Clarence Brown is an American director from the classic film era. He was highly intelligent and graduated from the University of Tennessee at the age of twenty with two engineering degrees. He worked for and eventually owned his own automobile dealership. He also served in WWI as a flight instructor and pilot before making his way into the motion picture industry.
Over the course of his career he worked for various studios spending more than half of his career with MGM. He racked up over fifty directorial credits. He was nominated for an Academy Award six times although he never won. But his films earned nine Oscars. He directed Greta Garbo in seven of her films and was a close personal friend of hers throughout her life.
Brown eventually retired at the age of 62. He truly left the film industry behind refusing to watch any new movies. Thanks to his involvement and donations, he helped establish the Clarence Brown Theater at his alma mater the University of Tennessee.
Flesh and the Devil (1926) -His first collaboration with Greta Garbo and incidentally also the first pairing of Garbo and John Gilbert onscreen. Their chemistry was so electric that they were paired together several times.
A Free Soul (1931) -This film is famous for Norma Shearer’s portrayal of a woman in love with a violent gangster. It was a role that changed her film image from a sweet girl to a modern woman with modern morals. Clark Gable is mesmerizing as the villain who falls for Norma’s high society dame.
Letty Lynton (1932) -Starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery, perhaps this film is more famous for the fact that it is unavailable thanks to issues with the copyright. The only way to watch this one is if you happen to find a bootleg copy. But those who have seen it give it good reviews.
National Velvet (1944) – I defy anyone to watch this film and not fall in love with it. Young Elizabeth Taylor plays Velvet Brown who falls in love with a horse. She convinces Mickey Rooney to help her train Pie and herself to compete in a national race. It is an utterly heartwarming tale.
The Yearling (1946) -Another Brown film where a child bonds with an animal. This time it is a young boy who falls in love with a young deer. He convinces his parents to allow him to raise it. This one stars Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman and is a beloved classic.
Since National Velvet and A Free Soul have already been mentioned above I won’t list them here. Even though they are definitely some of my favorites.
Possessed (1931) -One of eight films which paired off-screen lovers Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. This is my favorite of their films together. The tale of a poor young woman who rises in life by becoming mistress to a man of wealth and influence is nothing new. But somehow Crawford and Gable manage to infuse it with real tenderness.
Sadie McKee (1934) – Although I’m no great fan of Joan Crawford, she won me over in this story about a woman who is torn between three different men. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Edward Arnold, one of my favorite character actors, happens to be one of those men.
The Rains Came (1939) – I can’t quite put my finger on what I like so much about this film. Maybe it is seeing Myrna Loy, George Brent and Tyrone Power play roles outside of their usual. Maybe it is the story of forbidden love told against the backdrop of a natural disaster occurring in India. I don’t know. But I love it.
“I was in the business of showcasing stars.”
“You had to fight for everything you got onto the screen. That’s how things were set up with the old studio system, and it worked out for the best most of the time. But you did have to fight.”