Oil! The ebony lifeblood of American industry...and of mighty fortunes made and lost. In search of one of those black-gold fortunes, two bare-knuckle wildcatters dream, scheme, team up and square off in the make-or-break frenzy of a Texas Boom Town. In this pyrotechnics-filled film classic, the only things bigger than the adventure are the four stars: screen giants Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy as the oilmen and Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr as the women in their tumultuous lives. As the foursome struggle through the personal upheaval of love and loyalties, wealth comes a gusher ? and a rig bursts into a screen-filling inferno that could turn dreams to dust. No wonder Boom Town boomed at the box office, too, as the biggest moneymaker of 1940.
There may be a pair of impressive ladies in the cast, but don't be fooled--Boom Town is a cool love-hate buddy movie from the get-go. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy are oil wildcatters who meet during a Texas strike, take an instant dislike to each other, go into business together, tussle over a woman, break up, reunite, etc., etc. The film spans years, and various parts of the continent, as each man gets rich and goes bust with regularity. Claudette Colbert, re-teaming with It Happened One Night co-star Gable, is the woman who comes between them, and Hedy Lamarr presents a more exotic temptation later on. Another star here is the dialogue by veteran screenwriter John Lee Mahin, which--despite the wild, credulity-bending twists in the story--is chockfull of salty, slangy talk. The early scenes in the Texas town are crammed with believable oil jargon and great period touches (such as an entrepreneur who charges money to walk on planks across a muddy street). Director Jack Conway (Saratoga) gets the roughneck appeal of the material, and a sequence involving an oil fire is a knockout. Gable and Tracy, who had worked together so memorably in San Francisco, are a terrific match: Gable is all straight-ahead gusto, declaiming every line, as Tracy underplays to crafty effect. Nice supporting parts for Frank Morgan and Chill Wills span the entire movie, which ends, curiously, in a courtroom and a speech about capitalism. --Robert Horton