[Film Review] Boom Town (1940)

Boom Town poster.jpg

Title: Boom Town
Year: 1940
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance, Adventure
Director: Jack Conway
Screenwriter: John Lee Mahin
based on a story by James Edward Grant
Music: Franz Waxman
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Cast:
Clark Gable
Spencer Tracy
Claudette Colbert
Hedy Lamarr
Frank Morgan
Lionel Atwill
Chill Wills
Minna Gombell
Marion Martin
Joe Yule
Horace Murphy
Richard Lane
Rating: 7.0/10

Boom Town 1940.jpg

A chipper oldie ravishes its spectator with a gung-ho complexion that is so disarming a benignant viewer might be completely oblivious of its cut-throat capitalistic machination which is attendant with the plot’s boom-and-bust vagaries.

Two wildcatters Big John McMasters (Gable) and Square John Sand (Tracy) hit it off quickly (thanks to their mutual instinct of dodging potshots), and bouncily go for it in their oil rigging enterprise, there are hits and misses ongoing, but their archetypal bromance is put into a critical test when they are both besotted with the same dame, Betsy Bartlett (Colbert). The narrative cavalierly pass the buck to Betsy since Big John has no inkling that she is Square John’s gal, but Betsy knows Big John alright, which doesn’t stop her from jilting a more matter-of-fact Square John for the newly ignited coup-de-foudre (and it all happened one night!). Thankfully, the reunited Gable-Colbert pair knows how to play the flirtatious bonhomie right, and a bluff Tracy makes a rather surprising capitulation to the “she is not that into him” situation but is never able to get over her, instead, he becomes the watchdog of their marriage, a resolute assurer that Betsy’s happiness is unadulterated.

Therefore, the years-spanning story extends into a series friend-or-foe games between Big John and Square John, predicated on Betsy’s well-being, hopping from places to places, their fortune alternately ebbs and flows. When at its best, an oil wildfire spectacle is surely awe-inspiring through its matted black-and-white expressionism; yet in its worst, the patchy narrative wears thin quickly when the love triangle equilibrium levels out. So an extrinsic force timely arrives in the form of Hedy Lamarr’s drop-dead gorgeous Karen Vanmeer, Big John’s business advisor and a socialite who is adept at eavesdropping, as an interloper, she is not beyond reproach but for once, she is presented more than a vacuous bombshell, in fact she has the wiles to apply her own counter-moves when Square John tries to buy her out. And presciently, Spencer Tracy’s courtroom rhetoric is set ablaze in a transitory but consequential moment.

Slightly tortuous in its story-line, and 77 years have passed, Jack Conway’s BOOM TOWN has sustained to evince a pristine luster in pointing up two of the most peddled attributes of America: the land of opportunity and the propitious everything-will-be-fine motto.

referential point: Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934, 8.1/10)

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