Laughing Sinners (1931)

Ivy Stevens (Joan Crawford) makes her living as a cafe entertainer, generally dressing in silly costumes and performing equally silly routines. Life is swell for Ivy, as she’s met the man she thinks is her true love: a shady salesman named Howard (Neil Hamilton).

When Howard breaks up with her, Ivy is so heartbroken that she attempts to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge. She’s saved by Carl (Clark Gable), a Salvation Army officer.

(Image via Immortal Ephemera)
(Image via Immortal Ephemera)

With Carl’s help, Ivy turns her life around. She joins the Salvation Army, sings with their band and begins to recover from her heartbreak. But when she runs into Howard a year or so later, she immediately falls back into his trap.

This time, it won’t be so easy for Howard to bring her down, though. Carl’s still watching out for her, and if he’s got anything to do with it, she’ll ditch Howard and put herself on the right path again.

Laughing Sinners is based on the play Torch Song by Kenyon Nicholson. It is one of Joan Crawford and Clark Gable’s earliest films together (they made eight total) and was directed by Harry Beaumont.

(Image via Movie Poster Shop)
(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

For a long time, Joan Crawford was one of the few classic stars I just didn’t get the appeal of.  Now, two years after beginning this blog and making a greater effort to explore her filmography, I want to just slap myself for ever thinking less of her. I’d judged her based on one film I didn’t enjoy, and boy was I ever wrong for that.

She’s now become an actress whose films I look forward to seeking out, and I can always expect a solid performance from her. This film is no exception to that.

I was interested to watch this film to once again see Joan and Gable as a screen pair, having enjoyed them in 1933’s Dancing Lady. I’ve been on a mission to see all of the films they made together, and TCM helped me out with that by making Joan their Star of the Month in January. Sure enough, they are every bit as wonderful here as they were in Dancing Lady.

This film, of course, has a much different tone than Dancing Lady and their characters have a much different dynamic, which only made me even happier. Some screen couples could fall into the habit of creating the same characters and the same type of relationship in each film. Though they’re such big names that the viewer is conscious of the fact that Joan Crawford and Clark Gable are on screen together, these two don’t fall into that trap.

(Image via Hollywood Revue)
(Image via Hollywood Revue)

As for the film with all of its wonderful stars and their performances aside, it’s nothing too remarkable.  Every step taken by the story is one you’d expect based on the premise of the downfall-redemption-downfall cycle of Ivy’s life. I’m not quite as averse to films with religious messages as I once was so long as they don’t beat the viewer over the head with their preaching (you still won’t find me watching Kirk Cameron’s latest), and luckily this one does not.

The cast elevates the story of Laughing Sinners, making it a decent watch. I would particularly recommend this film to fans of Crawford and Gable, either individually or as a pair. The score: 3/5

2 thoughts on “Laughing Sinners (1931)

    1. So many movies, so little time! Bette Davis is another one of my favorites. I have seen quite a few of her films, so I’m always delighted when I come across one I haven’t seen yet (though re-watches are fun too, of course!).


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