Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Boom Town (1940)

Big John McMasters (Clark Gable) and Square John Sand (Spencer Tracy) are oil wildcatters whose friendship (along with their fortunes) goes through many ups and downs over the years, particularly after Big John marries Square John's love, Betsy (Claudette Colbert). When gorgeous Karen Vanmeer (Hedy Lamarr) enters the picture, over an hour into the film, she further complicates matters, but this being a 1940 MGM picture, you can probably guess that all's well that ends well.

BOOM TOWN was the third teaming of Gable and Tracy, who had previously costarred in SAN FRANCISCO and TEST PILOT. Gable, whose background included working in oil drilling, exudes charisma, with his exuberant style playing effectively opposite the low-key Tracy. The movie has some great moments, including a saloon brawl and the classic "Robin Hood meets Little John" scene when Gable and Tracy meet while attempting to cross a muddy street on a thin plank. (This scene was excerpted in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, PART 2.) Overall, the film is on the long side and has a bit too much sturm und drang for my taste; I prefer the humor and the "wild west" oil scenes to the teary domestic melodrama. That said, it's an entertaining film from start to finish and worth seeing to enjoy four big stars at the peak of their careers.

The supporting cast includes Frank Morgan, Chill Wills, and Joe Yule, Sr. (Joe Yule, Jr., acted under the name of...Mickey Rooney.)

BOOM TOWN was filmed in black and white and runs 119 minutes. The story was by James Edward Grant, who wrote many screenplays, including ANGEL AND THE BADMAN and THE LAST WAGON; ANGEL AND THE BADMAN was also one of just two films directed by Grant. BOOM TOWN was directed by Jack Conway. For a bit more on Conway, please see my review of THE HUCKSTERS, another Gable film which Conway directed.

BOOM TOWN has been released on DVD as both a single title release and as part of the Clark Gable Signature Collection, which was reviewed here by Glenn Erickson.

The DVD extras include an oddity, a 10-minute short called HOLLYWOOD HOBBIES (1939) which was directed by George Sidney and scripted by Morey Amsterdam, of all people. Joyce Compton and Sally Payne play two giddy tourists who are ostensibly coming across Hollywood "stars at play," but in most cases footage of actors (including Clark Gable) has been obviously intercut into the short. In this regard it reminded me of the Warner Bros. short STARS ON HORSEBACK (1943) which can be seen on the OLD ACQUAINTANCE DVD.

BOOM TOWN has also been released on VHS. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen at the TCM site here.

Update: This film has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


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