TO PLEASE A LADY (director: Clarence Brown; screenwriters: Marge Decker/Barre Lyndon; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Robert Kern; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Clark Gable (Mike Brannan), Barbara Stanwyck (Regina Forbes), Adolphe Menjou (Gregg), Will Greer (Jack Mackay), Roland Winters (Dwight Barrington), William C. McGaw (Joie Chitwood); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clarence Brown; Warner Home Video; 1950)
“It’s not worth much as melodrama, but the action sequences are highly entertaining.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Typical but unremarkable star vehicle romantic drama for Clark Gable. It’s about the volatile love affair between a thrill-seeking arrogant racecar driver, Mike Brannan (Clark Gable), and an arrogant glib influential syndicated newspaper and radio columnist Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck). She’s the Walter Winchell-like gossip columnist who goes after those she doesn’t like in a ruthless manner with scathing columns and he’s the cocky wartime decorated marine who goes from being a national hero to being booed at the track for risking the driver’s lives as he tries to win at all costs.
Director Clarence Brown (“Intruder in the Dust “/”The White Cliffs of Dover”/”Idiot’s Delight”) keeps it on track as pure hokum that’s all about the racing cars going at high speed, while writers Marge Decker and Barre Lyndon let the track action scenes speak louder than the words. It’s not worth much as melodrama, but the action sequences are highly entertaining.
Forbes writes a highly negative column against Brannan after a driver is killed by his aggressive ride during a midget racing car race in Newark. Her column goes national and gets him banned from the midget car racing circuit by owners who fear their track will be shut down. When Brannan realizes no one will give him a break, he joins the circus run by Joie Chitwood (William C. McGaw) as a “thrill driver,” performing crashes and other daredevil stunts. He thereby saves up enough money to buy a big racing car from Jack Mackay (Will Geer, blacklisted a few months after the film and not allowed to return to Hollywood until some 11 years after) and plans to enter the Indianapolis 500.
Feeling guilty about taking away his livelihood and realizing she’s hot for him, Forbes attends one of Brannan’s circus shows and learns that he’s planning a comeback. After the show, Brannan smacks Forbes across the face and then plants a forceful kiss on her. This leads to a more positive relationship between the two and brings on the big race on Memorial Day in Indianapolis, where we wonder about such things as if Brannan will win racing’s most prestigious race, will he control his reckless macho driving ways, will the two fall in love and will Forbes’ cynical effete jealous editor, Gregg (Adolphe Menjou), ever stop running his mouth with nasty comments about Brannan!
Gable and Stanwyck make for a good romantic onscreen duo. To Please a Lady was the second feature the pair made together. Their first, Night Nurse (1931), was made nearly 20 years earlier at Warner Bros. when Gable wasn’t yet a star.
Despite the great racing footage (the climactic racing scene was shot on location at the Indianapolis Speedway), the appealing performances by the stars and the crowd-pleasing story, the film still wasn’t a box office success. The studio blamed it on the new popularity of television.
REVIEWED ON 5/26/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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