I’ve probably mentioned here on the blog in the past that I’m not particularly a huge fan of Clark Gable’s (I can certainly understand his appeal to some of the female population, but his acting skills were negligible at best) so it may come as a big surprise that this is one of the Gable vehicles I really like. Ironically, Gable himself was loathe to do the picture at first (he thought Wakeman’s book was “filthy and not entertainment’) but acquiesced when screenwriter Wells “laundered it up” (he suggested the Dorrance character be a widow, not a still-married woman as in the book and changed
The only element in Hucksters that doesn’t work for me is the Gable-Kerr romance; I think Kerr’s character is definitely slumming and, if you really want me to be honest, I think Gable’s chemistry with Ava is a lot more engaging. There are lots of great character actors in this one: Frank Albertson and Douglas Fowley play a pair of scribes assigned to create Wynn’s radio program; Jack Rice sells Gable a tie; Jimmy Conlin is a skeevy hotel manager with Billy “Whitey” Benedict his bellboy…and best of all, George “Joe McDoakes” O’Hanlon as Arnold’s protégé (Arnold doesn’t show up until the last third of the film, which is a shame because I’ve recently developed a new appreciation for him of late). (You’ll also see noir goddess Marie Windsor briefly on a train, but you really have to look quick.) And of course, what film about radio would be complete without the participation of radio actors? Sharp-eared listeners will be able to suss out the unmistakable tones of Lillian Randolph, Cathy Lewis, Joe Kearns and kid actor Henry Blair; John McIntire and John Hiestand are also on hand as announcers.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) – In the four-year span between the release of Hucksters and this film, the nation has climbed aboard television’s bandwagon—making it the new home entertainment medium of choice. “Smoky” Callaway (Howard Keel) is a has-been B-Western star who’s enjoying renewed popularity via the showing of his old oaters on the glass furnace—a package put together by former ad copywriters Mike Frye (Fred MacMurray) and Debbie Patterson (Dorothy McGuire), who stand to clean up on the merchandising rights alone…except for one little hitch, explained by the title of the film. Callaway, who’s earned a reputation in Hollywood off-screen as a nasty, ill-tempered lush, has been MIA for a good many years, prompting Mike and Debbie to hire his former agent, Georgie Markham (beautifully executed by Jesse White, who could play a role like this in his sleep), to hunt him down. In the meantime, the most fortuitous of movie circumstances introduce the pair to “Stretch” Barnes (also Keel), a
At the end of Callaway, there’s an interesting disclaimer from the filmmakers whose shorter version can be interpreted as “For God’s sake, please don’t sue us.” Any resemblance to the title character and a certain TV cowboy named Hopalong Cassidy is purely intentional—but fortunately for M-G-M, the Cassidy people weren’t ticked off at all by the film…they actually found it endearing. My guess as to why would center on the satirical content of Callaway; it’s not quite as biting as Hucksters, and it’s all in good-natured fun. Keel is hilarious in both of his roles, MacMurray has one of his best comic turns (my favorite moment is when he tells Keel that cowboy acting involves two expressions—“hat on and hat off”) and even McGuire is a lot of fun (though comedy isn’t necessarily her forte). There are a few amusing star cameos in the film (my favorite, oddly enough, is the one involving Clark Gable) and unbilled appearances from the likes of future TV actors John Banner, Hugh Beaumont and Glenn Strange (Natalie “Lovey Howell” Schafer is also in this, but she receives billing in the opening titles). But what makes Callaway particularly endearing to me is that the man who would soon write the book on advertising mockery has a small part as MacMurray and McGuire’s flunky: the one and only Stan Freberg.