The King and Four Queens
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By the mid-1950s, Eleanor Parker had costarred with many of Hollywood's most famous leading men, including Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, Robert Taylor, William Holden and Frank Sinatra. She would recall, however, being especially excited at the prospect of acting in The King and Four Queens (1956) opposite Clark Gable: "I was a real fan."
In this lighthearted United Artists Western directed by Raoul Walsh, Gable plays a dashing desperado who wanders into a ghost town called Wagon Mound, where a crusty, rifle-toting matriarch (Jo Van Fleet) watches over her four man-hungry daughters-in-law. It seems that, two years earlier, three of the old woman's sons had died in a fire (although no one knows which three) after stealing and hiding a fortune in gold. Sizing up the situation, Gable uses his manly charms to wheedle information from the ladies about the whereabouts of the treasure.
Parker plays the most cynical and shrewd of the daughters-in-law, a fiery redhead described by Gable as "tougher than Wang leather, smarter than spit and colder than January." Jean Willes is a sultry Mexican, Barbara Nichols a dumb-blonde dancer, and Sara Shane a prim young thing. The chemistry Parker shares with Gable makes it easy enough to predict that she's the one who will share his final ride into the sunset.
The movie was the only project from Gable's own production company, GABCO, and was produced in partnership with actress Jane Russell and her husband, Robert Waterfield, who served as executive producer. (Gable, Russell and Walsh had teamed the year before on another Western, The Tall Men).
Location filming for The King and Four Queens was done in and around St. George, Utah, where RKO's The Conqueror (1956) also had just filmed. The latter film was notorious for allegations that many of the cast and crew (including director Dick Powell and stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward) had fallen victim to cancer after spending time near atomic testing grounds.
Several sequences shot for The King and Four Queens never made it onto the screen. These included the return of the surviving son (John Compton, whose entire role ended on the cutting-room floor); a rain-drenched scene where Gable and Parker retrieve the stolen gold from a river; a romantic interlude with Parker apparently clad only in a striped blanket; and an alternate ending where Parker, now married to Gable, gives birth to his son!
Producer: David Hempstead, Robert Waterfield (Executive Producer)
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Margaret Fitts, Richard Alan Simmons, from story by Fitts
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Production Design: Wiard Ihnen
Original Music: Alex North
Editing: Howard Bretherton
Costume Design: Renie
Cast: Clark Gable (Dan Kehoe), Eleanor Parker (Sabina McDade), Jo Van Fleet (Ma McDade), Jean Willes (Ruby McDade), Barbara Nichols (Birdie McDade), Sara Shane (Oralie McDade), Roy Roberts (Sheriff Tom Larrabee), Arthur Shields (Padre), Jay C. Flippen (Bartender).
by Roger Fristoe