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HUCKSTERS, THE (director: Jack Conway; screenwriters: Luther Davis/Edward Chodorov/George Wells/based on the novel by Frederic Wakeman; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Frank Sullivan; music: Lennie Hayton; cast: Clark Gable (Victor Norman), Deborah Kerr (Kay Dorrance), Sydney Greenstreet (Evan Llewellyn Evans), Adolphe Menjou (Mr. Kimberly), Ava Gardner (Jean Ogilvie), Keenan Wynn (Buddy Hare), Edward Arnold (Dave Lash), Frank Albertson (Max Herman), Douglas Fowley (Georgie Gaver); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.; MGM; 1947)
“Even though the film turns out as a passable farce it doesn’t have the same sting as the book.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sanitized version of the best-selling novel by Frederic Wakeman that should have been made by Billy Wilder to do it justice, even though the film turns out as a passable farce it doesn’t have the same sting as the book.

The Scottish-born Deborah Kerr makes her American film debut. Also, this was Clark Gable’s second film after his return from serving in World War II, with the first one Adventure (1945) being a cumbersome comedy that was a bomb. The Hucksters, however, was acclaimed by critics and was a box-office smash, returning Gable to pre-war superstar status and aiding the budding careers of both Kerr and Ava Gardner.

Director Jack Conway (“Viva Villa!”/”A Yank At Oxford”/”Boom Town”) keeps the biting satire slick and lightweight. He makes it a message film, as he points out that admen are always trying to put something over on someone. The satire comes in the early post-war period when Americans were still not that aware of how they were being manipulated by hucksters to hawk their products on the radio and films were just getting ready to deal with that subject after a number of books and magazine articles were written tearing into advertisers.

Clark Gable plays Vic Norman, a former radio advertising executive who just returned from World War II and wants to make $25,000 a year in the new American prosperity. The fast-talking adman goes to work for the top-notch Kimberly Advertising Agency, run by the always nervous Kimberly (Adolphe Menjou). Deborah Kerr plays Kay Dorrance, a wealthy English widow of a general, living on Sutton Place in Manhattan and with two young children. Kay endorses Beauty Soap, Kimberly’s biggest client, and meets Vic. They fall in love on first sight. Only she’s the cautious type and their affair is put on hold.

Evan Llewellyn Evans (Sydney Greenstreet) is boss of the soap company they are both plugging, and he’s a crass despot who gathers yes men around him and likes to intimidate those under him with his tantrums. In his initial meeting with Vic he spits on the table and chants “Irritate! Irritate!”, which he indicates is how advertising should be conducted so the public will remember the product.

Jean Ogilvie (Ava Gardner) is Vic’s old flame, a sexy nightclub chanteuse. Vic tries to get her a contract with the new radio show he’s putting together for Evans while in California. But she’s disappointed that he loves Kay and that their romance never materializes because of that. Keenan Wynn plays Buddy Hare, a third-rate vaudeville comedian with stale jokes, whom Evans assigned Vic the task of going to Hollywood to sign to a contract. The problem is that Hare is under contract to David Lash (Edward Arnold). Lash, an underprivileged juvenile delinquent from New York who straightened out his life and became a success, is blackmailed by the career-minded Vic into letting his client sign with him.

Back in New York, everything goes right for Vic. Kimberly will pay him $35,000 a year (and bonus) and Evans accepts the audition tape of the radio show. But Vic decides he can’t work for such a bully and sell out his soul, so he calls Evans a tyrant, pours a pitcher of water on his head and says adios to being a huckster. Kay agrees with his choice, saying a man should do what he wants to do and not sellout for a salary. She agrees to marry him regardless of how much money he makes. The last shot is of the Brooklyn Bridge, which reminded me of the old joke about selling the bridge to someone who is gullible; that is, if you believed, like I did and also apparently the filmmaker, the Gable character would always be a huckster, unable to change and is selling himself to Kerr, then that last shot simply implies–‘boy, do I have a bridge I want to sell you.’


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”