Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in Boom Town.
Boom Town is an overblown, poorly written MGM production from 1940. It was the biggest box office hit of that year but this was due mostly to the cast. Clark Gable was just coming off the unprecedented success of Gone with the Wind. The character he plays here is a cocky rapscallion in the same vein as Rhett Butler. Even the opening credits emulate GWTW by having the actor’s names scroll from left to right in big letters across the screen.
It begins in Texas in 1918 during the oil boon. Gable and Tracy are both “Wildcatters” searching for that big strike. They meet, form a partnership, have a falling out over Claudette Colbert and spend the rest of the movie trading fortunes from Texas to South America to Oklahoma to New York City. Colbert was originally betrothed to Tracy but falls head over heels for Gable who fell in love with her at first sight.
Upon meeting him she fails to mention the fact that she is the girl his partner Tracy has been writing to all this time. They marry and have a little boy. Colbert plays the long suffering wife with gusto but she isn’t given much to do. Apart from reuniting her with Gable for the first time since It Happened One Night I’m not sure why she took this thankless part.
Hedy Lamarr shows up in the second act. She plays (what else?) an exotic femme fatale. Her “job” is socializing with Big Business and gathering valuable information. She sinks her claws into Gable and there is a brief love triangle that plays out predictably. Poor Spencer Tracy can’t catch a break. Even with two beautiful leading ladies he gets left out in the cold. Gable gets them both. Hell Tracy even winds up acting like one of Gable’s bitches at the end.
Frank Morgan (the newly minted Wizard of Oz himself) is the next most important character. He sells the oil rig supplies that Gable and Tracy “borrow” which eventually leads to their first strike. He becomes a partner in their many business ventures. The big set piece of the movie is a gushing oil rig that catches on fire. It makes a spectacular sight but would have been even more impressive in color.
Gable and Tracy have one great fist fight. Their on-again off-again friendship and business partnership is front and center throughout the story while the ladies take a back seat. This was the third and final pairing of these two iconic MGM stars. They had previously starred in San Francisco and Test Pilot together. Both are superior movies.
There is one scene that contains dialogue that would never be spoken in a movie today by the leading man to his leading lady. It also has a second hilarious meaning in today’s vernacular. Gable confronts Colbert after his big fight with Tracy when he mistakenly believes she is leaving him for his partner. He says, “I had to give him a licking to show him that's out. You're my girl, see? And you always will be. Even if I have to lick you to prove it.” To which she replies, “I'm your girl. You can lick me if it'll help.” His response, “Well, I'll save it for when you need it.”
Boom Town is entertaining enough, although the ending is a bit trite even by Hollywood standards of the day. I should also mention that it was a personal favorite of Gables. He particularly wanted to make this movie as he had worked on an oil rig with his widowed father before trying his hand at acting.
Photos © Copyright Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (1940)