Clark Gable is an exceptional movie star. I’m not sure how good of an actor he is–his performance in The King and Four Queens is not, for instance, nuanced and textured, but he carries it from the first minute. Movie stars today–the ones who can act–rarely carry their “fluff” roles (I’m thinking of Nicolas Cage in particular). Gable does such a good job carrying the film, entertaining the audience, it’s very easy to overlook all the problems with King and Four Queens.
He’s not alone… both Eleanor Parker and Jo Van Fleet are great too. Van Fleet is given a fuller character to work with but Parker and Gable’s scenes are nice too. Parker holds up against him in these scenes, which are quite good. The film’s pacing is completely off–it’s a small story (and a short film, eighty-two minutes)–mostly because the other three actresses are light. None of them, except maybe Jean Willes, are bad, they just don’t hold up against Gable and Van Fleet. Even so, some of those scenes are very entertaining. On the scene-level, The King and Four Queens has a great script… it’s just in the whole package, there are significant pacing problems.
I know a little about the making of the film–there were significant cut scenes and it’s the only production from Gable’s company, Gabco. Even with the unsatisfying conclusion, it’s an enjoyable experience. I haven’t seen a post-war Gable film since the last time I saw this one (maybe six years ago) and it’s incredible how well he carries the film. The title–probably giving away his role as producer–refers to MGM’s title for Gable in the 1930s, “The King of Hollywood.”
The film comes on TCM every once in a while in a watchable, but visibly unrestored print. This print’s widescreen, however, and I can’t imagine seeing it pan and scan (though I once did). Raoul Walsh likes to move his camera and hold his shots. He’s another of the film’s pleasant surprises.
Directed by Raoul Walsh; screenplay by Margaret Fitts and Richard Alan Simmons, based on a story by Fitts; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Howard Bretherton; music by Alex North; production designer, Wiard Ihnen; produced by David Hempstead; released by United Artists.
Starring Clark Gable (Dan Kehoe), Eleanor Parker (Sabina McDade), Jean Willes (Ruby McDade), Barbara Nichols (Birdie McDade), Sara Shane (Oralie McDade), Roy Roberts (Sheriff Tom Larrabee), Arthur Shields (Padre), Jay C. Flippen (Bartender) and Jo Van Fleet (Ma McDade).