Parnell was notorious in its day for being Clark Gable's biggest bomb, but the name means virtually nothing to movie fans today. Usually, a film like Parnell lives on because its financial notoriety indicates that it has "something" -- an ambitious story that audiences rejected, or, more often, something deliciously awful that makes it fun to watch, at least for a while. Parnell, however, deserves to be forgotten. It's simply a bad film, and a dull one at that. There are some good things in it. The sets and costumes are lavish, the work of creative people who fortunately were not hemmed in by the convoluted and boring screenplay or the plodding direction. The supporting players also come off well, especially Edna May Oliver and Edmund Gwenn. But Myrna Loy and Alan Marshal are defeated by their material; any film which makes Loy appear uninteresting is a film with big troubles. And Gable is simply miscast, with a wretched accent that comes and goes -- and one wishes it would just keep on going right off the screen and into oblivion. The star tries, but he's clearly not at ease in the part and only on rare occasions is able to bring any of his considerable star quality to the front. Even with better casting in the title role, however, the painful (and inaccurate) screenplay and John M. Stahl's sleepy direction would have brought Parnell down.
The true story of one of Ireland's leading political figures of the late 19th Century inspired this biographical drama. Charles Stewart Parnell (Clark Gable) is a politician and activist whose tireless work towards the cause of Irish independence has earned him the nickname "the Uncrowned King of Ireland." After a fund-raising trip to the United States, Parnell is introduced to Katie O'Shea (Myrna Loy), whose husband Willie O'Shea (Alan Marshall) is running for Parliament. In truth, Katie and Willie's marriage is on its last leg; she despises him, but he refuses to give her a divorce, in part because Katie's wealthy Aunt Bea (Edna Mae Oliver) is willing to pay him to keep his distance. Willie hopes that a friendship between Katie and Parnell could be a stepping stone towards an endorsement from Parnell -- which, given his popularity, would make a massive difference in the polls. However, as Parnell continues to rally support for a free Ireland, he finds he's fallen in love with Katie, and she is also strongly attracted to him. When Willie learns of their romance, he makes a devious proposal to Parnell -- with an independent Irish state seemingly imminent, and with Parnell the likely leader, Willie demands a high office within his administration, or otherwise he'll tell the world about Parnell's affair with a married woman, which could end his career and set the cause of Irish freedom to a halt. Parnell was an infamous box-office disappointment in its day, and Gable's significant other Carole Lombard was said to have loved teasing him about the film; it's failure led Gable to pledge he'd never make another costume picture, though he later relented when Gone With The Wind came along.