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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956)

Brisk & light-hearted, this modest, underrated Western is one of the better late credits for Clark Gable & director Raoul Walsh. Gable’s a con man, on the run right from the start, racing his horse thru some spectacular terrain in Lucien Ballard’s luscious CinemaScope lensing. Following up on a tip, he heads for an isolated homestead, landing plop in the middle of four man-hungry (putative) widows and their suspicious/tough-minded mother-in-law (Jo Van Fleet). The draw is a fortune in stolen gold, hidden by the four sibling-husbands before they took off. The wild card in the set up; one of the husbands may still be alive . . . but which? Margaret Fitts gets story credit, but its Richard Alan Simmons’ script providing first-class structure & dialogue. An excellent package, with Walsh showing some of his old form and giving each lady a chance to shine, especially Eleanor Parker who proves an exceptional foil for Gable. Watch for a delightful, unexpected mini-musicale for Gable & the romantically inclined (okay, horny after two manless years) widows.* Gable may be a bit weathered to cause all the commotion, but his relaxed charm is still a powerful presence, right thru the film’s satisfying, neatly plotted wrap.

DOUBLE-BILL: Gable & Walsh reteamed (to little effect and forty extra minutes running time) on next year’s ante-bellum drama, BAND OF ANGELS/’57.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Alex North’s wrote a fine score, but the real musical highlight comes in the dance episode to variations on ‘Red River Valley’, undoubtedly the work of orchestrator Hershy Kay. New York-based, with only a few Hollywood credits, Kay famously orchestrated Leonard Bernstein musicals (CANDIDE; WEST SIDE STORY) and put together scores for Georges Balanchine @ NYCB, some with an Americana slant sounding much like this zippy episode.

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