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The Hucksters (1947) is a considerably sanitized version of the best-selling novel by Frederic Wakeman. Directed by Jack Conway, the film is a slick but still powerful, and at times darkly funny, indictment of the seamy side of advertising, radio, and big business. Clark Gable plays a World War II veteran who gets a job in advertising, and finds that his work requires him to often abandon his principles. Deborah Kerr, in her American film debut, plays an English widow Gable falls in love with, and Ava Gardner has one of her first important roles as a nightclub singer who's a former girlfriend of Gable's. In a deliciously flamboyant performance, Sydney Greenstreet tears into the juicy role of a villainous soap tycoon, Gable's major client.
Adventure (1945), Gable's first film after his return from serving in World War II, co-starring Greer Garson, had been a disaster. He had no chemistry on or off screen with Garson. Still mourning the death of his wife Carole Lombard, Gable was moody, out of shape, and drinking heavily. He wouldn't appear in another film for 18 months, and when he did, he demanded approval of his co-stars and material. The Hucksters was far from his idea of a Gable-worthy vehicle. For one thing, his character Vic Norman was a promiscuous, unprincipled heel. For another, his love interest was an adulteress. Gable demanded changes and after months of script revisions Gable got in shape, his character developed some scruples, and the married mistress became a virtuous war widow.
To play the widow, MGM imported Deborah Kerr, a young Scottish actress. Kerr had been acting in British films since 1941, and had recently made a splash playing a conflicted nun in Michael Powell's elegant drama, Black Narcissus (1947). MGM head Louis B. Mayer himself came up with the advertising line to introduce Kerr to America, and to make sure her name was pronounced correctly: "Deborah Kerr (rhymes with 'star.')" To mollify Gable, Kerr agreed to do a screen test for The Hucksters. When she arrived at the studio with her husband, British war hero Tony Bartley, Gable greeted Bartley enthusiastically. They had met during the war, when Bartley lectured American airmen. Gable not only gave his approval to Kerr, but on the first day of shooting he sent six dozen roses to her dressing room. Kerr was always grateful for his thoughtfulness. "He did everything possible to put me at my ease," she said, "and was a man utterly without regard for himself as a film technician, or for his status in movies."
Gable was equally gracious to Ava Gardner, an MGM starlet who had played bit parts for years before getting her first important role (on loan-out to Universal) in The Killers (1946). Finally, MGM realized what it had in Gardner, and cast her in The Hucksters as Gable's old flame, a sexy chanteuse. In her memoirs, Gardner recalled that Gable had championed her for the part. Once shooting began, Gardner was rattled when she had to perform a love scene with Gable. He prompted her when she forgot her lines, and told her, "you don't see yourself as an actress, and I don't see myself as an actor. That makes us even." When it came time to film Gardner's nightclub scene it was late in the day and all the extras who played the audience had gone home. Gardner would have to lip synch her song to an empty room. But just as she was ready to start, Gable arrived on the set and pulled up a chair right in front of her, giving her an appreciative audience of one. Gable and Gardner adored each other. Her earthiness and ribald sense of humor reminded him of Lombard's, but Gardner swore they never were lovers. Instead, they were kindred spirits. They made two more films together, Lone Star (1952) and Mogambo (1953).
The reviews for The Hucksters were excellent for all concerned. "Clark Gable zooms back to the pre-eminent place he long held in Hollywood with this smash performance," raved the Hollywood Reporter. Not only did the film return Gable to his pre-war glory, it helped advance the careers of two of the brightest stars of the 1950's - Gardner and Kerr.
Director: Jack Conway
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenplay: Luther Davis, Edward Chodorov, George Wells, based on the novel by Frederic Wakeman
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Music: Lennie Hayton
Principal Cast: Clark Gable (Victor Norman), Deborah Kerr (Kay Dorrance), Sydney Greenstreet (Evan Llewellyn Evans), Adolphe Menjou (Mr. Kimberly), Ava Gardner (Jean Ogilvie), Keenan Wynn (Buddy Hare), Edward Arnold (Dave Lash).
BW-116m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri