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In To Please a Lady (1950) Clark Gable stars as Mike Brannon, a thrill-seeking race car driver whose ruthless tactics cause a crash that results in another driver's death. Barbara Stanwyck plays Regina Forbes, an influential newspaper columnist who is determined to get him permanently banned from the professional racing circuit. The pair engages in an explosive battle of wills while fighting off an attraction to each other that threatens to spin out of control.
The distinguished Clarence Brown (Anna Karenina , National Velvet ), directed To Please a Lady. It was the eighth and final film he worked on with Clark Gable, who was also his good friend. Brown manages to pull off some of the most thrilling racing sequences ever filmed in To Please a Lady. He captures the raw excitement of the speedway by throwing the viewer right into the middle of the action, capturing the energy of the pit crew in action, the zooming car engines, and the roar of the crowd.
To make the racing scenes as authentic as possible, director Brown used a good deal of actual professional racing footage. Gable did some of his own driving for close-ups, while a stunt driver took the wheel for the more dangerous shots. For the film's gripping climax at the Indianapolis 500, the cast and crew went on location to the famous Indiana speedway for three weeks. While there cinematographer Hal Rosson used up to six camera crews at a time to capture the action of actual races. The location shooting paid off in the film's nail-biting climax where car speeds averaged 100 miles an hour.
Being in Indianapolis was difficult for Clark Gable personally. The city had been the last stop on a war bond tour in 1942 for his second wife, actress Carole Lombard, before she was to fly back home to Los Angeles. Tragically, Lombard's plane never made it back. It crashed in Nevada killing everyone on board. Theirs had been a happy marriage, and it was a loss from which Gable never recovered. At the time of To Please a Lady Gable had finally remarried, this time to Douglas Fairbanks' widow, Lady Sylvia Ashley. During filming he seemed happier and healthier than he had in years according to friends. Even so, Gable remembered his beloved late wife while in Indianapolis. He quietly made a point to visit the downtown locations where Lombard had made her final public appearances before meeting her untimely death.
Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck are well matched as a romantic onscreen duo. They elicit an intense chemistry as their strong characters prove to be equal sparring partners. To Please a Lady was the second feature the pair made together. Their first, Night Nurse (1931), was made nearly 20 years earlier at Warner Bros. when Gable, who wasn't yet a movie star, played a small featured role as a nasty chauffeur who viciously slaps Barbara Stanwyck. To Please a Lady pays homage to that memorable moment by having Stanwyck take another smack across the kisser from Gable, though this time it's more suggestive than brutal.
Both stars were happy with their work in To Please a Lady though it fell short of major box office success due in part to the surge in household television sales, which was rapidly taking business away from studios and movie theaters. The film did, however, win plenty of critical praise. The New York Times acknowledged director Clarence Brown's handling of the film's exciting race sequences: "You can bet that Indianapolis never experienced a contest as hotly run as the race that Mr. Brown has staged." Variety proclaimed "(To Please a Lady) has excitement, thrills, with some of the greatest racing footage ever put on celluloid - It firmly returns Gable to the rugged lover, rugged character status."
Producer/Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Marge Decker, Barre Lyndon
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Film Editing: Robert Kern
Art Direction: James Basevi, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Clark Gable (Mike Brannan), Barbara Stanwyck (Regina Forbes), Adolphe Menjou (Gregg), Will Greer (Jack Mackay), Roland Winters (Dwight Barrington), William C. McGaw (Joie Chitwood).
BW-92m. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume