Honky Tonk (1941)


Honky Tonk

Release Date: October 1,1941
Directed by: Jack Conway

Lana Turner
Frank Morgan

Available on DVD throughThe Warner Brothers Archive Collection

DearMrGable.com’s Movie of the Month, December 2012

Gable is fugitive con artist Candy Johnson, who stumbles upon the small town of Yellow Creek while on the run. He quickly takes advantage of the town’s lack of law and order. He also steals the heart of Elizabeth (Turner), a Boston-bred girl with a crooked father (Morgan). Although he insists he can’t be tied down, she manipulates him into marrying her and he becomes the most respected man in Yellow Creek. Her father doesn’t trust him, however, and sets out to destroy his reputation in town.


Hollywood magazine, December 1941:

*** The starring combination of Clark Gable and Lana Turner is a potent one. There’s going to be a lot of mention made of their love scenes in Honky Tonk. As a matter of fact, the strongest drawing power of the film lies in the romance of the two leads. It is regrettable that their talents did not have a stronger vehicle in which to shine. Honky Tonk has all the elements of a rousing good show–colorful backgrounds, acting, a strong role for Clark, humor, and a refreshing touch of bawdiness. However, it moves along slowly, is poorly constructed and loses what possible punch it might have carried, long before the end. Gable is Candy Johnson, a “con guy: who is run out of so many towns he decides to build one of his own. He browbeats his way into control of one, and to cover his gambling operations, plays benefactor by building a school and church. He meets Miss Turner, a school teacher from New England, who has come West to join her father, Frank Morgan, who himself is a grafter covering his nefarious dealings by posing as a judge. Before the picture reaches a labored climax, Morgan is killed, Clark and Lana go through numerous misunderstandings, and Gable is again run out of the town he built.

Photoplay magazine, January 1942:

Honky Tonk rambles and it rambles, and it gets nowhere, but in its circling it does manage to gather up Lana Turner and Clark Gable and give them a twirl on the usual sexy old merry-go-round. Gable is a Western con man who makes his living off “suckers”. He and his pal Chill Wills get elected the big bosses of a Western town, tax the people into rebellion and escape with their hides, their unreformed minds and little else; except of course, Lana, daughter of Frank Morgan. But the customers will get their money’s worth out of one embrace after another between Clark and Lana—that is, if that’s what they paid their money for.

Your reviewer says: Hot stuff.

Cosmopolitan magazine, September 1941:

***1/2 This saga of a con man working the old shell-and-pea game in the days of the six-shooter is a straight, unadulterated escapist show. What is more important to feminine fans is the fact that it’s a natural vehicle for Clark Gable. The big fellow with the sardonic smile goes to town in Honky Tonk. He talks his way out of several lynchings. He has a dance hall sweetheart known as “Gold Dust” and a lovely wife who doesn’t care how much of a heel he is. Unless I’m mistaken, most people will refer to the picture as the new Gable movie rather than as Honky Tonk.

For a good half of the action the show is just as good as Gable. The opening scene, in which the nefarious hero talks his way out of being tarred and feathered, is a honey. So are the saloon brawls which put him in the saddle as undisputed boss of a Nevada mining town. Even the romantic interludes are believable and amusing. Then the production, for no good reason, gets involved in episodic plot complications and winds up in a rash of phony sentiment and phony melodrama. Since the work was an original script, there is no excuse for this. Anyway, it blunts what might have been a sharp and colorful entertainment.

Gable, as I’ve intimated, is rarely at a loss playing the role of the confidence man. Until his implausible regeneration in the ending, he’s in there punching with both fists, shooting, cheating, and making whirlwind love. Lana Turner is not nearly up to him as the aristocratic gal who loves him in spite of his skulduggery. But Frank Morgan, Claire Trevor, Marjorie Main, and the other supporting players uphold the best MGM traditions. A tighter story and Honky Tonk would have rated four stars.

Newspaper, September 25, 1941:

Something to tone up your blood stream, open your pores and steady your respiration at a healthy throbbing march is a streaming emotional Turkish bath installed yesterday, doubtless for the fall and winter and possibly next spring too, at the Warfield. And they call it simply “Honky Tonk.”

This movie’s open secret is that it crowds onto one narrow, inflammable strip of celluloid the reddest blooded manipulator of basic box office therapy, Clark Gable, and Hollywood’s newest reigning Queen Honey Bunny Boo, Lana Turner.

The news is that MGM’s producer Pandro Berman, Director Jack Conway and Writers Marguerite Roberts and Jack Stanford have done right by their salubrious secret, professionally, expensively, frankly and more than engagingly. I feel wonderful.

Back with Chill Wills to another frontier Boom Town (Yellow Crik, Nev.) comes Clark “Candy” Gable, a limber con man of humor, sharpness and untiring, implacable stature–a born leader of suckers, an opportunist custom made for bonanza political bossing, and a gay dog too!

And so who are we to censure lov’ble li’l Lana, whose softness is something you can almost feel from her simplest wide eyed look, if she too surrenders–particularly since she has, sweetly and ingeniously, tricked the disarming high voltage viper into marrying her first.

There follow lusty years and racy dialogue, both greased and loaded with knowing humor, as well as a satisfactory assortment of killings and such clever dramatic instances as that in which Lana’s old man (Frank Morgan) denounces his son-in-law before the Governor –thus serving only to clinch the business deal between the two latter scoundrels.

There are brilliant (and brilliantly photographed) performances by all principals, which is also to include Marjorie Main and Claire Trevor, appearing to represent golden hearted frontier belles of contrasting age and morals. Albert Dekker does a satisfactory turn as a political competitor, a marked man, of course, from the beginning.

“Honky Tonk” accounting for 106 minutes, there’s no companion feature.

