Monday, July 9, 2018

Clark's in Advertising

Victor Albee Norman (Clark Gable) has just returned to New York City after several years service in the military during World War II. Vic is determined to make up for lost time by getting a job in advertising; but not just any job. He wants a high-paying one. He approaches "Kim" Kimberly (Adolphe Menjou) about employ in his agency, but Kimberly is skeptical. He has a problem client, Evan Llewellyn Evans (Sydney Greenstreet) who takes up much of the firm's time, and the only hiring he might do would be someone that would placate the troublesome Mr. Evans. Vic is quite certain he is that man as he enters the world of The Hucksters (1947)

Having served as an officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Clark Gable returned to MGM to appear with Greer Garson in the film Adventure (1945). Advertised with the tag line "Gable's back and Garson's got him", the film proved a disappointment to all. Seemingly, there was little chemistry between the pair. It took two years for MGM to pair Mr. Gable with neophyte Deborah Kerr (Kay Dorrance) ("It rhymes with Star!" said MGM's publicity department), and it doesn't hurt that Mr. Gable also had the superb Ava Gardner (Jean Ogilvie) to bounce off of as well!  This time, MGM's investment paid off, with the film making double the studio's investment.
The Hucksters is a fascinating examination of the world of advertising. Certainly, there are times when its message seems a bit over-the-top, but by and large it paints a picture of the advertising world that would later be echoed in the film The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956) and in the television show Mad Men.   Based on a novel by Frederick Wakeman, the film is a much sanitized version, as Gable was unwilling to play the part as originally written, calling it "filthy and not entertainment." (AFI catalog). For example, Kay in the book was not a widow - she was very much married and Mr. Gable objected to his character having an affair with a married woman.

Even cleaned up, The Hucksters can be a strong indictment of the world of Madison Avenue. Take the character of Kim, and his drunken confession concerning his career's start. Or, the way in which Vic, who is by and large a good man, manipulates Dave Lash (Edward Arnold) to get what he wants. There is no question that life in this world results in a compromise of integrity if one is to succeed.
Though Mr. Gable was initially reluctant to star in the film, he was extremely supportive of his two co-stars once production started. He'd ask that Ms. Kerr do a screen test; obviously, once he saw it, he was more than satisfied - he had six dozen roses awaiting her in her dressing room. Ms. Kerr later stated that "He did everything possible to put me at my ease, and was a man utterly without regard for himself as a film technician, or for his status in movies." (TCM article) He was similarly supportive of Ms. Gardner, who'd had one major role the year before (she'd done a number of films, often uncredited) in The Killers. When Ms. Gardner had to perform in the night club scene (to an audience of no one - all the extras had left for the day), Mr. Gable arrived, sat down in front of her, providing her with an audience. They became fast friends, and would appear in two other films together (Lone Star (1952) and Mogambo (1953)).
Edward Arnold is excellent in the small role of Dave Lash, an agent who's client, Buddy Hare (Keenan Wynn) has caught the attention of Mr. Evans. Thanks to Gable's demand for changes to the script, the character of Dave Lash was made less charged. Mr. Wakeman's book had made much of Dave's ethnicity - his Jewish heritage was used as a club against him. Instead, the script changes Dave to a man who had had a bit of trouble in his past, but has spent his adult life trying to help children live a better life than he had. Allegedly, Wakeman built the book's character on agent Jules Stein, the founder of MCA (Freddie Callahan as portrayed by George O'Hanlon, was initially a caricature of Lew Wasserman).

A tip of the hat as well goes to the delightfully crude Evan Llewellyn Evans, as portrayed by Sydney Greenstreet. Mr. Greenstreet pulls no punches in making Evans totally reprehensible. The audience is both amused and revolted by his antics, making Vic's rebellion against him a delight to watch. Also watch for Keenan Wynn as the atrocious comic Buddy Hare. His awful routine also shows up the horrid taste of Mr. Evans.
The reviews from Variety and Life Magazine were lukewarm at best (Life said: "Opposite the ladylike Deborah, Clark Gable's mannered virility seems embarrassing - something that never happened to him alongside such tough Tessies as Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow..). Regardless, the film made a respectable profit, Ms. Kerr's career was launched, and Mr. Gable was back the following year in the impressive Command Decision.
We'll leave you with a scene from the movie: the introduction of Evan Llewellyn Evans and a suggestion that you look this one up.

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