As It Happened One Night is the defining film of its era, 1932’s No Man of Her Own has been mostly forgotten. It certainly doesn’t have the same profile or fanfare today, despite a very noteworthy pairing of stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. I had honestly not heard of the film before Felicia recommended I watch it to cover this week. Directed by Wesley Ruggles, whose most popular work is the Mae West star vehicle I’m No Angel, No Man of Her Own is a small, character-based drama, with a similar character dynamic as our highlighted film this week. Pairing it with It Happened One Night probably isn’t fair, though it does have some important similarities that I’ll get to.
Gable stars as “Babe” Stewart, a charismatic card cheat who falls hard for librarian Connie while on the lam. They meet cute, are immediately attracted, and quickly end up married. In order to preserve their new marriage, Babe lies about what he does for a living, which [as you can imagine] isn’t a successful plan for very long. Once he’s found out, their relationship is tested and Babe has to make a decision whether to choose love or his exciting criminal life.
Like It Happened One Night, No Man of Her Own was released in the time between the installation of the Hays Production Code and its amendment requiring close inspection and approval. Because of this, the film definitely has that classic “pre-code” feel with racier than expected moments and sexual tensions. Gable and Lombard, who married six years after their only co-starring effort together, absolutely simmer together—their chemistry is so strong there isn’t much a review board could do about it. The “lounging pajamas” and shower sequences, however, may not have made the final cut a few years later. Funny enough, the backstage history notes that Gable and Lombard had a hard time getting along on set. They apparently found each other to be conceited and pompous, though that may have contributed to their tension on camera.
Another aspect of the Hays Code era that was sharply regulated were the elements of crime in a genre that was becoming increasingly popular at the time. In order for a film to be centered around a con man or gangster an ultimate comeuppance was required, often resulting in the fatal shootouts or long prison sentences that proved crime doesn’t pay. No Man of Her Own didn’t necessarily have to work within the same standards but it does have an interesting twist to the crime code. Essentially, Connie decides that she loves Babe enough to look past his cheating and Babe loves Connie enough to truly want to change. On the page this seems incredibly sappy but the film is sensitive enough to pull it off. The interesting twist is that Babe actually turns himself over to the police on a minor charge to be sent away to jail, as a character puts it, to “get the mud off his shoes.” It is a touching act that pays off better than it should.
Ultimately, No Man of Her Own is a modest drama that deserves a modest recommendation. While I wouldn’t call it a “must see” for anyone, it certainly has appeal for anyone interested in pre-code cinema or the history of its stars.