I've watched a number of Westerns and romantic comedies of late, so tonight I went for something completely different: Clark Gable in the advertising drama THE HUCKSTERS. Gable plays a WWII veteran looking to get back into the ad business, but finding his values and self-respect compromised as he tries to get ahead. Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner play the women in Gable's life.
Many of the topics covered in the film are still relevant today, including business ethics and the roles of the media and advertising. This film would make an excellent double bill with 1949's A LETTER TO THREE WIVES; the Kirk Douglas-Ann Sothern sequence addresses some of the same issues raised in this film.
The film has a deep supporting cast. Sydney Greenstreet memorably plays the tyrannical head of the ad agency's biggest client, a soap company. Adolphe Menjou, Edward Arnold, and Keenan Wynn costar.
If you look quickly, there are some interesting unbilled faces in the film. A dark-haired girl glimpsed on a train is Marie Windsor, who would go on to have a busy career, including starring in many Westerns. Virginia Dale, who five years earlier had partnered Fred Astaire in HOLIDAY INN, is relegated here to the role of a receptionist. And deep-voiced John McIntire, who had a leading role in last night's BACKLASH, had his first film role in THE HUCKSTERS -- heard as a radio announcer.
The telegraph boy on the train is played by Sammy McKim, a child actor who would go on to a great second career as a Disney artist. Much of his work can be glimpsed today on display in the Disney Gallery above the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. Sammy's brother David also has a small part in the film as the assistant to Clinton Sundberg's photographer.
THE HUCKSTERS was filmed in black and white and runs 115 minutes. It was directed by Jack Conway, who had previously directed Gable in SARATOGA, BOOM TOWN, and HONKY TONK. Conway had started in the silents and headed many great MGM pictures (my favorite is LIBELED LADY) before his last film was released in 1948. He passed away in 1952. IMDb offers a fun piece of trivia: a street in Pacific Palisades, Jacon Way, is named for the director.
The movie is available on VHS.
It next airs on Turner Classic Movies on April 3, 2007.
2011 Update: This film is now available on a remastered DVD-R from the Warner Archive.