Cast & Crew
In Skagway in the Yukon, in 1900 during the gold rush, prospector Jack Thornton plans to return to his hometown of Chicago but loses all his money in a card game. "Shorty" Hoolihan, a New Yorker just released from jail after a six-month sentence for tampering with the mail, tells Jack about a letter he read that was sent by an ill prospector, Martin Blake, just before he died to his son John in San Francisco, which contained a map showing the location of a gold mine. Shorty has drawn the map from memory, and although he concedes that it may be faulty in spots, he talks Jack into becoming his partner after telling him that John Blake and his wife left Skagway that day in search of the mine. While buying a dog team, Jack and Shorty encounter a wealthy, sadistic English prospector, Mr. Smith, who wants to buy an untamed St. Bernard named Buck, so that he could shoot him. Jack, who admires the dog, buys him instead, and although Buck runs away once he is freed on the trail, he returns at night in the whirling snow and curls up beside Jack. After they come across Blake's wife Claire surrounded by wolves, she explains that Blake has been gone two days searching for food. Believing that Blake is dead, Jack forces Claire to come with them to Dawson. He and Claire grow fond of each other on the trail, and at Dawson, Claire agrees to become partners with them to find the gold. Although they need money to buy an outfit, Jack, after having lost most of their provisions crossing a river, refuses to sell Buck to Smith; however, after Jack gets drunk and brags that Buck can pull a sled loaded with 1,000 pounds 100 yards, Smith wagers $1,000 against Buck that he cannot. Jack accepts and Buck barely succeeds before he collapses in Jack's arms. As they leave Dawson, Blake, unknown to them, is brought in barely alive. At night, Jack pensively stares at Claire by the fire and explains his acceptance of the "Law of the Klondike" -- if there is something you need, you grab it -- which Claire does not accept. Soon they find the gold, and Shorty is sent to file a claim. As the winter approaches, Buck is tempted by the call of nearby wolves, while Jack and Claire, alone in an isolated cabin, acknowledge and consummate their love. Meanwhile, Blake leads Smith to the gold. When they find the cabin, Smith orders one of his men to knock out Blake. Smith then takes the gold from Jack and Claire at gunpoint but dies with his men when their canoe overturns in rapids and the gold weights them down. After Buck finds Blake, Jack carries him to the cabin, where he and Claire nurse him to health. Although Jack tells Claire that he is keeping her, he relents after she explains that although she loves him, Blake needs her and that she lives by a different law than Jack. After the Blakes leave, Buck joins the wolves and becomes a father, and Jack is left alone for the winter, but in the spring, Shorty returns with an Indian woman, whom he won in a crap game, to be their cook.
John T. Murray
Philip G. Sleeman
Captain C. E. Anderson
Samuel T. Godfrey
William R. Arnold
Kay Des Lys
V. L. Mcfadden
Joseph M. Schenck
Darryl F. Zanuck
Call of the Wild on Blu-ray
That's the way Hollywood tends to tackle these kinds of stories, of course, and when you've got Clark Gable and Loretta Young in all their mid-1930s glamor tramping through the wilds of the great white north (Washington State interior standing in for Northern Canada), that's a forgivable compromise. Gable's Jack Thornton and Young's Claire Blake, who Jack finds fending off a ravenous pack of wolves in the middle of the wilderness, spar and spat almost immediately after Jack saves her. She's a married woman who is surely widowed by the time she's rescued (her husband slogged out into the drifts days before to get help) but that doesn't stop the spirited instant antagonism that practically defines screen romance in 1930s Hollywood movies. Jack Oakie is the buddy-turned-third wheel 'Shorty' Hoolihan, providing comic relief as the soon-to-be-lovers tangle on the trail, and Sidney Toler is the film's villain Joe Groggins, an arrogant miner with a crooked streak who wants to shoot Buck dead for daring to growl at him. Outfitted in well-trimmed outdoor gear (in contrast to the more rugged and worn clothes of other miners) and window pane glasses that magnify his eyes into distorted globes, he has an imperious and almost aristocratic manner that instantly makes him untrustworthy. He's hardly recognizable as the man who played Charlie Chan in more than a dozen films.
Gable makes Jack into his kind of adventurer. He's the smiling, exuberant outdoorsman who respects spirit and commitment and loyalty but has no time for those without the strength or smarts to survive in the wild. When he finds Buck--a wild, unbroken Saint Bernard mix with a fierce temperament--for sale in the gateway trading town of Skagway, he immediately senses the dog's potential and, in part to save Buck from the brutal whim of Groggins, he buys the dog for his own sled pack. Before long, Buck takes his place as the alpha and becomes Jack's loyal friend and protector. The film credits Buck as "himself" and he's a majestic animal with personality and strong screen charisma. At least part of the credit for Buck's strength of character even in a supporting role goes to director William Wellman, who gives Buck's scenes the same kind of dramatic tension and impressive action he brings to the human story.
