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BOOM TOWN (director: Jack Conway; screenwriter: John Lee Mahin/story by James Edward Grant; cinematographers: Woody Bredell/Harold Rosson; editors: Paul Landres/Blanche Sewell; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Clark Gable (Big John McMasters), Spencer Tracy (Square John Sand), Claudette Colbert (Betsy Bartlett), Frank Morgan (Luther Aldrich), Hedy Lamarr (Karen Vanmeer), Lionel Atwill (Harry Copton), Marion Martin (Whitey), Chill Wills (Harmony Jones), Minna Gombell (Spanish Eva), Horace Murphy (Tom Murphy), Casey Johnson (Little Jack); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Zimbalist; Warner Bros. DVD (MGM); 1940)
It’s fine in the oil fields, but is a mess when indoors.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jack Conway (“Viva Villa!”/”Love Crazy”/”Honky Tonk”) directs this cliche-ridden b/w shot but enjoyable sprawling adventure American Dream drama/comedy/romance concerning two wildcatter pals, who strike a chord for those with gumption to take risks and rise from the bottom. It’s fine in the oil fields, but is a mess when indoors. It’s based on the play by James Edward Grant and the script by John Lee Mahin.

In 1918, in the Texas oil fields, wildcatters Big John McMasters (Clark Gable) and Square John Sand (Spencer Tracy) become reluctant partners in an oil well and hit a gusher. On that day, Square’s longtime hometown high school teacher girl friend, Betsy Bartlett (Claudette Colbert), pays a surprise visit and meets Big John. He came to town alone to celebrate. Betsy finds out that’s her boyfriend’s partner, while he remains unaware. After a night of fun, both fall in love and get married in the morning. The couple have a son after a year’s marriage. Square resents the way Big John treats his dream girl and they part ways after flipping a coin for ownership of the oil well and Square wins. Big John and Betsy sell their mansion and go to Oklahoma to start fresh. The couple become rich again when their oil well comes in. The restless Big John moves to New York and becomes a power in the oil industry as he hooks up with the slick inside trader Harry Compton (Lionel Atwill) and his smart adviser companion (Hedy Lamarr). Neglecting Betsy, causes her to dump him. Big John thinks by doing business with Harry, which means forming illegal monopolies, he will win back his wife. Charged with violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Big John goes on trial. To his rescue comes Square, who argues at the trial that Big Jon is actually a conservationist helping the country. It ends on a happy note with the two Johns starting over as partners again and Big John reuniting with his wife and seven-year–old son Little Jack (Casey Johnson).

Tracy and Gable worked previously in the hits San Francisco (1936) and Test Pilot (1938). Gable also reunites with his co-star from It Happened One Night (1934), Claudette Colbert.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”