while they gave that part of the baron to John Barrymore, I would have much rather seen Gilbert in the part. Do you agree?
EG: Oh, he would have been terrific and Buster Keaton in the Lionel Barrymore part would have been great.
LD: Was he still with MGM at that time? So they could have cast him?
EG: It was 32, so he was still at Metro. Yes, they could have cast him. Even Norma Shearer admitted that Irving Thalberg really didn't help him as much as he could have. They were also going to give him Red Dust and I really can’t blame them for casting Gable instead since he was so good with Harlow, they were such a great team, so OK, I can forgive them for that, but he would have been better than John Barrymore in Grand Hotel because John Barrymore was too old for the part.
LD: I thought Barrymore was too much of a “stage” actor for that part.
LD: Also I think Gilbert would have been better because whether he and Garbo were still together or not, the charisma between the two of them was undeniable.
EG: I love Barrymore, but he seemed like Garbo’s father in this part. Plus in the book, it’s a young, hot thief romancing a middle aged ballerina, so they kind of reversed it.
EG: And they worked together beautifully and because of the charisma, as you say, I think he would have been much better than Barrymore. Have you ever seen Desire, the film he was making when he died? It’s a great film, very funny screwball comedy and when you see it and you see John Halliday and the role Gilbert would have played it just really hurst to know how great John Gilbert would have been in that role. It wasn't the male lead; he played the second male lead, Marlene Dietrich’s slightly older criminal partner.
LD: What was his greatest acting performance? I’m sure he would say The Big Parade.
EG: There is no film where he gives a bad performance, but in some of them there is not much of a performance you can give because the script and the role aren’t up to much, so you just kind of roust your way through it and do the best you can.
|Gilbert in "The Show"|
“The Show” was also a really fun film directed by Todd Browning, but it was very weird. Its very sexy for one thing and is basically the story that became “Carousel” so Gilbert works in a circus and wears the tightest pants in the entire world and this striped sweater and they let his hair go all curly and, Oh My God, he is so hot in that film.
LD: The last film he worked on, was “Desire.” Are there outtakes of Gilbert in Desire?
LD: Was that the film where Gilbert was replaced when he had the mild heart attacks?EG: Thank goodness for Kevin Brownlow. He showed the colored tests that Gilbert did for that role. That’s on YouTube actually; in three parts and in the last part they show the color outtakes of Gilbert. You will just faint when you see these, because the only other color footage of him is from “Hollywood Review.”
EG: Yes, and John Halliday was about 20 years older than Gilbert and he replaced him and when you see that, it’s just so frustrating.
|Garbo & Gilbert in "Queen Christina"|
EG: That was a nothing role. I mean, it was sweet of Garbo [to get him the part], but all he did in it was stare at her adoringly.
LD: Yes, but that was the first time that I actually got to hear him in a film because most of his sound films, like “Downstairs” and “The Captain Hates the Sea” weren’t available until recently. I have now seen "The Captain Hates The Sea," however.
EG: Yes, it’s a lot easier to write biographies now because of DVD’s and YouTube, and things like that.
This interview with Eve is a long and a rewarding one that I have divided into four parts.Click on the links below to read each section: