Thursday, March 18, 2010

But does it include e and π?

TCM is showing one of Clark Gables post-World War II movies, that doesn't get so much attention: Any Number Can Play, tomorrow at 10:15 AM ET.

Clark Gable plays Charley Kyng, a man with a lot of problems. He owns the local illegal gambling joint, which only stays open because everybody who is anybody drops their money there, including a good portion of the political establishment. Not that it makes his life easier. His wife (the lovely Alexis Smith) wants him to give up the gambling racket; his son (Darryl Hickman) is going through the rebellious teenage years; and he's not only supporting a wife and son, but her sister (Audrey Totter) and her sister's husband (Wendell Corey). Worse, the brother-in-law, who's working for Kyng, has gotten in gambling trouble with underworld figures, who would like him to use his position at the casino to pay off his debts. If that's too much for any man to take, it's understandable. And, Kyng can't really take it, as all the stress is leading to a nasty case of angina pectoralis. Nowadays, modern medicine can do a pretty good job of treating it, but back in 1949, the prognosis for angina sufferes wasn't that good, so Kyng's doctor (Leon Ames), like Mrs. Kyng, wants Charley to give up the business.

Got all that? Good, because "all that" is what makes the movie ultimately fall short. The otherwise excellent director Mervyn LeRoy has too much on his plate here, and is never able to give enough time to any one sub-plot. (I think I've missed two or three sub-plots to boot.) It doesn't help that the movie was made at MGM in 1949, which was a time of conflict between Louis B. Mayer, who wanted clean family entertainment, and Dore Schary, who wanted more of the socially relevant stuff that LeRoy had made over at Warner Bros.

Still, Gable does the best he can with the material, which is professional if not great. The other actors also try, and seem competent, if underdeveloped. It's a bit of a shame, since there are a lot of fine actors on display here. In addition to everybody I've mentioned above, Frank Morgan, Mary Astor, and Lewis Stone also get sub-plots. (See what I said about too many sub-plots?) Ultimately, Any Number Can Play is a competent movie full of reasonably good performances that would be better served by having a stronger focus. It's not unentertaining, and if you like a lot of the old character actors, there's bound to be at least one you'll enjoy here.

Any Number Can Play has not yet been released to DVD, so you're going to have to catch one of the TCM airings.

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