The Hucksters (1947)

Directed by Jack Conway
The Hucksters is a 1947 MGM film directed by Jack Conway and starring Clark Gable that marked the debut of Deborah Kerr in an American film. The supporting cast includes Sydney Greenstreet, Adolphe Menjou, Keenan Wynn, Edward Arnold and Ava Gardner. The movie is based on the novel The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman, Sr., a skewering of the post-World War II radio advertising industry with a racy backdrop for its day involving Gable and his alternating pursuit of Kerr and Gardner.
Cary Grant turned down the lead role. He suggested it to Clark Gable.
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Storyline

Victor Norman is just out of the service and looking for a job in advertising. By playing hard to get, he figures that he can get a good job and a large salary. The first thing he has to do is get a war widow to endorse Beautee Soap – a client of the Kimberly Agency. He meets with Kay Dorrance and gets the endorsement and Mr. Evans, the head of Beautee Soap is temporarily happy. Victors job is now to work with Mr. Evans, a man who is a strict and demanding client. Everything should be rosy, but Victor, a bachelor, finds himself more attracted to Kay, a widow, than young single Jean Ogilvie.

The character portrayed by Sydney Greenstreet was allegedly based on the CEO of American Tobacco in the 1940’s, whose relentless slogans were drilled into the radio audience: “LS/MFT: Yes, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco” and,when the cigarette package changed from forest green to white, in order to appeal to women, “Lucky Strike Green has gone to war!”

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Clark Gable initially turned down the film after reading the script. He said of the book, “It’s filthy and it isn’t entertainment.” He accepted the role only after major alterations were made in the story, including changing Deborah Kerr‘s character from a married woman to a widow, and the toning down of the novel’s sharp indictment of Madison Avenue.

The Hucksters, a really good film about the advertising game, became instantly dated almost from its release. A new box with both voices and pictures was invading American living rooms in 1947 just around the time this fine film was released. So a film about advertising for the radio became immediately dated.

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The situations and the ethics involved in those situations however are still as real today as they were post World War II.

Clark Gable who had done three years service in World War II brings just the right dimension to the character of Vic Norman who is anxious to restart his career in the advertising game. But also having been fighting against tyranny overseas, you know it’s only a matter of time before he and Sydney Greenstreet clash head on.

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I don’t know what deal Louis B. Mayer made with Jack Warner to get Greenstreet over to MGM for his part as Evan Llewellyn Evans the soap king, but it was well worth it. Next to his movie debut as Casper Guttman, this is Greenstreet’s best moment on screen. Greenstreet is the sadistic tyrannical head of a soap manufacturing firm who delights in making everyone jump at his slightest whim.

The one who jumps the highest is Adolphe Menjou. This is also one of Menjou’s finest roles as Kimberley the head of the agency that has Greenstreet’s account and where Gable wants to work. Menjou is one ulcer driven man who started his agency with Greenstreet’s account and has now worked himself into virtual slavery for the big money Greenstreet pays him. Menjou is quite an object lesson for where you could go wrong in the advertising game.

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Both Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner are in this film as Gable’s love interests. This was Kerr’s first American film and she basically set her image of refinement in this film. She’s the English widow of an American general from World War II and Gable meets her by trying to sell her on endorsing Greenstreet’s soap.

This was Ava Gardner’s first big role in a major film and even with a dubbed voice for singing, she’s just fine as the nightclub singer who’s got a big old thing for Clark Gable. This was the first of three films she did with Gable, besides Lone Star and Mogambo. Their chemistry is pluperfect.

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One of Greenstreet’s whims is getting a radio show for a second rate burlesque comedian played by Keenan Wynn. Wynn himself has an interesting part. He’s a second rate talent at best and you can see he really knows it. Yet he bluffs his way through life with a certain braggadocio which is charming in its own way.

And Wynn isn’t so totally offbase with his dream either. Five years before Buck Privates hit the screen, second rate burlesque comedians were what you would have described Abbott and Costello. Why shouldn’t Keenan Wynn dream of their kind of success.

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Whenever I watch The Hucksters I’m reminded of Bewitched. Remember that Darren Stevens is also in the advertising game and half the plots of that show involved him dealing with a difficult client and Samantha working things out with a bit of nose magic. What was Bewitched in fact, but witchcraft and advertising.

I’m sure dealing with Greenstreet, Gable wished that either Kerr or Gardner had a little nose twitch magic that he could have used with the soap king. Failing that he has to take a direct approach.

And that folks, is something to sit through this very fine film to see.

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One of Gable’s better films, though it is often forgotten

9/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
6 June 2005

This film is a very cynical look at the advertising business. Gable plays a slick liar who could charm the stripes off a snake who sets out to charm a widow for his own ends. However, over time he grows to hate himself and his sleazy business–ultimately culminating with a confrontation with the revolting and incredibly disgusting Sidney Greenstreet! Speaking of Mr. Greenstreet, he is FABULOUS in the film as the president from a soap factory with no soul. You MUST see the segment when he is first introduced, as it is one of the most memorable and disgusting scenes in the 1940s! You gotta see it to believe it! Also notable is the performance of a young Keenan Wynn as an obnoxious and untalented star. He does a good job of being annoying!

Sydney Greenstreet;Clark Gable

Clark Gable (L) and Sydney Greenstreet (C, standing) acting in scene from The Hucksters. (Photo by Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

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