Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ava Gardner, Night 3

Tonight is the third Thursday of Ava Gardner's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. I'm looking forward to The Naked Maja, which I haven't seen before, kicking the night off at 8:00 PM ET. Coming up quite a bit later, early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, is The Hucksters

"Hucksters", of course, is a word that comes from advertising, and this is a movie about the dark side of the world of advertising. Clark Gable plays an up-an-comer at an ad agency who recently returned from years of service in World War II. He's got a boss in Adolphe Menjou who is trying to manage the contract of tyrannical soap magnate Sydney Greenstreet. Greenstreet's controlling ways, combined with the maxim that the customer is always right, means that whenever Greenstreet says, "Jump", Menjou asks how high. And Menjou wants Gable to jump right alongside him so that he can move up in the advertising world.

Jumping means several things. First is getting war widow Deborah Kerr to sign on as a paid celebrity spokesman for Greenstreet's company. Hollywood's plots being as predictable as they are, you can guess that Gable is going to fall in love with Kerr. Things get a little more complicated when Gable meets nightclub singer Gardner and falls in love with her, too. And then there's Greenstreet's next flighty idea. He's taken a liking to comedian Keenan Wynn, and wants to get Wynn a radio show out on Los Angeles. Gable has to get the job done, or else Greenstreet will take his business to another company. The only problem is, Wynn's material is oh-so-unfunny.

It all sets up a series of moral conflicts for Gable, but because this film was made under the Production Code and made at glitzy MGM instead of socially conscious Warner Bros., the best we can hope for is that Gable comes to his moral senses in the way Jack Lemmon does in The Apartment. In reality, he and Menjou are more like the Claude Rains character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Still, The Hucksters is worth watching for Sydney Greenstreet's performance. Despite being billed third, he's the star who shines most.

The Hucksters has not received a DVD release, not even to the Warner Archive collection. So you'll have to watch TCM's showing.

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