Jack Thornton has trouble winning enough at cards for the stake he needs to get to the Alaska gold fields. His luck changes when he pays $250 for Buck, a sled dog that is part wolf to keep ...
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Two brothers, Ben and Clint, join a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. While heading for Texas they save Nella from the Indians, and she decides to ride with them. Ben and Nella start to ... See full summary »
Clark Gable plays a card cheat who has to go on the lam to avoid a pesky cop. He meets a lonely, but slightly wild, librarian, Carole Lombard, while he is hiding out. The two get married ... See full summary »
Jack Thornton has trouble winning enough at cards for the stake he needs to get to the Alaska gold fields. His luck changes when he pays $250 for Buck, a sled dog that is part wolf to keep him from being shot by an arrogant Englishman also headed for the Yukon. En route to the Yukon with Shorty Houlihan -- who spent time in jail for opening someone else's letter with a map of where gold is to be found -- Jack rescues a woman whose husband was the addressee of that letter. Buck helps Jack win a $1,000 bet to get the supplies he needs. And when Jack and Claire Blake pet Buck one night, fingers touch. Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
THE CALL OF THE WILD (20th Century Pictures, 1935), directed by William A. Wellman, released at the time when classic literature becomes classic cinema, ranks one of the finer Jack London based stories transferred to the screen in spite the fact that it's actually a free adaptation to his classic 1903 novel. In true Hollywood tradition, this version plays like a matinée western, handsome hero, comic sidekick, pretty heroine and nasty villain. Instead of a horse, there's a tough St. Bernard by the name of Buck, who, unlike the novel, is a secondary character, leaving much of the story to its hero, Jack Thornton.
Opening title: "Yukon, 1900, Skagway - mushroom metropolis, the first stop on the long trail to the gold fields." After gambling away his fortune at the gambling tables of The Great Northern where people gather together for wine, liquor and cigars, Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) meets up with his old pal, "Shorty" Houlihan (Jack Oakie). Having served a six month jail sentence for opening another man's letter containing a map to a gold mine compiled by the late Martin Blake, Shorty, who copied the map by memory after destroying the original, invites Thornton to accompany him in the search. Along the way, Thornton acquires vicious St. Bernard named Buck from Joe Groggins (Sidney Toler), saving the animal from being shot by the demanding Mr. Smith (Reginald Owen), whom the dog despises; and Claire (Loretta Young), of San Francisco, camping alone in the woods surrounded by wolves, who happens to be the wife of John Blake, son of the late gold prospector. Blake, who's been missing for a week, is believed to be dead. Not wanting to leave the Blake woman alone in the wild, Thornton takes her with them. Together they form a partnership searching for gold while Blake (Frank Conroy), very much alive, having fallen victim to Smith and his murderous assistants (Charles Stevens and Lalos Encinas) out to get the claim for themselves.
With THE CALL OF THE WILD having been screened earlier by Pathe (1923) with Jack Mulhall; adapted again in 1972 starring Charlton Heston, and a several more in later years, it's the Gable version that's remembered best. Gable, on loan from his home studio of MGM, makes one of the finer Jack London heroes, forceful and confident; and perfect Hollywood leading man by the way of romance. Buck, having little to do plot-wise, serves the film's purpose with a key scene in the Dawson City sequence where he pulls a thousand pound load sled through the cheering crowd of spectators a hundred yards on slippery snow towards his calling master as part of a $1,000 bet Thornton made with Smith. Aside from fine chemistry between Gable and Young (who worked together again in the 1950 MGM comedy, KEY TO THE CITY), Buck has his call of the wild with a female dog companion as well.
Anyone reading the closing cast credits will notice that Katherine DeMille, listed for the role of Marie, is non-existent in the final print. According to Bob Dorian, former host of American Movie Classics, during one of its many broadcasts during the 1990s, mentioned that DeMille's scenes were cut after its initial premiere due to her questionable character, reducing its original 95 minute length to 81, where it has been since. It's believed her character appeared during the latter portion of the opening saloon sequence, prior to Thornton's purchase of Buck, which explains the immediate cut from one scene to another. As it stands now, no prints involving "Marie" exists today. What has survived, according to an episode of the 1970s TV documentary, "That's Hollywood," narrated by Tom Bosley, is a cut scene involving Smith's shooting Shorty over a gambling debt. Because audiences couldn't accept comedian Jack Oakie getting killed, it was cut with Oakie's scenes rewritten. Unlike most movies at that time, filmed mostly inside the studio set, THE CALL OF THE WILD ads touches of realism with its location shooting in the Washington State mountains. Rumor has it that freezing temperatures caused production delays. Overall, THE CALL OF THE WILD is best noted for the off-screen romance chemistry between Gable and Young, as profiled during A&E's "Biography" on either Gable or Young.
Of all the Gable movies placed on VHS and DVD, it's a wonder why THE CALL OF THE WILD was never distributed on home video, considering its popularity due to frequent commercial TV revivals in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, unlike the now forgotten WHITE FANG (20th-1936), another Jack London based story transferred to the screen. Starring Michael Whalen and Jean Muir, it's opening titles read "A sequel to "The Call of the Wild." Aside from the title character being an offspring of Buck, and no sign of Clark Gable's Jack Thornton, there is a villain in the story named "Beauty" Smith, as portrayed by John Carradine, but not the same Smith wonderfully portrayed by Owen. Besides its former broadcasts on American Movie Classics prior to 2005, THE CALL OF THE WILD has also appeared on the Fox Movie Channel and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: November 7, 2012)(***)
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