This month, Clark Gable is an unhappy gambling man, Alexis Smith his neglected wife, Mary Astor his pleading ex-flame and Wendell Corey is devious brother-in-law in Any Number Can Play.
Gable is Charley Kyng, the owner of a gambling house in New York. After learning he has a heart problem, he begins to re-evaluate his life: his relationship with his wife (Smith) and teenage son (Darryl Hickman), his business and his associates.
This is one of Clark’s films that I didn’t like very much initially but in subsequent viewings I have become to appreciate it more and more. It’s not a masterpiece but the script is very down to earth and it is rather refreshing to see Clark playing a married man with a wife and son, not chasing skirts. At his age that was becoming a bit old hat!
Some of the reviews of the film mentioned how it was unrealistic to portray big, hulky Gable crippled by a heart condition. They all ate their words when that is exactly how he died, just over a decade later. Maybe he should have taken the doctor’s advice in the film and cut out the smoking and the drinking…
I’ve heard it said more than once that Clark’s character in this film is like what would have eventually become of his gambling, swaggering Blackie Norton from San Francisco, years in the future. That’s rather true, and it’s a good change of pace for Clark. Audiences at the time didn’t think so, missing the smirking Blackie-type characters.
Mary Astor makes a brief appearance as Clark’s ex-flame who is still carrying a torch. Their scene together in the beginning of the film, with her begging him to leave his wife, is poignant. Made all the more so by the fact that Clark and Mary were steamy co-stars in Red Dust 17 years earlier.
I find the chemistry between Clark and Alexis Smith completely lacking. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s more no-nonsense than bombshell, but the heat is not there. I suppose she is fitting for the role of the neglected wife.
Clark wasn’t too happy with Alexis’ casting. She was borrowed by MGM from Warner Brothers for the role, as Clark was getting tired of being paired with the same leading ladies over and over again. He didn’t think she fit the bill and she was a different type than he was used to playing against.
I rather enjoy Clark in the scenes with his teenage son. He didn’t get to play a father often and it’s a welcome change of pace to see him bursting with pride when his son gets in a fight or lecturing his son on showing him respect.
The supporting cast is spectacular. In addition to Mary Astor, the gambling house also sees Lewis Stone, Frank Morgan, Marjorie Rambeau and Leon Ames.
And the recently deceased Audrey Totter plays Alexis’ sister, with an untrustworthy husband and a crush on Clark. There aren’t any love scenes between Audrey and Clark, just an undertone of her longing for what her sister has. I do find it a bit strange that there are a lot of publicity stills for the film in which Clark and Audrey are posed as though they are romantic interests!