One of the most reliable directors of the thirties, Wellman was a filmmaker who brought out the best in his casts in both comedies and dramas and delivered action cinema with a muscular vitality and an edge of physical danger. The director of first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (Wings, 1927), he made some of the most brisk, dynamic, and gritty pre-code films of the earlier 1930s (from Night Nurse to Wild Boys of the Road) and went on to specialize in westerns and war films and adventures. Call of the Wild combines both of those strengths. He stages impressive sequences on location in both the snowy wilds and the spring thaw in the camp on a raging river. Studio sets stand in for more intimate scenes around the campfire at night or in the cabin of the mine camp, a convention that audiences readily accepted in the day, but Wellman makes a good effort to integrate those scenes with the outdoor footage and makes the most of the location shooting, where he makes a point of showing the characters use their skills to survive the environment.
The script takes major liberties with the novel and not just in shifting the focus from Buck to Jack. A few essential events are preserved, notably the scene where Buck drags 1,000 pounds on a sled from a dead stop to win a bet, and the film observes Buck become increasingly drawn by the howls of wild wolves calling him back to his primitive nature. But the emphasis is on the human drama, which is completely rewritten for the film. Our heroes base their adventure on a purloined map, essentially trying to steal a claim that rightfully (if not quite legally) belongs to the heirs of a dead miner, and the central story shifts to the romantic partnership between Jack and Claire. Wellman surprisingly got away with Jack and Claire slipping into what can be read as a common law marriage after her husband disappears in the wilderness. Though never literally shown, it is suggested in the intimacy of their performance and the ease in which they share an isolated cabin with no chaperone, and in 1935 that kind of frank treatment of adult relationships was a rarity as the production code clamped down on even the hint of immoral behavior from heroic figures. (Their convincing intimacy may be a reflection of their offscreen lives; years later it was confirmed that they had an affair on the set and that Gable with the father of the child she had after the film wrapped.) In fact, some footage were censored in a later re-release (including a scene with Katherine De Mille as a "dance hall girl" and Jack's former lover), which became the standard version for TV and DVD release. This Blu-ray release marks the first time the original 1935 cut has been available in decades. (Thanks to Lou Lumenick and his home video column for The New York Post for bringing this to my attention.)
There is a little offhanded racism, in this case directed toward the native population (in the epilogue, Shorty arrives at the cabin with a native woman in tow to be their cook and housekeeper: "I won it in a crap game," he explains, not even deigning to use the term "her"), but that's not uncommon to films of the era and a minor (if glaring) distraction. The rest of the film is a hearty wilderness adventure with muscular frontier action, snappy character drama, and the stellar star power of Gable and Young at the center. And while Buck's story is shifted to the side, Wellman gives the dog some superb scenes.
Previously released on DVD in the edited re-release cut, the restored 92-minute Call of the Wild debuted on Blu-ray in late 2013 as part of collection of 20th Fox Classics voted on by consumers in a poll conducted by Fox. It is a superb release, well-mastered from a high-quality print (the original negative exists no longer, I'm informed) with strong black-and-white contrast, sharp images, and no print damage. The film grain is more visible than in many classic releases, possibly because of the source print, but it looks like film is supposed to look. The disc carries over the audio commentary by writer Darwin Porter from the earlier DVD release.
By Sean Axmaker
Call of the Wild on Blu-ray
The Call of the Wild
Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck borrowed Clark Gable from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the lead part in The Call of the Wild after Fredric March was first considered. Gable had recently been loaned out to Columbia Pictures for the lead role in the Frank Capra screwball comedy hit It Happened One Night (1934) and was well on his way to establishing his reputation as a rugged outdoorsman in his personal life, often pictured hunting and fishing in the fan magazines. Wellman was a like-minded sportsman and adventurer, and had his friend Fowler fill the script with he-man-styled humor and episodes. Set in the turn-of-the-century Gold Rush era, prospector Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) is seen gambling his money away in a game of cards. He decides not to give up on prospecting when he runs into an old friend, Shorty Hoolihan (Jack Oakie). Shorty has done time for mail tampering, but in doing so he found out about an unclaimed gold mine; he has a map copied from a letter to John Blake (Frank Conroy) of San Francisco. Blake and his wife Claire (Loretta Young) have also come to the Yukon to find the location and claim the mine. When Jack and Shorty put together their supplies, they attempt to buy a dog team, including an irascible St. Bernard named Buck. A sadistic English prospector named Smith (Reginald Owen) has it out for the dog; he wants to buy him just to shoot him. Jack buys Buck instead and later wins a bet with Smith that Buck can pull a sled with a thousand-pound load. John Blake becomes lost and presumed dead while looking for food so Claire joins forces with Jack and Shorty. Smith, meanwhile, learns of the Blake mine and has plans for it himself.