Quote-able Gable:

“I’ll tell you once again, my friends, if you think my partner and I cheated you, you’re making the mistake of you lives! And yet I can stand here with my own gun pointed at me and say–to err is human, to forgive is divine.” first lines

“I’m tired of being run out of somebody else’s town. I’m going to find me a town of my own. I’m going to be the gent who says go or stay.”

“I’ve got a wonderful memory–never forget a face, never forget a place.”

“My, my, be careful where you spit–you might hit a sucker.”

“You know what happens to little boys who play with matches? They do funny things in the dark.”

“Oh, pardon me while I clean out my ears!”

“I never joke with money in my hand.”

“I was always taught to turn the other cheek!”

“Candy–outside of a woman’s lips, the sweetest thing on earth. Good for the nerves, steadies the hand
and clears the eye.”

“Have you any idea what a gal like you could do to a gent like me?”

“Well, I’ve seen women I’d look at quicker, but never one I’d look at longer.”

“You’ve got a full set of Boston principles which are about as easy on a man as a hair suit!”

“You’re prettier than a little white kitten with a blue ribbon on it.”

“Well I’m a citizen like this–I like to know that every door works both ways. When I walk in,
I’ve gotta know I can walk out.”

“Well then, I’m going to get you off my mind if I have to hire a man with a gun to keep me away from you!”

“I’ve got a compliment for you:  you’re prettier than you were last night.”

“You married trouble, honey.”

“You ought never to open your mouth except to eat.”

“Every time I get a hold of you, I forget we’re married.”

“I never can figure it out–whether you’re prettier by lamplight or by daylight.”

“Anything I like I don’t let get away from me.”

“I’m through talking to suckers and I’m through running. “Bad luck to say goodbye twice to the same person.”

“You’re here because you’re crazy about me. You like me the way I was and the way I always will be. You wouldn’t change a hair on my head.”final lines

Behind the Scenes:

Filming began on June 2, 1941.

Turner became flustered when Carole Lombard turned up on set during the filming of one of Turner
and Gable’s love scenes. Feeling Lombard’s stare, she ran to her dressing room and when she re-emerged, Lombard was gone. She assumed Gable had asked her to leave. When Turner apologized, Gable simply said, “I understand.”

Rumors were rampant that Gable and Turner were having an affair during filming–rumors they both denied. To show a united front, Gable and Lombard attended the first preview together hand in hand.

The pairing of Gable and Turner was called “the team that makes steam” by the press.

Honky Tonk was MGM’s highest grossing film of 1941 and cemented Turner’s place as a leading lady. It was also one of the most successful films of Gable’s career.

In Production: Honky Tonk
from Modern Screen Magazine, November 1941

Out on sprawling Lot 3, MGM carpenters whipped up the town of Yellow Creek, largest set Hollywood’s ever seen–three acres of late ’90’s streets and buildings, including a City Hall, a mansion, and the biggest tent ever built for pictures. Three hundred of “Honky Tonk’s” 500 bearded and booted extras crowd into this canvas colossus for one scene. It houses Clark Gable’s roaring Square Deal Saloon and the largest collection of gambling devices ever assembled in one spot:  60 slot machines, seven roulette layouts, seven crap tables, faro, chuck-a-luck and wheels of fortune. All this canny Metro bought up when the Mexican Government expropriated the $5,000,000 Casino at Agua Caliente about three years go. This was once a favorite Hollywood haunt and is now a military school for boys.

Production headaches:  One scene called for a cook to fry steaks for hungry miners/ Economically, the studio tried faking it, but the sizzle didn’t look real. So off went the supply department for 35 or 40 juicy tenderloins, and all day the extras happily gorged themselves…Gambler Gable’s three assistants are lady barbers. And even in Hollywood the combination of tonsorial and thespian art is non-existent. So Metro picked out three stock girls, gave them a short, intensive course in hair-cutting and shaving under Studio Barber Jimmy Adams.

Biggest job of Costume Designer Adrian was to keep billowing gowns of the period from hiding Lana Turner’s streamlined curves. For rowdy dancer Claire Trevor he sketched out a dilly of an ensemble almost entirely made up of vari-colored ostrich feathers…Lana watched Gable closely during entire shooting to get acting pointers. A Rummy fiend, she played endless games between scenes with her hairdresser for lunches, lost consistently. After one week the latter had gained six pounds, so they switched to mythical money stakes. At picture’s end, Lana owed the girl $8,000,000….Frank Morgan, who had promised himself a post-shooting fishing trip on his elegant “Corsair”, inspected wares of sporting goods salesmen between scenes, incurred Director Jack Conway’s ire by trying out swordfish tackle.

Though sweater girl Lana Turner plays a prim Boston schoolmarm who tricks Gambler Gable into marriage after succumbing to his muscular charms, Marjorie Main is more appropriately cast as a lady who conducts a mission. In private, tall, gaunt Marjorie neither smokes, drinks nor swears, says, “I come from the Middle West where people don’t like women who do those things.” For the first time in her life, she broke down and bought a car at the beginning of this picture. She drove it twice, sold it, explained she preferred buses.

One hirsute extra did a slow burn after Dead Shot Gable had “killed” him. The camera moved off on a truck shot, and the extra lay “dead” two hours thinking it would come back. It didn’t.

Tensest moment in the whole pic is a scene in which Gable and his favorite screen enemy, Albert Dekker, indulge in a “last bullet” duel. Emptying a gun of all but one shell, Gable twirls the cylinder, and they take turns snapping the trigger at their temples. When only two cylinders are left, Dekker weakens, exposes his basic cowardice. Climax of the scene is Gable’s revelation that there had never been a bullet in the gun. Sleight-of-hand expert that he is, he had “palmed” the bullet before they started.