KEY TO THE CITY is certainly a lighthearted, if occasionally lightheaded comedy about a Mayors' Conference in San Francisco, but it is also great fun, and a throwback to Clark Gable's enjoyable comic work of the 1930s. Since 'the King' had returned from wartime service, his films had all been preachy and somber (perhaps in deference to the continuing sense of loss he felt over the death of his wife, Carole Lombard, or, more likely, because MGM simply hadn't figured out how to best utilize the older, more care-worn veteran star), and you can see that he's enjoying every moment portraying a ruggedly virile 'Longshoreman Mayor'. Casting Loretta Young as his co-star certainly helped, as the pair had quite a history together!
Young had been a 'star' since childhood, sort of the Jodie Foster/Diane Lane of her day, and had often been attracted to her older leading men. Marrying co-star Grant Withers at 17 (it was soon annulled), she then became involved in a scandalous affair with Spencer Tracy during the filming of A MAN'S CASTLE, which ended badly when Tracy, a devout Catholic, refused to divorce his wife. At 22, she made CALL OF THE WILD with the 34-year-old Gable, and was soon pregnant with his child (after shooting ended, she took a long leave of absence for 'health' reasons, and gave birth to a girl, who she eventually adopted). Gable knew of his daughter, although the threat of scandal kept both stars silent (a child born out of wedlock would have destroyed both of their careers), creating a 'bond' between Young and Gable that surpassed any of his other co-stars. At 37 when KEY TO THE CITY was filmed, Young, by now an Oscar-winner and screen legend, was still radiantly beautiful, and the sexual chemistry between the stars was genuine. As a good-hearted but repressed New England mayor, she brought out his 'nobler' qualities, as he aroused her 'baser' desires.
One of the joys of KEY TO THE CITY is getting to see so many of MGM's legendary 'stock' company, late in their careers, but still giving 'first-rate' performances. Frank 'Wizard of Oz' Morgan, Lewis 'Judge Hardy' Stone, James 'Pop Corkle' Gleason, Raymond 'His Honor' Walburn, and Clara 'Auntie Em' Blandick all shine, as do 'future stars' Marilyn Maxwell (as a sexy dancer) and Raymond Burr, who is simply terrific as Gable's corrupt nemesis. Watch carefully, and you'll also spot veteran Western star Jack Elam, and future 'My Favorite Martian' leading lady, Pamela Britton, in small roles, early in their careers.
While some moments (Gable dressed as the 'Blue Boy', for example) are downright silly, and the climax, a 'no-holds-barred' fistfight between Gable and Burr (and Young and Maxwell), stretches credibility well past the breaking point, the film never loses it's sense of fun. This is the Gable of legend, looking good, "cracking wise", and unafraid to 'size up' a woman, or cut an opponent 'down to size'.
Definitely worth watching!
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