ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY (director: Mervyn LeRoy; screenwriters: Richard Brooks/from the book by Edward Harris Heath; cinematographer: Harold Hal Rosson; editor: Ralph Winters; music: Lennie Hayton; cast: Clark Gable (Charley Enley Kyng), Alexis Smith (Lon Kyng), Wendell Corey (Robbin Elcott), Audrey Totter (Alice Elcott), Mary Astor (Ada), Frank Morgan (Jim Kurstyn), Lewis Stone (Ben Gavery Snelerr), Barry Sullivan (Tycoon, Casino Manager), Marjorie Rambeau (Sarah Calbern), Edgar Buchanan (Ed), Leon Ames (Dr. Palmer), Darryl Hickman (Paul Kyng), Caleb Peterson (Sleigh), Richard Rober (Lew “Angle” Debretti), William Conrad (Frank Sistina); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; MGM; 1949)
“Routine family drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Mervyn LeRoy (“Little Caesar”) directs this routine family drama without making it resonate. It’s based on the book by Edward Harris Heath and written by Richard Brooks. Clark Gable plays Charley Enley Kyng, a rogue gambling casino owner with a good heart (he won enough money to buy the casino by beating Ben Snelerr 15 years ago in a high-stakes poker game), whose wimpy teenaged son Paul (Darryl Hickman) doesn’t respect him because he’s a gambler and his loving wife of 20 years, Lon (Alexis Smith), adores him but wishes he would retire or be in a more respectful profession. The plot revolves around Charley discovering he has a bad heart and can kick over at any moment unless he retires and eliminates his stress. Charley tells the doctor (Leon Ames) this means “If I give up living, I’ll live.”
Charley plans on giving up cigarettes and booze and taking the family on a long fishing trip to the mountains to think things over, but Paul goes into a snit and says he doesn’t want to go with his dad. When his wife won’t go without Paul, Charley returns for the big action at the casino on Saturday night. Charley graciously gives a handout to Ben, who has fallen on bad times, and overlooks that his ne’er-do-well brother-in-law Robbie Elcott (Wendell Corey) is using loaded dice to cheat him (this is especially telling since Charley not only gave him a job at the casino but lets him live with his wife Alice (Audrey Totter) for free in his mansion). When his son gets into a fracas on prom night, Charley bails him out of jail and Lon takes him for the first time to the casino so he can get to know what a real man his father is. The kid finds at the casino a loyal staff that hero worships his dad, one of the town’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens, Sarah Calbern (Marjorie Rambeau), telling him how much she deeply admires Charley for what he is, and that his dad runs an honest game. The wealthy businessman Jim Kurstyn (Frank Morgan) plays at the craps table and tells his old pal Charley he aims to break the bank. When he goes on a hot streak and with one roll of the dice can bust the house, Charley doesn’t listen to his manager (Barry Sullivan) who tells him that he’s within his rights to close the game. This act of courage, to play even if he loses everything, impresses everyone, including his son. Charley wins but the two small-time hustlers who came in with Robbie, Lew and Frank, stickup the casino. Charley calls their bluff that they won’t shoot, and overtakes the hoods with the help of his son. The film conveniently ends when Charley gives the joint away to his loyal casino staff, Paul now reunites with his dad, and the family happily goes on their long fishing trip.
The film was smothered by such contrived melodramatics, making all the characters into lifeless cardboard figures, and that Gable was looking bored and tired throughout. He seemed to be going through the motions of playing a ‘man’s man’ role he could have done much with if given the proper script.
REVIEWED ON 3/10/2005 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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