Wellman wanted to escape the standard studio-bound look for The Call of the Wild and had planned to shoot nearly the entire picture on location in the Pacific Northwest, with the base of Mount Baker, Washington substituting for the Yukon Territory. A large contingent of eighty members of the cast and crew spent nearly a month on the site. Blizzards prevented Wellman from getting the percentage of footage he wanted, although the final film contains many striking shots with the Mt. Baker background. Shooting was completed on soundstages, with additional outdoor shots taken at Feather River, California and on the "Western Street" of Universal Studio's backlot.
The Call of the Wild ran into some censorship troubles at the script stage. Production Code Administration (PCA) director Joseph Breen warned that Jack and Claire should "...not indulge in a sex affair as is suggested in the present script." Zanuck defended the love affair, writing that it "...is a deep, real, profound love. There is nothing of a sexual nature about it. Certainly there is no law against her falling in love with another man after she believes her husband is dead...it was never our suggestion or implication...that she intended to deceive her husband, get him back to civilization and divorce him or kick him off and go back to the new man." The scenes remain in the final film, as do shots of Buck and a female wolf raising their pups, which, incredibly, Breen also objected to!
Perhaps recognizing that the drastic changes to London's book left the film open to criticism no matter how agreeable the result was, the Fox publicity department released a message from Zanuck, in which he said, "I saw the man answering a call just as inexorable as that symbolized by the wolf-call which drew Buck in pursuit, back to the wilderness from whence he came. I suspect that Jack London wrote his simple, but lovable story with something of this hidden meaning behind his words. In his mind's eye were additional chapters, additional settings, characters and incidents. These we have developed with London's theme and plot structure as guide."
The critic for Variety noted that "changes have made the canine classic hardly recognizable, but they have not done any damage. The big and exceptionally wild St. Bernard, known as Buck, is not entirely submerged, since such of his feats as the haul of a 1,000-pound load over the snow and his mating with a femme wolf are included, but he has been decidedly picture-house broken. Clark Gable strong-and-silents himself expertly and Loretta Young, in the opposite corner of the revised love affair, is lovely and competent. But Jack Oakie has the laughs, and they land him on top." The reviewer for Time also praised the film, writing, "The familiar story has been changed in spots, but the revisions make for stronger screen fare. And all the humanness, the drama, of the novel have been retained. ...Gable is no stranger to the rugged life that Jack London depicted in his work. His characterization in this picture is appropriate and all that we have learned to expect from him."
Clark Gable felt at home during the location shooting that took place for The Call of the Wild; he had spent time working the logging camps nearby when he was younger. The blustery weather was a challenge for the entire cast and crew, however. As reported by author Chrystopher J. Spicer in his biography of Gable, "Blizzard after blizzard repeatedly snowed them in, cutting them off for days at a time until plows could clear the road. It was so cold that the oil in the cameras froze. Food and tempers ran short. Clark became uncharacteristically careless about his punctuality on the set and about his lines." Gable and Wellman nearly came to blows during one on-set argument. Apparently, the married Gable found solace on location with his divorced and now single co-star, Loretta Young. While the other cast and crew noticed a budding relationship, Young later told her biographer Joan Wester Anderson that "...the tryst happened on the train returning home." When Young discovered that she was pregnant, Gable was discreetly told, and then Young's mother Gladys went into full cover-up mode. Young worked on the film The Crusades (1935) before her pregnancy showed, but after it wrapped shooting Gladys took her on a "vacation" to Europe. Returning to America, Loretta was secluded in a small house in Venice, California, while the family doctor gave notice to the studio that she was too ill to work.
