Honky Tonk (1941)

“Be careful where you spit, you may hit a sucker.”

When the western Honky Tonk begins, con man and trickster Candy Johnson (Clark Gable) and his accomplice Sniper (Chill Wills) are about to be tarred and feathered and run out of town. When he arrives in Yellow Creek, Nevada, Candy doesn’t exactly decide to go straight, but he does decide to go legitimate–keeping just inside the limits of the law. Opening a gambling joint called The Square Deal, he eventually becomes an extremely wealthy man. Along the way, he smooches the locals by giving generously to build a church. So while on one hand he fleeces the citizens with his gambling den, he also has a veneer of respectability through his reformist connections.

Candy (who’s earned his name for the fact that he carries a package of sweets in his pocket and has supposedly forsaken alcohol) has a romance with Elizabeth Cotton (Lana Turner). Elizabeth naively hopes to reform Candy.

Honky Tonk directed by Jack Conway is pure fluff–there’s nothing too serious here–it’s just a light little romantic vehicle for Clark Gable and Lana Turner. There’s a degree of dramatic tension involving saloon girl Gold Dust (Claire Trevor) that shields a degree of sexual undercurrents, and it’s Gold Dust Candy runs to when Elizabeth refuses to allow his amorous advances. One of the most curious elements of the film, however, is Lana Turner. She’s practically unrecognizable here as the sweet, dewy and naive Elizabeth. If you’re expecting a traditional western, then there’s a chance you’ll be disappointed as Honky Tonk has much more in common with a melodramatic soap than a western. If you’re a Clark Gable fan or enjoy watching Lana Turner in a role that doesn’t depict her a slinky femme fatale, then it’s worth catching Honky Tonk. From director Jack Conway.

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