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Thursday, August 23, 2012

CALL OF THE WILD (1935)

Jack London’s famous title has been trotted out four or five times, but has anyone actually filmed its story? This very loose adaptation has tough guy Clark Gable betting & losing everything he’s slaved for before partnering up with ex-con Jack Oakie to find a secret Yukon gold mine. On the way, they grab a big, strong pooch named Buck & a dainty, impeccably made-up lady named Loretta Young. (Gable seems quite torn between these two, but the dog keeps you warmer at night.) Young was also looking for that mine, but lost her husband on the snowy trip. Meanwhile, dastardly prospector Reginald Owen not only wants to put a claim on the mine, he also wants revenge against the dog! You don’t expect a lot of surprises with this kind of set up, but everything went a little screwy in the third act. A character played by Katherine DeMille disappeared entirely (look at the end credits under Marie) and Jack Oakie incurs no bad luck after his dice come up ‘snake eyes.’ (This switcheroo actually throws his whole perf off since it offers nothing dramatic to balance against his light-hearted mugging.) Even the Young/Gable relationship takes an odd turn you didn’t expect. Helmer William Wellman must have thrown a fit at all the changes, a reel & a half tossed aside. Another director might have found something refreshing in how these abrupt changes moved things away from business as usual, but Wellman just throws in the towel with a lousy final gag that’s feels both jerry-rigged and distasteful. Too bad, scene by scene, there’s some nice stuff in here, with well-matched studio mock-ups against the handsome location stuff. That mountain stream Gable & Young wade into looks FREEZING cold.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: While various bios note the affair Young & Gable had during the shoot (she split for Europe and returned with an ‘adopted’ daughter), they rarely note that Young got Gable ‘on the rebound’ after ending a devastating affair with Spencer Tracy while making MAN’S CASTLE/’33. How many married men did the ultra-religious Young fall for?

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