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  Hucksters, The How To Get Ahead In Advertising
Year: 1947
Director: Jack Conway
Stars: Clark Gable, Deborah Kerr, Sydney Greenstreet, Adolphe Menjou, Ava Gardner, Keenan Wynn, Edward Arnold, Aubrey Mather, Richard Gaines, Frank Albertson, Douglas Fowley, Clinton Sundberg, Gloria Holden, Connie Gilchrist, Kathryn Card, Jimmy Conlin
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Victor Norman (Clark Gable) is new in town, fresh from the war, and drawing up plans to make as much money as he possibly can. He knows his way around advertising, and sets up an interview in one of the most successful agencies around, having checked into a hotel first where the staff are delighted to see him again. So delighted in fact that they refuse his tips, so he flings the dollar bills out of the nearest window, believing that this allows him a level playing field when it comes to his prospective new job. When he arrives at the agency, he finds a climate of fear: ideal for someone who doesn't reckon on being intimidated...

Advertising was the subject of a bestselling book in the mid-forties, and as is the way with bestsellers, it was only a matter of time before it was adapted into a film. It's tempting to see The Hucksters as an immediately postwar version of the television series Mad Men, but it doesn't really hold up to that kind of scrutiny as where a healthy dose of cynicism would have made for a hardboiled entertainment, taking the lid off the society of its day, there's a doleful tone to much of this. It's as if to say, oh dear, isn't it awful that such fine upstanding people like Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr should be involved in something as scurrilous as commercials?

To his credit, Gable performs well in one of his better roles, convincing as both a romantic lead for Kerr, here making her Hollywood debut, and as a no-nonsense businessman whose conscience means he is not quite as ruthless as he would like to be. Kerr plays a rich widow, Kay Dorrance, mother of two young children, who falls into the web of advertising when she is requested to endorse one of the agency's biggest clients, Beauty Soap, by appearing in their print material. As expected, Kay and Victor fall for each other, although she needs a lot more persuading than he does to allow their relationship to develop.

This is where Victor is at his best, when he's turning round people's opinions to put them in line with his own, and we have to decide whether this means that he has sold his soul to the devil or whether he can use his powers for good. That devil is epitomised by his new boss, Evan Llewellyn Evans, as played by an effortlessly scene-stealing Sydney Greenstreet as the kind of head man who all his employees are scared of. He introduces himself to Victor by spitting on the table, so that he will remember him, and chants "Irritate! Irritate!" as his mantra as to how advertising should be conducted in relation to the general public.

Some would say that it's Evans' idea of how to get under the skin of customers both potential and current that has been adopted by the industry for decades after, but Victor sees that there is a better way to present products. However, such is the air of desperation in the agency that it begins to influence him, and makes a mark in his personal life when he tries to convince Kay to come away with him for a weekend break in what turns out to be a rather seedy hotel. She does arrive, but decides that what he really wanted was to get her into bed, and he has to admit there was some truth in that, recognising that he is not as benevolent as he wants to be. The cast is very impressive, with Ava Gardner as a nightclub singer Victor thinks he can secure a contract for, and Keenan Wynn as the terrible comedian he ends up saddled with for his latest promotion, and the signs are that this could have been something truly darkhearted in the hands of a Billy Wilder, so it's a pity that it falters. Music by Lennie Hayton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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