The subterfuge was necessary because of the "morality clauses" that all stars had to sign with Hollywood studios in the era following the scandals of the 1920s that brought down such actors as Fatty Arbuckle. Moreover, Loretta Young was known as one of the leading Catholics in Hollywood; if the fans discovered that she was pregnant by a married man her career would be finished. Loretta's daughter, named Mary Judith Clark, was born on November 6th, 1935 and transferred to an orphanage; more than a year and a half later, Young "adopted" the nineteen month old baby girl. Judy was not told by her mother who her real father was until 1966, and Loretta never publicly admitted the truth during her lifetime. After her death in 2000, Young told her story posthumously, through the authorized biography Forever Young: The Life, Loves, and Enduring Faith of a Hollywood Legend; The Authorized Biography of Loretta Young, by Joan Wester Anderson. There, Loretta was quoted on the affair: "In those days, unmarried pregnant women were sometimes thrown out of their homes in disgrace, but Momma was not angry... She comforted me, and talked to Clark about it." Judy died in 2011 at the age of 76; she only saw her father on two brief occasions.
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: William Wellman
Screenplay: Gene Fowler, Leonard Praskins (screenplay); Jack London (story)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Richard Day, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Hugo Friedhofer, Alfred Newman (both uncredited)
Film Editing: Hanson Fritch
Cast: Clark Gable (Jack Thornton), Loretta Young (Claire Blake), Jack Oakie ('Shorty' Hoolihan), Reginald Owen (Mr. Smith), Frank Conroy (John Blake), Katherine DeMille (Marie), Sidney Toler (Joe Groggins), James Burke (Ole), Charles Stevens (Francois), Lalo Encinas (Kali)
by John M. Miller
Forever Young: The Life, Loves, and Enduring Faith of a Hollywood Legend; The Authorized Biography of Loretta Young, Joan Wester Anderson, 2000, Thomas More Publishing.
Hollywood Madonna, Bernard F. Dick, 2011, University Press of Mississippi.
The Complete Films of Clark Gable, Gabe Essoe, 1984, Citadel.
Clark Gable: Biography, Filmography, Bibliography, Christopher J. Spicer, 2002, McFarland.
William A. Wellman, Frank T. Thompson, 1983, Scarecrow Press.
AFI Notes on The Call of the Wild.
The Call of the Wild
What's that?- Jack Thornton
That's our new cook.- Shorty Hoolihan
Where'd you get it?- Jack Thornton
I won it in a crap game.- Shorty Hoolihan
Loretta Young announced her retirement after filming this movie and went to Paris, returning to the United States in 1937 with a 23-month-old baby she claimed to have adopted. However, many contend the baby was Clark Gable's from a love affair they had while on location for this movie.
The World Premiere was held at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. However, the public would not accept the killing of Jack Oakie at the end so a new ending keeping Oakie alive was shot before national release.
Variety commented concerning the relation of the film to the original book, "The lion-hearted dog that was Jack London's creation as the leading character...emerges now as a stooge for a rather conventional pair of human love birds. Changes have made the canine classic hardly recognizable." In the pressbook for the film, producer Darryl Zanuck stated his intent in changing the emphasis of the book: "I saw the man answering a call just as inexorable as that symbolized by the wolf-call which drew Buck in pursuit, back to the wilderness from whence he came. I suspect that Jack London wrote his simple, but lovable story with something of this hidden meaning behind his words. In his mind's eye were additional chapters, additional settings, characters and incidents. These we have developed with London's theme and plot structure as guide."
Fredric March was originally cast as "Jack Thornton," but Zanuck decided that he was more suited to play "Jean Valjean" in Les Miserables (see below), and Clark Gable was substituted, according to a Daily Variety news item. Madeleine Carroll was originally announced as Gable's co-star, according to Hollywood Reporter. According to Time, "Buck" was played by an eighteen-month old St. Bernard named King, who was owned by Carl Spitz, considered the number one dog trainer in Hollywood. Although, according to Time, Spitz wanted the studio to cast another dog, Cappy, in the role, Wellman and Zanuck picked King, and with his new name of Buck, the dog soon became the greatest dog star since Rin-Tin-Tin. Cappy was relegated to Buck's double.
According to news items and the pressbook, the beginning of production was delayed because of sickness among various cast members, including Gable, who developed laryngitis. A setback also occurred because Gable was required to do retakes on M-G-M's Copy Cats, the working title of After Office Hours. For the first day of shooting, according to the pressbook, Joan London, the author's daughter, and her son were invited to the set by Zanuck. Wellman and other production staff went location hunting in the Pacific Northwest and Canada in December 1934, and the entire film, with the exception of four days in the studio, was scheduled to be shot at Mount Baker, Washington, where a complete soundproof stage was to be built. On January 13, 1935, according to news items, a company of eighty people left for Mount Baker, but because of blizzards and lack of adequate accomodations, the company returned on 10 February with scenes still to be shot. In Feb, while at Mount Baker, cameraman Charles Rosher suffered a heart attack which was attributed to the high location. According to news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, additional scenes were shot at Feather River, CA, Truckee, CA and the Universal Western Street.
