Clark Gable is a heel and Lana Turner is the beautiful daughter of a corrupt judge played by Frank Morgan in this mostly predictable western soap opera. The stars, however, infused the film with an aura of excitement and pounding panache that the script did not originally provide. Con artist Candy Johnson (Gable) arrives in Yellow Creek, Nevada, and slowly...read more
Clark Gable is a heel and Lana Turner is the beautiful daughter of a corrupt judge played by Frank Morgan in this mostly predictable western soap opera. The stars, however, infused the film with an aura of excitement and pounding panache that the script did not originally provide. Con artist Candy Johnson (Gable) arrives in Yellow Creek, Nevada, and slowly ingratiates himself with the townsfolk. He, his associate, the Sniper (Chill Wills), and their cronies pose as do-gooders, establishing a fire department, schoolhouse, and, of course, their own saloon. Judge Cotton, the venal jurist who's been in Johnson's pocket all along and has helped him scam the citizenry, suddenly gets religion and tries to prevent Johnson's wholesale takeover of the town; he's fatally shot by one of Johnson's cronies for his trouble. By this time Johnson has wed pretty Elizabeth and gotten her pregnant. She now suffers a miscarriage, mostly at the distress of losing her father, and Johnson, jolted by events takes his leave and vows to give up his miscreant ways. But love conquers all adversities: Johnson returns to clean up the town he helped sully and Elizabeth decides she loves her "candy man" after all. The studio hyped this film, trying to create another great love duo similar to that of Gable and Jean Harlow of the 1930s, inserting into its ad campaign for HONKY TONK such lines as "Clark Cable kisses Lana Turner and it's screen history." In fact, he and Turner kiss 11 times in this steamy production with an equal number of clinches. "Let's be specific, they're terrific," the promoters in the front office hacked out. Carole Lombard, Gable's wife, didn't think MGM's new blonde bombshell was so terrific. She thought of her as a maneater, and Turner's reputation at the time supported Lombard's fears. Turner had been dubbed "Queen of the Nightclubs" in the late 1930s, with hundreds of stellar names from the male ranks of Hollywood serving as her escorts. She had tried to marry Howard Hughes, and did marry bandleader Artie Shaw, her co-star of DANCING CO-ED (1939), but only briefly. The 33-year-old Lombard feared Turner would vamp her husband and stormed into Louis B. Mayer's posh office to tell him so. The mogul smiled and let her rave. Then Lombard appeared on the set, which disturbed Turner no end; Turner couldn't finish a love scene with Lombard looking over her shoulder and quickly retreated to her dressing room. She told director Conway that only after Lombard left the set would she return. Gable convinced his fiery wife to go home, and the screen lovers continued to conjure what Turner later termed "a wonderful chemical rapport," though she later denied that the lovemaking went on after the cameras stopped rolling. Gable hadn't originally thought much of the fledgling actress who was to become, with Ava Gardner, MGM's top sex goddess of the 1940s and 1950s. She was 17 in 1938 when she made a screen test with Gable, who was called off the set of TOO HOT TO HANDLE and thought Turner was simply awful when the two did a scene from the Gable-Harlow smash hit RED DUST. "She couldn't read lines," he later said. "She didn't make them mean anything, it was obvious she was an amateur." But Turner had since paid her MGM dues in a spate of minor films, including LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY in 1938. She had scored heavily as the consumptive, forlorn showgirl in ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941) and was rising fast by the time of HONKY TONK. Gable had changed his mind about Turner and showed it. Arriving at her dressing room on the first day of the production, she found a box of flowers with a note attached that read: "I'm the world's worst talent scout. Clark." Their bedroom scenes in the film had firecrackers exploding in them and the public made the film an enormous hit, despite its potboiler premise and script. Dekker, playing the heavy Gable must confront and later kill, was outstanding, as was Main as a feisty widow. Trevor, who played the film's "other woman," a good-natured slattern (by then a patented role for her), was exceptional in the few scenes MGM editors left in the film. Lombard, who was to die tragically in an air crash the following year, feared that MGM would put temptress Turner in another film with her husband. She was right; the studio tried to build another great love team by teaming the stars in SOMEWHERE I'LL FIND YOU the next year. Gable and Turner went on to make two more films together, neither of them memorable.
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