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Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Light Serving Of Politics

No, I won't endorse a candidate, and neither would Clark Gable and Loretta Young in 1950's Key To The City, which took considerable pains not to pick sides on any political issue, this being SOP during a studio era loathe to alienate anyone in an audience, let alone half of it. What would MGM do to avoid offense? Nearly anything, up to and including extensive re-record of dialogue if certain names needed purging. Key To The City revolves around Gable and Young as small-town mayors at a San Francisco convention, being romance/comic address of that topic and nothing more. Trouble was a name they'd chosen for the corrupt official Gable's fighting back home.

Puget City's Incorruptable Mayor Gable Gets Last Word Over Cowed Commissioners
and Soon-To-Be-Vanquished Heavy Raymond Burr

Visiting Mayor Gable Demonstrates Two-Fistedness On
San Francisco Docks
There are two, maybe more, distinct versions of Key To The City in circulation. One, with a dialogue track I assume to have been spoken by the actors, is regularly shown on TCM. In it, Clark Gable and others refer to a certain ward-heeler as "Hinshaw," this character behind would-be corruption in "Puget City," the fictional berg of which CG is mayor. Picture-makers, especially Metro, went to considerable effort in picking fictional locales that did not duplicate actual places, lest underhand conduct set there be confused with real-life happenings. Puget City was inspired invention, then as now, for there appears to be no such spot in the entirety of the United States (according to my Google search), just as "Winona, Maine," Loretta Young's hometown in Key To The City, isn't duplicated anywhere in that state (there is a Camp Winona in Maine, and a town called Winona in Minnesota).

Clark Gable and Loretta Young Go Over the Script Between Takes
The name "Hinshaw" does appear to have been an issue, however, because it eventually disappeared from the soundtrack of at least two Key prints I've seen over a past forty-five years. This was always an oddity to me ... Gable and Raymond Burr arguing over Hinshaw's perfidy on Channel 3 one night, then taking up cudgels re "Hortley" and identical misdeeds on that (same) character's part in later telecasts. The first Hortley reference I recall was when CBS ran Key To The City on its Late Movie series in 8/78. Had the name been changed to protect an innocent (or perhaps guilty) real-life Hinshaw? In any case, there was awkward re-recording throughout Key To The City, crude substitution of Hortley whenever Hinshaw was mentioned. Voice impressions, especially of Gable, were anything but on-target.

Age 48 Clark Gable Could Still Strip Down For Key To The City, Weight Gain and Need To Crash Diet Before Pics Still a Few Years Off 

"Atom Dancer" Marilyn Maxwell Figured Greatly Into
Publicity for Key To The City
Key To The City and others of post-48 lineage were what this Gable fan settled for as he leafed through Gabe Essoe's 1967 trade paperback and struck off titles showing up on syndicated TV. Where was TCM when I so desperately wanted it? As result of few available, my favorites settled upon what others called CG's weakest, including Key To The City (and To Please A Lady, which someday I will  post on). There were non-stopping repeats of these on Charlotte's Channel 3 and zero exposure of pics that had established Gable and made him King. Well, it was the same with Bogart, Flynn, others. While a seeming rest of the country watched Casablanca and The Adventures Of Robin Hood, I was in front of Tokyo Joe and Too Much, Too Soon. Such were vagaries of local television.

One of Innumerable Keys To The City Constructed By Exhibs
Key To The City isn't out from Warner Archives yet. It soon should be. Virtually all the other Gables are. He was forty-eight when Key was made. There's a scene where CG tears a phone book in half, just to let us know his King's crown still fit. Condition-wise, he could yet be photographed in boxer shorts and T-shirt (but hadn't Gable banished the latter back in 1934?). He-man credentials are further established via grappling hook contest with heavy Raymond Burr, acting as Hinshaw/Hortley's emissary. The actors are doubled in all but close-ups, Gable's stand-in so obvious as to make us wonder if there aren't three guys in the fight.

He-Guy Gable Shows He's Still King By Tearing In Half a San Francisco Phone Directory

Is It Her Make-Up Or His Golf Course Tan That Make For Such
Alarming Complexion Contrast Here?
To all and sundry's credit, Key To The City is a mature romance. There's no presenting Gable or Loretta Young as younger than actual age of both (she was 36). They play well together for a first time since Call Of The Wild in 1935, where offscreen playing resulted in a love-child aged fourteen when Key To The City was made. It was on this occasion that Young arranged for Gable to come by the house and meet, for the first time, his daughter, who knew not that the star working with mother was also her father. The conversation was detailed by grown-up Judy Lewis in her book, Uncommon Knowledge, and it's high drama (Gable would not see Judy again, and certainly would never reveal his paternity).

SECRETS THEY KEPT: Gable and Loretta Young Reunited On Screen After Fifteen Years

Director George Sidney Going Over a Next Scene with Gable
Key To The City is pleasingly old-fashioned even as it gently tweaks the Code with suggestive dialogue. The latter is almost entirely based on misunderstandings, always innocent ones, which reveals how toothless movie dialogue was in 1950, even when trying hard to be naughty. These sorts of wide-eyed exchanges (did he/she mean what I think he/she meant?) were pallid substitute for grown-up-ness gone since precode, but in Key To The City and others similar (like Warner's June Bride, trafficking in the same sort of tease), you took what you could get. What harked back loudest here was a supporting cast off MGM payrolls that had been around since Leo began roaring. Lewis Stone, a virtual monument, Frank Morgan, Professor Marvel in a fire chief's uniform, and Clara Blandick, Auntie Em in all but character name --- each play true to resolute type-casting that would shortly end for the three. Old Metro would not be the same without them.


Anonymous Ralph Schiller said...


"Key To The City" turned out to be Frank Morgan's last movie. He had started filming "Annie Get Your Gun" but died of a heart attack and was replaced by Louis Calhern in the plum role of Buffalo Bill Cody.

Ironically the film started with Judy Garland as Annie Oakley but after one her breakdowns was replaced at the last minute by Betty Hutton, in a role she was born to play.

All in all "Key To The City" is a good movie.


9:29 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Boy, haven't seen this one in years. Always linked KEYS in my mind with another Gable comedy TEACHER'S PET. Yes, I know, they were made years apart, and PET is traditionally regarded a way above average vehicle (KEYS is not.) The later film also has a special edge for me since it has scenes shot in the offices of my hometown paper, the Hartford Courant. But I believe they both had their broadcast network debuts within a short time of each other, and I caught them both as a kid. Really liked this unfamiliar old guy with the corny mustache, thought he was pretty funny. Hope Keys is out on DVD soon!

9:31 AM  
Blogger williampl7 said...

"Key To The City" goes on sale 03/12/2013 from The Warner Brothers Archives, along with two other Gable titles:"Polly At The Circus" and "Never Let Me Go"

4:16 PM  

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