Getting To Know Mae Clarke

by Jimmy L. | created - 06 Jul 2011 | updated - 26 Aug 2015 | Public

Mae Clarke was a beautiful and talented screen actress whose career shone most brightly in early-1930s "pre-Code" films. She's become a favorite of mine, so I'd like to share my top picks for the uninitiated.

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1. Waterloo Bridge (1931)

81 min | Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A prostitute's self-loathing makes her reluctant to marry an idealistic soldier during World War One.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Mae Clarke, Douglass Montgomery, Doris Lloyd, Frederick Kerr

Votes: 2,083

Mae Clarke's greatest performance, starring in a romantic drama about a wartime prostitute with a chance to find love with a naive young soldier. It's Mae's film, start to finish, and she does a good job. Her acting was always very naturalistic, in an era when that wasn't the norm. The drama centers around her character, an out-of-work chorus girl who's turned to other means to pay her bills, and her internal conflict when a soldier from a nice family wants to marry her, not knowing the truth about her past. It's a heartbreaking performance, but little-known in the wake of the popular 1940 remake with Vivien Leigh.

2. Parole Girl (1933)

67 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

A young woman released on parole vows to ruin the life of the man who insisted on sending her to jail.

Director: Edward F. Cline | Stars: Mae Clarke, Ralph Bellamy, Marie Prevost, Hale Hamilton

Votes: 237

A desperate Mae Clarke gets caught in a department store extortion scheme and is sent to prison, despite her pleas for leniency. When she gets out, she takes revenge on the man who showed her no pity by staging a phony marriage to him and blackmailing him with threats of bigamy charges. But as they play the happily married couple to keep up appearances, they grow genuinely fond of one another. Mae Clarke is vulnerable and sympathetic as a good girl who's had tough breaks, and she shows a hardened, scheming side, too. She's never as bad as she tries to be, and the story is really sweet. It's a winning performance.

3. Three Wise Girls (1932)

Passed | 68 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

Cassie moves to New York and jumps from one job to another until she lands a modeling gig.

Director: William Beaudine | Stars: Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke, Walter Byron, Marie Prevost

Votes: 433

Clarke does the unthinkable, stealing scenes away from Jean Harlow (whose hair & makeup at this stage was garish). Mae plays Jean's friend in the big city, a department store model and suffering odd-woman-out in a married man's love triangle. She has such charisma onscreen, coming alive in front of the camera. And her character experiences the full range of emotions in her melodrama arc.

4. Fast Workers (1933)

Passed | 66 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

Gunner and Bucker are pals who work as riveters. Whenever Bucker gets the urge to marry, which is often, Gunner will hit on his girl to see if she is true or not. So far, Gunner has not ... See full summary »

Director: Tod Browning | Stars: John Gilbert, Robert Armstrong, Mae Clarke, Muriel Kirkland

Votes: 641

Clarke is part of an odd love triangle with best buds John Gilbert and Robert Armstrong. A street-wise dame who knows how to use men for their money, she spots an easy target in Armstrong and wins him over with the old "sick grandmother" act. Meanwhile, she's good friends with Gilbert, who knows the real girl behind the act and is crazy about her. Armstrong falls for the innocent girl Clarke pretends to be while Clarke is really stuck on Gilbert, and the two buddies don't realize they're after the same girl. This is one of Mae Clarke's tough "dame" roles, but she still comes off as sympathetic. She's at ease in front of the camera, playing the different layers of her character.

5. The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

Passed | 70 min | Comedy, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

Shady stockbroker and abusive husband Gerald Parker is found dead in the penguin pool of a NYC aquarium after being knocked cold by his wife's boyfriend.

Director: George Archainbaud | Stars: Edna May Oliver, Robert Armstrong, James Gleason, Mae Clarke

Votes: 725

Mae Clarke provides the eye candy in this breezy whodunit starring Edna May Oliver. As the pivot point in a love triangle that may have led to a murder, Clarke may be an innocent victim or a suspected accomplice.

6. The Man with Two Faces (1934)

Not Rated | 72 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

A talented young actress seems to be under the spell of her unscrupulous, avaricious, and totally unprincipled husband.

Director: Archie Mayo | Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, Ricardo Cortez, Mae Clarke

Votes: 411

In a secondary role, Clarke plays a stage actress in the same company as Edward G. Robinson and his sister Mary Astor. She accompanies Robinson after the big opening, when the drama unfolds. Clarke really shines in her minor role, always neglected or abused by Robinson (to comic effect). Relegated mostly to the background, her presence spices up the proceedings.

7. The Public Enemy (1931)

Not Rated | 83 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war.

Director: William A. Wellman | Stars: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell

Votes: 14,785

Probably Clarke's best-known performance, for better or worse. She has a minor role in this gangster classic as the girl who takes a grapefruit to the face from James Cagney over breakfast.

8. Frankenstein (1931)

Not Rated | 70 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, John Boles

Votes: 54,093 | Gross: $12.00M

Maybe her next-best-remembered performance. She hasn't much to do in this landmark horror film, playing the bride-to-be of troubled scientist Henry Frankenstein. She looks lovely, though, and is the victim of a wedding-day attack.

9. Lady Killer (1933)

TV-G | 76 min | Comedy, Crime

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A former gangster makes it big in Hollywood, but his old life catches up with him.

Director: Roy Del Ruth | Stars: James Cagney, Mae Clarke, Margaret Lindsay, Leslie Fenton

Votes: 1,303

Not one of my favorite Mae Clarke performances, but a memorable one. She's a femme fatale in this tale about a hood-turned-Hollywood star (James Cagney). Seductive in her slinky attire, Clarke lures men to their downfall, working for a gang of crooks. She uses her wiles to keep Cagney tied with the gang.