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Boom Town [Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy]

   

Boom Town (1940), starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, Frank Morgan, Chill Wills

Synopsis of Boom Town

Boom Town stars Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy as competitive oil prospectors who strike it rich in oil and romance. With screen legend Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, and Oscar-nominee Frank Morgan.

Editorial review of Boom Town courtesy of Amazon.com

There may be a pair of impressive ladies in the cast, but don’t be fooled–Boom Town is a cool love-hate buddy movie from the get-go. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy are oil wildcatters who meet during a Texas strike, take an instant dislike to each other, go into business together, tussle over a woman, break up, reunite, etc., etc. The film spans years, and various parts of the continent, as each man gets rich and goes bust with regularity. Claudette Colbert, re-teaming with It Happened One Night co-star Gable, is the woman who comes between them, and Hedy Lamarr presents a more exotic temptation later on.

Another star here is the dialogue by veteran screenwriter John Lee Mahin, which–despite the wild, credulity-bending twists in the story–is chockfull of salty, slangy talk. The early scenes in the Texas town are crammed with believable oil jargon and great period touches (such as an entrepreneur who charges money to walk on planks across a muddy street).

Director Jack Conway (Saratoga) gets the roughneck appeal of the material, and a sequence involving an oil fire is a knockout. Gable and Tracy, who had worked together so memorably in San Francisco, are a terrific match: Gable is all straight-ahead gusto, declaiming every line, as Tracy underplays to crafty effect. Nice supporting parts for Frank Morgan and Chill Wills span the entire movie, which ends, curiously, in a courtroom and a speech about capitalism. –Robert Horton

Cast of characters

  • Clark Gable (Dancing Lady) as “Big John” McMasters. The oil wildcatter who is the best friend, and later fierce enemy, of Square John. It begins when he marries Betsy, not knowing Square John loves her …
  • Spencer Tracy (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) as “Square John” Sand. A goodhearted man, who tries to be supportive after Betsy marries his friend Big John. Primarily because he loves Betsy, and truly wants her to be happy. Things come to a head when Big John insults Betsy on their one-year anniversary, though …
  • Claudette Colbert (It Happened One Night) as Betsy Bartlett McMasters. The young lady that the two frenemies fight over. She is truly in love with Big John, and stands with him after he loses his oil field to Square John.
  • Lionel Atwill (The Vampire Bat) as Harry Compton. A former customer of Big John’s, and now a competitor.
  • Hedy Lamarr (Samson and Delilah) as Karen Vanmeer. Compton’s former adviser. She’s hired away from him by Big John. She uses her social contacts and charms to gather industry information for Big John.
  • Frank Morgan (Night Monster) as Luther Aldrich. The person from whom Big John and Square John “borrow” drilling equipment without permission. Later, they have the audacity to ask him to back another drilling attempt … And he accepts! By the end of the film, when the two are broke but best friends again, he finances them again. At a profit, of course.
  • Chill Wills (Best Foot Forward) as Deputy Harmony Jones

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