The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Please a Lady

When I stumble across auto racing -- Nascar, IRL, you name it -- on TV, I can't change the channel quick enough. The idea of watching other people drive (however skilled, however talented) around tracks doesn't appeal to me in the least. So how does it make sense that I love racing movies like Le Mans, Grand Prix, the Love Bug movies? Go figure, but we can add 1950's To Please a Lady to the list, other than the whole tame 1950s porno name.

Writing a nationwide syndicated column and hosting a radio show, Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck) is one powerful person, able to build someone up as quickly as she can take them down. Her latest target is Mike Brannan (Clark Gable), a midget car racer and former WWII hero in the Marines. Brannan has earned himself villain status on the racing circus, and Regina takes him down when he's involved in an on-course accident that kills a driver. Brannan is blacklisted and not allowed to first. He climbs back up, joining the big racing circuits and hopefully getting back to the top. But if he thought he was rid of Regina and her efforts, he would be wrong. The high-powered writer isn't done with him yet.

The user reviews at the IMDB are decidedly mixed, but I liked this movie nonetheless. Some of that can be chalked up to a nostalgic factor ranging from the footage of late 1940s and early 1950 racing to the portrayal of the newspaper business (think of Stanwyck as a female Burt Lancaster from Sweet Smell of Success). Not surprisingly, a mutual interest arises between Gable and Stanwyck. I know, I didn't see it coming either. The story isn't the deepest of stories, and there are some odd moments (a quasi-phone sex scene between the two stars is kinda weird) but the end result is still entertaining.

Why is it entertaining? I don't care how simplistic the story is, when you put together actors the caliber of Gable and Stanwyck, it's going to be worthwhile to watch. There is chemistry, and then there's the chemistry these two have. It looks to be effortless. They're fighting after first meeting, and you believe it. They have little to nothing in common other than being dominant, Type-A personalities, but they're drawn to each other. Their scenes together are perfect, Gable as cool, smooth and suave as ever, Stanwyck as equally strong-willed and sexy in her confidence. Adolphe Menjou plays Gregg, Stanwyck's partner/adviser/secretary who's always needling her with Will Geer playing Jack Mackay, Brannan's team owner and pit crew leader.

Now chemistry is one thing, but I do have to mention one thing. It's never really in doubt that Stanwyck's Regina and Gable's Mike will end up together. It's just a matter of when more than if. How does it come about though? Regina basically blackballs Mike's career, and then goes and sees him about it as he tries to build his career. In arguing about the situation, Mike slaps Regina pretty forcefully (it looks like a real slap dealt by Gable). Only then does the relationship start to develop, like Regina needed a wake-up call. Call it over-analyzing, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it didn't sit right with me.

I'm figuring if you've made it this far you're looking for some sort of race analysis. This 1950 movie is a gem for racing fans, motorheads, and anyone who appreciates a good car. The footage here is insanely good, including three sequences that don't montage a race to death but show much of it in its entirety. The finale at the Indianapolis 500 is a great ending too. From midget cars to stunt shows to the stronger, more powerful cars at the Indy 500, racing fans will be more than appeased. It's a time capsule, and a good one in a surprisingly good movie overall.

To Please a Lady <---TCM trailer (1950): ***/****

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