The King and Four Queens (1956) dir. Raoul Walsh
Starring: Clark Gable, Jo Van Fleet, Eleanor Parker, Jean Wilkes
Clark Gable in one of his last roles stars in this recently DVD-revived 1956 western, directed by studio vet Raoul Walsh, about an escaped desperado who happens upon a desolate town inhabited by four widows and their old gun-toting mama. It makes for a very disposable Western with both Gable and Walsh well past the prime.
Gable is Dan Kehoe, a classic Western protag; he's a womanizing, ethically challenged, lonesome wanderer. The legend of buried treasure watched over by four widows and their mother-in-law is enough to get Kehoe to the ghost town of Wagon Mound in hopes of an easy con. Once there he finds that the gals have more self-respect and honour than he thought, specifically the elder widow (Jo Van Fleet), who packs heat with her mouth and long shotgun.
Walsh and company try their best to skirt the old Hollywood "production code" with coy sexual games, tossing around numerous double entendres. Gable shamelessly goes from woman to woman, trying to score with everyone. I couldn't be sure if we're supposed to find him attractive or not but his slickly greased hair and 'Gone With the Wind' moustache makes him more dirty old man than charmer.
There's a pot of gold hidden somewhere in the town by one of the widows' dead husbands, though much of this discussion is really just a metaphor for the ladies' sexuality, which, for most of the film, they refuse to give up to Kehoe. And so the film becomes an interesting spin on the chauvinistic attitudes of men — a feminist Western where the women always have superiority. It is no surprise the writer is a woman (Margaret Fitts), who crafts her smart screenplay with everything between the lines.
Unfortunately there's no action in the picture and very little suspense. Walsh hopes his star casting and glorious widescreen Cinemascope process, shot by the great Western cinematographer Lucien Ballard, will become the spectacle. With today's eyes it's not, though the DVD transfer is as crisp as they come. Western cinephiles will be more than disappointed, as there are no special features, not even subtitles or a menu screen! Seriously, it's just the roaring MGM lion and the movie.
This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca