BOOM TOWN (1940) 

Clark Gable
Spencer Tracy
Claudette Colbert
Hedy Lamarr
Frank Morgan
Lionel Atwill
Chris Wills
Marion Martin
Minna Gombell
Joe Yule
Horace Murphy

Jack Conway



Time: 119 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Adventure/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

Only big Tracy or Gable fans will find any enjoyment from this love triangle set amongst the big money world of oil refining. The film starts out with John Sand (Tracy) and John McMasters (Gable), two oil wildcatters, forming an uneasy friendship in an effort to strike it rich by drilling in the middle of nowhere Texas. Their initial endeavor fails to bring up anything but salt water, however, some extra effort and a whole lot of finagling lands them and their new backer Luther Aldrich (Morgan) on the road to riches. All is right with the world until McMasters falls in love with and marries Betsy (Colbert), the woman Sand was hoping would become his wife. She came to Texas to let Sand down easy and fell for McMasters instead. Sand is devastated by the news of their nuptials, but finally accepts the union when he sees how happy Betsy is with her choice.

Of course, as the years go by and their fortunes fluctuate, she begins to regret her decision. As much as McMasters loves her, he can't stop his eye from wandering. Sand, who still yearns to be with Betsy, can't stand the way she's being treated, which prompts an angry dissolution to his business partnership with her husband. Their paths to wealth and success within the oil game cross over the years, but neither man will budge in regards to their friendship.

After stints in South America, they both wind up in New York, McMasters working his latest and greatest scheme and Sand just trying to get back on his feet. Both men manage to put aside their feelings (after much arguing and drinking) and they form a new truce. That is until Sand discovers the little piece of fluff – in the gorgeous form of Hedy Lamarr – McMasters has been keeping on the side. He claims their relationship is strictly business, but it's clear from the look in her eyes that she's playing for keeps. Sand knows this is the perfect opportunity for him to finally achieve his heart's desire – a life with Betsy.

"This is an old-time barroom fight. The man who hits first wins, and that's me."

Tired of being taken for granted and devastated by her husband's affection defection, Betsy agrees to go away with Sand. What neither of them anticipates is how hard McMasters will fight to keep his family together. In the midst of trouble with his company and the government, McMasters has everything to lose and only true love to gain. It's a heady battle to the finish as he tries to stay out of jail and regain the respect and trust of the one person who stood by him through thick and thin. There are several other sub-plots and double-crosses that I won't go into here because they don't really matter in the end. They are merely included to give the ladies a few meaty moments of their own.

It would all be very touching and exciting if there were any doubt as to the outcome. However, the winners in this love contest are clear from the start. As sweet and smart as Spencer Tracy is, he's no match for the pure animal magnetism of Clark Gable. Granted BOOM TOWN is far from your average romance, given that it takes place in the intriguing world of oil refining, but the road to domestic bliss is all too familiar. My guess is that the film maker's's needed an angle to get the ladies into the theater. Without a little romance there's no way any woman would pay good money to watch an adventure film filled with grubby men drilling for oil. The fact that it stars Gable and Tracy certainly makes the subject highly more palatable, mainly because at the very least they're nice to look at. They also have good chemistry, playing off each other's strengths and weaknesses quite beautifully. The scene where they drink and make-up is a real doozy and one of the film's most entertaining moments.

Unfortunately, like many films made today, the mixture of action and romance doesn't blend well. The love angle drags down the adventure slowing the picture to a crawl, yet it's also the only reason we care at all about what happens to these people. While all involved give subtle and moving performances, the plot is just not up to the level of their talent. This is certainly not the worst film any of the leads have made, yet it's not one to seek out either. It's old-fashioned, over-the-top and more boring than entertaining. I give them credit for attempting to bring something new to the table, giving the audience a peek into a world few knew anything about. However, after watching this film, I can see why it's the first and last film to cover the topic. The idea of striking it rich by finding oil makes the heart pound with possibilities, the reality puts one to sleep with the mundanity of the pursuit.

home | reviews | actors | actresses | film heaven | all reviews