Okay, let’s give this another shot. I tried last night to write a review for Victor Fleming’s 1945 movie, Adventure, but found that my emotions and opinions were too mixed up for me to make any sense of my reaction. But oh, what a difference a day makes. After some much-needed sleep and a whole day to think about it, I can pinpoint the exact cause of my distress: I felt cheated by this movie.
Before I get into the good and the bad of it all, a little bit about the story. Clark Gable and Greer Garson star as rough-around-the-edges, just-as-rough-on-the-inside sailor Harry Patterson and strong-willed, cerebral librarian Emily Sears. They meet not-so-cute when Harry is dragged into a library by his friend and shipmate Mudgin (Thomas Mitchell, he of iconic films such as It’s A Wonderful Life and Gone With the Wind, among others), who, after breaking his promises to God, believes he has lost his soul. Long after Mudgin leaves the library (urging the disruptive Harry to do the same), Harry remains, antagonizing Emily every second. The rest of the movie takes us through the tumultuous ups and downs as Emily and Harry fight, love, separate, and find their way back to each other – or at least, that’s what I think the story was intended to be.
From his first introduction, I had Harry pegged as a typical Gable hero: loud and abrasive at first sight but with a heart of gold underneath. I thought, “okay, he’s rough now, but he means well – they’ll show me that in a minute.” So I waited. And I waited. And he got worse. I could see that the script was trying – oh, it was trying So. Hard. – to sell Harry to me as a tormented, complicated man: he’d seen so much hardship and suffering that he shut down and lashed out. Always on the offense. Attacking before he could be attacked.
In that sense, he was a good character but not a good hero. That’s not a bad thing in itself – I, for one, love a good antihero. A good antihero, however, still needs to be someone I can care about, even if I don’t particularly like him as a person, and that’s where Adventure failed. Harry is SO abrasive and SO selfish, and there wasn’t a thing for me to hold onto. So he’s lost and damaged; so that’s sad. A lot of people are. That doesn’t give him a free pass to treat people so carelessly. There were a few times when, if I were in the room with these characters, I would’ve had my phone ready to call the police on him. He crossed the line, and instead of being called out on it, he was rewarded. Every time.
Which leads us to Emily. In the beginning, I was rooting for her. Those who respected her, she treated with equal respect and kindness, but she wasn’t about to take any BS from anyone. She was immune to Harry’s “charms,” such as they were (read: pushy, overbearing, Hello-Officer-This-Man-Is-Harrassing-Me), and I was ready to believe that it would take something big – something big enough for me to care about him – for her to fall for him, too. Sadly, it took very little – FAR too little. As the movie wore on, however, she only became more confusing and, while not unlikeable, certainly hard to understand. Why did she love him? Why did she leave him? Was it because she knew he needed to be free or because she knew she needed to be free of him if she was ever going to find happiness?
The characters that were supposed to be portrayed here – the rough but ultimately good hero, the stiff-upper-lip, indomitable heroine – these are characters that I adore, clichéd as they may be. What’s more, they’re characters that Gable and Garson play well. So well, in fact, that they built their careers on playing these characters types. Admittedly, I felt Gable was a bit off in this movie, but he did try, and I’ll give him some grace, as he’d been through a lot in the years leading up to Adventure: losing his wife, Carole Lombard, in a plane crash, and then joining the Air Force and serving in World War II immediately after. Also, the writing didn’t make his job any easier, and Garson didn’t fare any better, by the end of it.
Yet despite all of my gripes, and all of my hang-ups, I was surprised to find myself crying by the end, and even after the credits rolled. I wasn’t just surprised, though – I was confused. If anything, I liked the characters even less than I had in the beginning. They only became more confusing, and the ending wasn’t exactly satisfactory. Had I suddenly given up and started to get invested? Well, yes, but maybe not invested for the right reasons.
I enjoy a good melodrama as much as the next person, if I’m given valid reasons to care about the people. A good melodrama gives you those reasons, making you care, even in the midst of high drama that might otherwise make you roll your eyes – or maybe it still does, but you don’t mind as much. A mediocre melodrama relies on tricks – intense music, contrived drama, etc. – to stand in for actual character moments and growth. It can get the same reaction because I want to be engaged, but not for the same reason. Not because I really was engaged. In other words, this movie got my tears, but it didn’t earn them.