Idiot’s Delight (1939): Clarence Brown’s Romantic Serio-Comedy, Starring Gable and Norma Shearer

Set after World War I, Robert Sherwood’s tale centers on entertainer Harry Van (Clark Gable), who meets Irene (Norma Shearer) when a drinking colleague of his fails to read minds.

The duo spend the night together, but then sadly go their separate ways. Harry, traveling with a troupe of six girls in Europe, but is detained on the Swiss border due to rumors of impending war.

Meanwhile, Ammunition Baron Achille Weber (Edward Arnold) arrives with Irene and Harry wonders if she is the same Irene he had met. When he confronts her, Irene denies it with a thick and phony Russian accent.

That night Harry stages entertainment for the hotel guests. The war, promoted by Weber, begins with bombs falling. After deriding Weber for his doings, he abandons her.

Irene and Harry resume their old friendship. Sending his girls are off to safety, he sits at the piano and plays “Onward Christian Soldiers” as the bombs continue to fall. Soon Irene joins him in singing.

This version of Sherwood’s play suffered in the translation to the big screen, but there was still some fun to be had.

Gable, not much of a dancer or singer, works hard, but viewers were forgiving, feeling grateful for seeing him embrace Norma Shearer for the first time since they had made Strange Interlude, in 1932.


Norma Shearer
Clark Gable
Eward Arnold
Charles Coburn
Joseph Schildkraut
Burgess Meredith
Laura Hope Crews
Skeets Gallagher
Peter Willes
Pat Patterson
William Edmunds
Fritz Feld


Produced by Hunt Stromberg.
Directed by Clarence Brown.
Screenplay by Robert Sherwood, based on his own play.
Cameraman: William Daniels.
Editor: Robert J. Kern.
Release date: January 27, 1939.
Running time: 105 minutes.