Footage from a scene in which "Shorty Hoolihan" is murdered by "Smith" and his henchman, was cut after an audience expressed disapproval in a preview, according to modern sources, and Zanuck ordered the script changed and retakes shot. The deleted scene, which has survived, runs as follows: On his way to file the claim, Shorty eats alone by a stream. Imitating an announcer at a racetrack, Shorty describes a frog race that he initiates, but the race is interrupted by Smith, his henchman Kali and Blake. When Smith asks whether Thornton is with him, Shorty says that they broke up and then tries to run. Kali catches Shorty, and Blake tells Smith that he will not stand for any violence. At night, by a campfire, Smith interrogates Shorty about the gold he is carrying, but Shorty refuses to acknowledge that he and Thornton found the mine. When Kali twists Shorty's arm behind his back, Shorty, in pain, admits that they did find the mine. After Kali continues to torture him, Shorty offers to tell them in detail how to get to the mine and then asks for a cigarette. After he lights the cigarette, he sets his map on fire, and he is shot in the back. Blake then goes to him and he dies. Blake accuses Smith of murder, and Smith says that when things get in his way, he gets a little impatient.
Two sequences featuring the character "Marie," who was played by Katherine DeMille, were in the final draft of the script dated November 26, 1934 but were not in the print viewed. The first scene, which takes place near the beginning of the film, shows "Marie" crying as "Jack," who has left her a "poke" of gold dust, is about to leave her cabin. He reminds her that he earlier said he would be going home as soon as he made his "pile," and when she cries hysterically and urges him to remain, he leaves her with more gold, which mollifies her. Later, after he has lost his money gambling, and Shorty has talked him into becoming his partner, he returns to Marie's cabin and finds another man with her. The man stares in terror at Jack, who hits him and says to Marie, "Didn't take you long, did it?" Marie asks Thornton if he's going to hit her, and he replies that he hasn't made up his mind. He then finds his gold, and says, "This is the best way to hit you, sweetheart," before proceeding to sing to her "My Gal Sal." The next scene is the one in which Jack meets Buck. According to the cutting continuity in the Produced Scripts Collection, only the the second sequence was in the original release of the film. According to correspondence in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA Director Joseph Breen warned Zanuck that the scene with Marie must carry no suggestion that she is a prostitute. About that scene, Breen wrote, "We get the definite impression from the script that Thornton and Marie have been living together and that the 'poke' which Thornton first gives to Marie, and later takes away from her, is money given for prostitution. This scene, as it now stands, is a Code violation....The line, 'Two healthy people who took their fun and asked no questions' will have to be entirely deleted." The second sequence, which was DeMille's only appearance in the film, was cut sometime after the original release and is not in re-release prints that are shown publicly today.
Breen was also adamant that Thornton and Claire "do not indulge in a sex affair as is suggested in the present script" and that the scenes between Buck and the she-wolf be rewritten "to get away from the very unpleasant connotation which these scenes now suggest." Zanuck replied to Breen that they had eliminated all the major objections, but Zanuck defended the scenes of the love affair between Thornton and Claire. He wrote, "There is a deep, real, profound love. There is nothing of a sexual nature about it. Certainly there is no law against her falling in love with another man after she believes her husband is dead....in a parting scene...she tells him that a love as great as theirs can't easily die and that if their love is to live, some day, sometime, somewhere they will get together if God means for them to get together. However, it was never our suggestion or implication...that she intended to deceive her husband, get him back to civilization and divorce him or kick him off and go back to the new man."
Modern sources have speculated that Gable and Loretta Young had a love affair while they were on location, and that Young, a few months later, announced her retirement, supposedly for health reasons, but in reality because she was pregnant; she went to New York and then to Paris, and in 1937, adopted a twenty-three-month-old baby girl. Modern sources contend that the father of the child was Gable.
The film was re-released on June 23, 1945 and in May 1953 in 81 minute versions. Other film versions of the book include a 1908 Biograph Co. production, directed by D. W. Griffith, starring Florence Lawrence and Charles Gorman; a 1923 Hal Roach Studios production, released by Pathé Exchange, directed by Fred Jackman and starring a different dog named Buck and Jack Mulhall; a 1973 German, Spanish, Italian and French co-production by CCC-Berlin, directed by Ken Annakin and starring Charlton Heston; and an NBC-TV broadcast in 1976 of a Charles Fries production, directed by Jerry Jameson and starring John Beck.
Released in United States 1935
Released in United States 1935