Key to the City
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Key to the City (1950) is an uncomplicated and charming piece of fluff about a pair of opposites-attract small-town mayors, played by Clark Gable and Loretta Young, who meet and fall in love at a mayors' convention in San Francisco. Not only did the film have the considerable talents of the two leads, it also had the expert support of some of MGM's most reliable character actors (Frank Morgan, James Gleason, Lewis Stone), and some capable younger players (Raymond Burr, Marilyn Maxwell). The film may have been a lightweight comedy, but the production was fraught with drama, some of it going back 15 years.
Key to the City was Gable and Young's second and last film together. When they made their first, The Call of the Wild (1935), Young had been a 22-year-old contract player at Fox, on loan to MGM. And Gable, fresh from the success of It Happened One Night (1934), was fast becoming one of MGM's top stars. The Call of the Wild takes place in Alaska, and the company went on location to the state of Washington. There, snowed in for weeks, it's generally believed that Young and the married Gable embarked on an intense affair. When the film (and the affair) ended, Young pleaded a mysterious illness and disappeared for months. Two years later, the unmarried Young adopted a two-year-old girl she named Judy. Rumors had abounded for years that the child was, in fact, Young's own daughter, and the father was Gable. Neither Gable nor Young ever spoke publicly about the alleged affair. But Judy Lewis, Young's daughter, later recalled that when her mother was making Key to the City, she invited the adolescent Judy to visit her on the set to meet Gable. Judy refused, preferring to go to summer camp. A few years later, when Judy was 15, she finally met Gable. He came to Young's home, was introduced to Judy, and wanted to know everything about her life, which Judy thought was odd. Lewis says that her mother finally told her that Gable was her father when Judy was in her early 30s.
Whatever their past history, Gable and Young were cordial during the filming of Key to the City, and had nothing but complimentary things to say about each other. The producer, Z. Wayne Griffin, was a friend of Gable's, and Young's husband at the time, Tom Lewis, so it was a friendly, relaxed set. But by 1950, Gable's career had lost some of its luster, he was pushing 50, and talking about retiring. Yet he still clung to the perks of stardom, such as his five o'clock quitting time, which was promised in his latest contract.
The production proceeded smoothly, until Young collapsed on the set. She was rushed to the hospital, and it was discovered that she was three months pregnant. Production halted while she remained hospitalized for two weeks, as doctors tried to save her pregnancy. She eventually suffered a miscarriage, and took more time off to recuperate. When production finally wrapped, Young and her husband threw a "thank God it's over" party, attended by some members of the cast and crew. Halfway through the party, they learned that co-star Frank Morgan had died. Gable, who had made five films with Morgan, was a pallbearer at his funeral.
Reviews for Key to the City ranged from tepid (Variety: "on the whole amusing, but occasionally labored") to mildly enthusiastic (London Film Weekly: "Clark Gable does his he-man stuff pretty well and Loretta Young makes the most of the part of the mayoress."). Box-office, however, proved disappointing, as it did with many films at that time. The problem was the growing popularity of the new medium, television, which was keeping audiences away from movie theaters. In just a few years, Loretta Young would adopt an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude, becoming one of the first film stars to make the move to TV. She would become one of the young medium's first and biggest stars.
Director: George Sidney
Producer: Z. Wayne Griffin
Screenplay: Robert Riley Crutcher, based on the story by Albert Beich
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editor: James E. Newcom
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Clark Gable (Steve Fisk), Loretta Young (Clarissa Standish), Frank Morgan (Fire Chief Duggan), Marilyn Maxwell (Sheila), Raymond Burr (Les Taggart), James Gleason (Sgt. Hogan), Lewis Stone (Judge Silas Standish).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri