Clark Gable, Marilyn Maxwell, and Loretta Young in Key to the City (1950)


(director: George Sidney; screenwriters: Robert Riley Crutcher/from the story by Albert Beich; cinematographer: Harold Hal Rosson; editor: James Newcom; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Clark Gable (Steve Fisk), Loretta Young (Clarissa Standish), Marilyn Maxwell (Sheila the ‘Atom’ Dancer), Frank Morgan (Fire Chief Duggan), Raymond Burr (Les Taggart), James Gleason (Sgt. Hogan), Lewis Stone (Judge Silas Standish); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wayne Z. Griffin; MGM; 1950)

“The laughs are hard to come by.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Sidney directs this routine romantic/comedy in a routine way. At the annual Mayors Convention in San Francisco, Mayor Clarissa Standish (Loretta Young) of Winona, Maine meets Mayor Steve Fisk (Clark Gable) of Puget City, California. They are from opposite coasts and backgrounds. She’s a blueblood, Harvard law school grad, while he’s a roughneck ex-longshoreman born on the wrong side of the tracks. What they have in common is that they are both honest politicos and are physically attracted to each other. But the stiff Clarissa is out of her element in Steve’s fast world of dames and booze. He’s dating sexy “atom dancer” Sheila (Marilyn Maxwell), but suddenly has eyes for the mayor because she looks like a chorus dancer. On her first night in town, the two get arrested in the alley for sneaking out of a nightclub brawl, and she gets her picture on the front page of the newspaper.

Crooked politician Taggart (Raymond Burr) is representing a crooked builder and while Steve is out of town, he tries to push through a bill that will cheat the taxpayers. After the mayor vetoes the bill, Taggart tries to blackmail Steve so he will reconsider. Since Steve is in the middle of a reelection campaign, Taggart threatens to tell how Steve got arrested in the brawl and again for posing as a child (using a mix up situation to stir up some forced comedy) if he doesn’t play ball.

The stock characters try to squeeze laughs out of a series of stock situations, but the laughs are hard to come by and the stars are not up to the physical comedy required. Predictably the two opposites fall in love and have to iron out a mix up or two more before they get reconciled to tie the knot. After the convention Clarissa’s kindhearted Uncle Silas (Lewis Stone), a circuit judge, flies to Puget City to straighten things out and talk Clarissa into making up with Steve over a misunderstanding about Sheila. Steve’s loyal pal, the fire chief, Duggan (Frank Morgan), stays by his side as he battles the crooked politicos at City Hall. By the end everything comes up smelling like a crimson rose, except the picture–that just plain stinks.