To Please a Lady (1950)

Directed by Clarence Brown

Plot

Racing driver Mike Brannan (Clark Gable), has a reputation for doing whatever it takes to win. Powerful nationwide columnist Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck) decides to interview Brannan just before a race, and becomes annoyed when he is rather brusque with her. Brannan and popular competitor Joe Youghal fight for the lead. When a car they are about to lap crashes in front of them, Brannan safely drives around it on the inside, forcing Youghal to try to go outside. In her column the next day, Regina blames Brannan for Youghal’s death and brings up a prior racing fatality involving him. As a result, he is barred by nervous racing circuit managers anxious to avoid bad publicity.

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Brannan has to sell his race car. He becomes a star stunt driver for Joie Chitwood, performing dangerous stunts at circuses for $100 a show. When Regina’s assistant, Gregg (Adolphe Menjou), updates her about Brannan, she shows unexpected interest. She goes to see how Brannan is doing. He tells her he has earned enough money to buy a car of his own and enter the big leagues, where Regina has no influence. She provokes him into first slapping and then kissing her. She likes it, and they start seeing each other.

He is very successful on the racetrack, but their relationship is rocky. Finally comes the big race at Indianapolis Speedway. At a key moment, Brannan drives cautiously rather than aggressively, but his car flips anyway. He is rushed to the hospital, where Regina lets him know that she is proud of him.

Annex - Gable, Clark (To Please a Lady)_01

A young Bill Hickman can be seen as one of the members of Clark Gable’s pit crew. Hickman was famous as one of the top movie stunt drivers in Hollywood for many years, and his most notable on-camera role was as the middle-aged, bespectacled driver of the black Dodge Charger that is chased by Steve McQueen‘s green Ford Mustang in the film Bullitt (1968).

Annex - Gable, Clark (To Please a Lady)_02

The film featured short-track midget car racing, a highly popular form of auto racing in post-World War II America. From the mid-1930’s through the mid-1960’s, most drivers who aspired to race in the famous Indianapolis 500 usually started competing in the midgets, then sprint cars (similar in looks, but more powerful and faster than midgets), then to “championship,” or Indianapolis-type cars.
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Fun to see the vintage racing footage

16 August 2015 | by smatysia (feldene@comcast.net) (Houston) – See all my reviews

A decent film of its era, with a very formulaic story arc between the two main characters. I had only watched this because Barbara Stanwyck was starring in it. I had no idea that it was a racing movie. But as a racing fan, it was a lot of fun to see the vintage racing footage. Even though Clark Gable was mostly acting in front of a projection screen for the racing closeups, they spliced it all together very well. And even though auto racing is dangerous now, wow, they raced open top cars with no seat belts at all, no roll bar, no fire suit, pretty much nothing at all to protect a driver except a partial helmet and goggles. Also fun to see the pit stops with a lever for a jack, and hammers to remove and replace the main tire nuts. Apparently, a lot of footage from the 1950 Indianapolis 500 was used and it was something to see.

Great racing scenes (Indy style) but they get in the way of plot development

6/10
Author: secondtake from United States
26 January 2013

To Please a Lady (1950)

Amazingly, this is from post-war America. It feels like a movie from the 1930s, both technically and the way the story is told. Even the stars, though both obviously alive and still working, are better known for their earlier work.

I’m speaking of Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck. And they have a certain degree of good chemistry on screen, though the story is so “constructed” (I’m avoiding the better word “contrived”) you don’t always feel what they are feeling, as characters. The one scene that does this best is an extended dinner at a club where a string orchestra is playing and they fall in love and then seem to fall out of love quickly. It’s really beautiful and romantic (and the strings are as lush as any string section has sounded, and I mean it).

Because of all these things this ends up being both a great fun movie and a bit of a throwback that doesn’t quite take off. The director, Clarence Brown, is also known best for much earlier movies (like the award winning pre-code “A Free Soul” which is fabulous). He’s good, the acting is good, and the story is, well, pretty good. It’s serviceable, but a little too packaged and somewhat thin going.

Another factor here is the racing itself, the Indianapolis 500. Some of the footage is clearly from real races (probably the 1949 or 1950 race…this movie was released in the fall of 1950). There are lots of scenes–too many, unless you are car racing fan–of cars zooming around the track. Credit goes to the cinematographer, Harold Rosson, who is a bit legendary because he helped with “Wizard of Oz” and did several other classics like “Asphalt Jungle” and “The Bad Seed.” The photography matters more than usual here because it’s “just” car racing, and it’s made exciting and visually intense. Closeups of Gable in the car are of course constructed in the studio, but seemalessly. Great visuals throughout.

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See this? You bet, but remember it’s really an entertainment, and it has little complexity or depth, and it has lots and lots of race track stuff that doesn’t propel the plot, just the immediate energy. It’s no classic, but it has classic qualities and faces, for sure, and I liked it. And in the end, without giving a thing away, the woman (Stanwyck) stays strong and keeps her independence, a rare thing in 1950s movies.

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