“This is the story of a confidence-man — that often unsung but seldom unhung aristocrat of the old west.”
Conman Candy Johnson (Clark Gable) is getting tired of running from town to town to escape trouble. He hopes the next city he lands in will be his permanent home.
Hope grows when he meets Elizabeth Cotton (Lana Turner) on a train. She’s headed from Boston to her hometown of Yellow Creek, Nevada, where her father (Frank Morgan) is the town judge.
Candy soon decides that Yellow Creek may be the town for him. It has a profitable saloon he may be able to overtake, and two potential lady-friends — Elizabeth, and Candy’s former flame “Gold Dust” Nelson (Claire Trevor). But will trouble follow Candy to Nevada?
Honky Tonk was directed by Jack Conway, from a screenplay by Marguerite Roberts and John Sanford.
Quite funnily, promotional materials like the poster above note the tagline for this film as “ANOTHER BOOM TOWN BUT BETTER!,” which pretty accurately describes my feelings about it. I didn’t mind Boom Town, but wasn’t in love with it; I wasn’t in love with Honky Tonk either but did enjoy it quite a bit more.
My enjoyment of this film over Boom Town can be credited to two things: the much better romantic chemistry, and the more spirited moments of this film’s script.
Claudette Colbert and Clark Cable had very little spark in Boom Town, which surprised me given their brilliant co-starring turn in It Happened One Night. While Lana Turner comes across as far too young and naive to be involved with a man like Gable in Honky Tonk, their chemistry is pretty great.
There’s a lot to love about Marguerite Roberts and John Sanford’s screenplay, which has a lot of fast-talk and fun quips throughout, though it takes a more dramatic turn near the end.
Clark Gable is a perfect fit for his role of a charismatic con man — the type of guy who can talk his way out of just about anything. Candy goes from being a small-time outlaw to the under-the-radar ruler of the town, bringing “civilization to the wilderness,” as one of the film’s lines says.
Claire Trevor, one of my underrated favorites, is also great in her role (and what a name, “Gold Dust”). Her scenes with Turner are particularly strong and lend the film plenty of tension.
Make no mistake based on my praise — Honky Tonk isn’t award-worthy, nor is it a new favorite. But it’s an entertaining watch, worth a look for any Gable fan (or anyone interested in a film like “Boom Town but better!”).