Key to the City (1950)

A convention for mayors may seem like an odd place for a love match to be struck up, but that just may happen when Puget City mayor Steve Fisk (Clark Gable) and Wenonah, Maine mayor Clarissa Standish (Loretta Young) meet.

Mayor Standish is an upstanding politician, well-educated and devoted to her taxpaying public — not your average mayor. Mayor Fisk is somewhat her opposite: very outspoken and a bit rough around the edges, though not corrupt. Both are attending the San Francisco convention of their profession.

(Image via Dear Mr. Gable)
(Image via Dear Mr. Gable)

After Fisk mistakes Standish for his date, they get off to a rocky start. She’s offended by him, while he finds her to be too stuffy and work-focused. Eventually, though, their differences are overcome and they strike up a friendship. Both mayors contend with city issues and convention drama, while on a personal level, the bond between them grows.

George Sidney directs 1950’s Key to the City. This film marked the second of two pairings of Loretta Young and Clark Gable, the first being The Call of the Wild fifteen years earlier.

I’ve never seen The Call of the Wild and, quite honestly, have been hesitant to watch either Young-Gable pairing due to the behind-the-scenes story of the two. Young became pregnant with Gable’s child during production of the earlier film and went to great lengths to cover up the pregnancy. Allegations of date rape have been made; even Buzzfeed covered the story last year. (If that article’s popularity is any indication, today’s public may be reluctant to sit down and watch black and white films, but they’re more than willing to engage in old Hollywood gossip. Alas, another issue for another day.)

(Image via Movie Poster Shop)
(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

I don’t wish to add my two cents to the matter, but today’s viewer can’t help thinking of the situation when watching Key to the City, filmed over a decade after the pregnancy cover-up. It’s puzzling that they would work together again, with all of that history behind them. The Buzzfeed article notes that Young may have worked with Gable again to throw the press off her tail — “Why would she work with Gable if he was secretly the father of her child?,” they’d wonder.

Regardless of her reasoning, she was a true professional, and her performance here offers no hint of the history between the two stars. In fact, neither star gives a hint of it. The script gives them a lot of lightly-antagonistic banter to share, and in several scenes it works well. Both stars fill their roles just fine.

On the whole, though, Key to the City isn’t great. There’s some nice dialogue, and I enjoyed watching Frank Morgan (in the role of Gable’s sidekick, a fire chief), but the trajectory of the story is very predictable and some of the humor falls on the silly side.

I don’t think I’ll remember much about Key to the City a month from now, or a year from now, other than the many familiar faces of the cast (which in addition to Gable, Young, and Morgan includes Raymond Burr, James Gleason, Lewis Stone, Clara Blandick, and Marilyn Maxwell). Not one to write home about. The score: 2/5

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