Cathy Butler takes a look at The Woman Who Married Clark Gable.
Edited by Lance Pettitt and Beatriz Kopschitz Bastos (Sao Paulo, USP/Humanitas Press, 2013).
256 pages + DVD.
ISBN: 978-8577322251 (paperback).
Many established directors have had their ‘pivotal short film’; a successful short that gains critical success, does well on the festival circuit, and gives the director a more recognisable name. This is especially true of Irish directors, for whom the transition from shorts to features is a rite of passage of sorts, with very few Irish filmmakers progressing to features without having a few shorts in their back catalogue. This book, a bilingual publication from Humanitas and the WB Yeats Chair of Irish Studies in Brazil, takes a look at the early career of Irish director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and, more specifically, his ‘pivotal short film’, The Woman Who Married Clark Gable.
The book comprises three critical essays on the subject of O’Sullivan’s work, by scholars Lance Pettitt, Roy Foster, and Anelise R. Corseuil. It also features the short story of the same title by Seán O’Faoláin that O’Sullivan’s film is based on, as well as the adapted screenplay by Andrew Pattman. In this way, the book serves as an examination of the process and effects of adaptation, as the various texts show the transition from short story, to screenplay, to produced film.
Pettitt’s opening essay is a thorough and in-depth account of O’Sullivan’s early career, from his emigration to London, his time as an art student in that city, and his first produced films. The piece takes its title and central focus from a quote from O’Sullivan regarding his emigrant existence as similar to being in a “ ‘crack’ – somewhere between the two cultures.” Pettitt examines the effect of this existence on O’Sullivan’s work, and his struggles as an artist in ‘60s and ‘70s London. It is a common theme of Irish artists and filmmakers – the need to emigrate to seek out success. The experience of being an Irish artist producing work in another country, and the merging of elements of an artist’s native culture with the culture of their adopted home, is engagingly brought to light through the examination of O’Sullivan’s work at that time, and resonates with the climate of Ireland’s arts industry of recent years, where the arts took something of a back seat in the wake of the country’s economic downturn.
The concluding essays, from Foster and Corseuil, look at Clark Gable in terms of its adaptation, both critiques proposing that O’Sullivan expands upon and adds greater depth to the themes and characters that are briefly sketched in O’Faoláin’s short story. The film follows a few days in the lives of married couple Mary and George, played by Bob Hoskins and Brenda Fricker, in Dublin city in the 1930s. Mary is a devout Irish Catholic, and George is British and a half-hearted Methodist, which is the first obvious point of conflict between the two. They share an enjoyment of cinema, however, but Mary’s enjoyment starts to get out of hand when she starts to imagine that George is in fact Hollywood actor Clark Gable. After seeing him perform in the film San Francisco, where his character turns from non-believer to believer throughout the course of the film, Mary develops an infatuation with Gable, much to George’s chagrin.
The inclusion of O’Faoláin’s short story, Pattman’s adapted script, and a DVD of the final produced film give the reader/viewer the opportunity to assess the adaptation from start to finish. Considering the story and film side-by-side, the film is certainly a more developed narrative, with greater characterisation and emotional resonance. It omits the more ironic voice of O’Faoláin’s omnipotent narrator, and ultimately produces a more engaging and impactful story. Hoskins and Fricker’s performances add great weight to the piece, and engross the viewer in the couple’s journey. The film is a good example of that rare adaptation that adds more to the original text than it takes away.
For a slim volume, this examination of The Woman Who Married Clark Gable manages to serve as both an introduction to the early work of Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and as an engaging examination of prose-to-screen adaptation. As with most academic texts, it may be of more interest to students and researchers than to the casual enthusiast, but it is certainly a welcome addition to the body of Irish film criticism.
The Woman Who Married Clark Gable is available from the IFI Film Shop.