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It's hard to imagine a screen presence like Clark Gable losing his goldentouch, but that was the accepted wisdom around Hollywood when he startedfilming Vincent Sherman's Lone Star back in 1951. Gable'spost-World War II output couldn't hold a candle to pre-War classics likeIt Happened One Night (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), and Gone Withthe Wind (1939), plus the actor was mourning the tragicdeath of his soul mate, Carole Lombard, in 1942. Gable's depressed state wasn't eased any by his declining health, most notably the slight tremorsthat were early signs of oncoming Parkinson's disease. But despite all of this, Lone Star is an entertaining Westernthat makes up for its assembly-line construction with sheer star power.Wounded or not, Gable still had immense charisma, and so did his feistyco-star, Ava Gardner.
This is one of those pictures that implies historical accuracy but has onlya passing, well-groomed resemblance to actual events. When Sam Houston(Moroni Olsen), announces that he's willing to sign a Texas-sized peaceagreement with the government of Mexico, cattle-baron Devereaux Burke (ClarkGable) is sent by former President Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore) to tryto correct the situation. Burke, whose reward will be a contract to sellbeef to the U.S. Army if it starts fighting Mexico, has to journey toComanche territory where Houston has set up camp. Along the way, he meetsSen. Tom Craden (Broderick Crawford), a tough-guy who also favors a treatywith Mexico. Craden doesn't much care for Burke, and he likes him even lesswhen Burke sets his sights on Craden's girl, an Austin newspaper editornamed Martha Ronda (Ava Gardner.)
Generally speaking, that love triangle is the best thing about LoneStar - Gable and Gardner may well be the most attractive people to everendure the Western frontier. Buckskins and slowly massing armies can'tcompete with grade-A movie stars throwing off sparks, so all the politicalturmoil takes a necessary backseat when things take a romantic turn. Still,there's enough gun-waving to satisfy hardcore Western fans. Just acceptthat the bad weather, salted foods, and lack of hygiene have no effectwhatsoever on Gardner's creamy complexion.
That complexion and Gardner's other notable assets were responsible fordriving Frank Sinatra to distraction, and he was certainly distracted duringthe filming of Lone Star. This was an especially tempestuous time inthe Sinatra-Gardner relationship. Frank was still married to his firstwife, and often spent his evenings at her house, having dinner with theirchildren. Gardner thought these gatherings were hypocritical, if notdeluded, and was starting to get annoyed with her high-profile lover. Shewas also forced into appearing in Lone Star by Louis B. Mayer, so shedidn't expect to enjoy her time on the set.
Luckily, Gardner was a lifelong Gable fan, and they liked each other. Shewas especially adept at cursing like a sailor, a trait he inexplicablyappreciated in women. At the time, Gable, who was in the midst ofyet another divorce proceeding, was doing a lot of drinking with SpencerTracy, and Gardner often joined the two icons for a few boisterous rounds.The actress Loretta Young was known for carrying a "swear box," into whichcoins were dropped when you used an inappropriate word in her presence."Loretta could have made a fortune on Lone Star," Tracy oncesaid.
Sinatra, by the way, would lose this particular round with Gardner. Heoften showed up on the Lone Star set, moping in the background duringfilming. Gardner got fed up with his glum theatrics, especially since shewas having so much fun with Gable and Tracy. She eventually told thedown-and-out crooner (at this point, his career was at its lowest point) that shewould be leaving for a solo vacation immediately after filming wrapped.This threw Sinatra for an even bigger loop, but he and Gardner would havemany, many more confrontations before their romance would be abandoned forgood. If nothing else, the turmoil enabled him to sing I'm a Fool toWant You from the depths of his soul for the rest of his career. Moviestars will do that to you.
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Produced by: Z. Wayne GriffinScreenplay: Borden Chase and Howard Estabrook
Editing: Ferris Webster
Photography: Harold Rosson
Music: David Buttolph
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Hans Peters
Principal Cast: Clark Gable (Devereaux Burke), Ava Gardner (Martha Ronda),Broderick Crawford (Thomas Craden), Lionel Barrymore (Andrew Jackson),Beulah Bondi (Minniver Bryan), Ed Begley (Sen. Anthony Demmett), WilliamFarnum (Sen. Tom Crockett), Lowell Gilmore (Capt. Elliot), Moroni Olsen(Sam Houston).
C-95m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara