Loretta Young and Clark Gable in The Call of the Wild.
This 1935 screen version of Jack London's celebrated 1903 novella was the third movie adaptation of the story and the first to feature sound. It would be remade yet again in 1972. The book is told from the point of view of the dog Buck as he goes from owner to owner during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon Territory at the turn of the 20th Century. This movie instead focuses on the character of Jack Thornton as he attempts to strike it rich while falling in love with the beautiful Claire Blake (Loretta Young). Fans of the book will find only a few nuggets faithfully transferred from page to screen.
The most famous scene from the book did make it in the movie. Thornton accepts a bet that Buck can pull a half ton sled for 100 yards. And Buck's relationship with the female wolf is shown. But for the most part this is a very different story from the one London wrote. Instead of the incredibly harsh conditions of life encountered by a sled dog, we get a lighthearted romantic adventure film that just happens to feature a big brave dog as a pet.
Gable (on loan out from MGM) is his usual virile alpha male. Jack Oakie is the trusty sidekick that provides comedy relief. The luminous Loretta Young, with those huge soulful eyes, is the damsel in distress who turns out to be far more than just a helpless lady. Thornton and Shorty come upon her as she is about to become wolf food. Thinking her husband is dead she joins up with her rescuers and helps them find a rich gold mine. Add in a wealthy villain and the fact that Mrs. Blake's husband is still alive and you have the stuff of drama.
Gable and Young have a sizzling chemistry together, no doubt because it's real. Gable (a married man at the time) had an affair with his leading lady. This romance produced a child named Judy. For many years Loretta Young insisted the girl was adopted even though she bore a striking resemblance to her two attractive parents. Eventually Young admitted the truth. In a bit of prescience the script has Jack Oakie saying to Gable, in reference to his budding relationship with Loretta Young's character, “You know I know a coupla people who used to fool around like that and they got children now.”
The Call of the Wild features some breathtaking wintry scenery. It was filmed partly on location in the mountains of Washington State. The cast is solid, with Gable strutting his stuff and proving exactly why he was the quintessential leading man in Hollywood for thirty years. Loretta Young provides a spark of romance and Jack Oakie makes a first rate second banana. Reginald Owen is properly despicable as the ruthless Mr. Smith. As you would expect from William A. Wellman, his direction keeps the story clipping along. The ending happens rather abruptly in fact.
Although it's hardly a faithful adaptation of Jack London's classic dog tale, this Call of the Wild still manages to provide plenty of good old fashioned movie entertainment.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Pictures (1935)