“Well, they wanted gold — now they got it.”
A prospector (Clark Gable), his buddy (Jack Oakie), and their new dog accompany the rescued wife (Loretta Young) of a missing prospector (Frank Conroy) on a search for a legendary gold mine during the Klondike Gold Rush — but a weaselly rival (Reginald Owen) is determined to get there first, and will stop at nothing to claim the plot for himself.
William Wellman’s very loose adaptation of Jack London’s novel (which “omits all but one of the book’s storylines”, and adds in a romance) is best known as the film during which Clark Gable and Loretta Young had an affair that resulted in a child Young claimed was adopted, but who looked unmistakably like a hybrid of them. Indeed, the obvious chemistry between the on-screen pair (especially when we learn that Young’s presumed-missing husband is still alive) helps drive the narrative forward; that, and the convincing rapport between Gable and the lovable St. Bernard playing “Buck”. As an adventure story, Call of the Wild is pretty standard fare, though Owen is as dastardly as they come, and cold-blooded enough to pose a serious threat to the protagonists. It’s unfortunate that dehumanization of Native Americans bookends the film: in an opening scene, a large Native woman is shown pulling a man on a sled, clearly exhausting herself through heavy manual labor on behalf of white men; and in the final scene, another Native woman is shown toting gear like a sherpa, and is literally referred to by Gable as “it”. Perhaps we should thank Hollywood for preserving evidence of the casual normalcy of racism during this era.
Note: We recently visited a restaurant in Mt. Baker, Washington (where much of the film was shot), and I took some photos of memorabilia scattered across the walls:
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Young and Gable’s obvious romantic chemistry
- Fine use of outdoor locations at Mt. Baker, Washington
No, but it’s worth a look for Gable and Young’s chemistry.