The most interesting part of The Call of the Wild didn’t actually take place on screen. It seems the very married Clark Gable had a torrid love affair with costar Loretta Young and impregnated her. Young decided to keep it, but due to the strict moral code at the time had to disappear to Europe through most of the pregnancy and later pretended to adopt what was in fact her very own child. Though often rumored, this story was not confirmed until 1999.
This has nothing to do with the actual film, of course, but its a fun bit of trivia. The movie is good and representative of this classic period of Hollywood filmmaking, but is mostly forgettable. I’ve not read the book, but they say the movie plot has very little in common with Jack London’s words. What we do get is a fun little tale about some folks trying to find gold in the Yukon.
Gable plays Jack Thornton, a happy-go-lucky miner who is thankful just to make enough money for the next round and maybe a warm place to lay his head now and again. He runs into his old friend Shorty (Jack Oakie) who is just out of jail for stealing some mail. One of those letters contained a map that leads to a huge gold claim. Shorty no longer has the map but his memory should be good enough to get them there.
While getting their supplies and dogs to drive the sleigh, they meet the story's villain Mr. Smith (Reginald Owen), a cunning, already rich, Brit who offers the dog-seller $200 in order to buy a ferocious, wild St. Bernard just so he can shoot it. An apparent animal lover, Jack steps in and buys the dog himself. Which begins our first love story - Jack and his dog Buck.
Fully supplied and with a team of dogs, Jack and Shorty take off into the wilderness to find their gold. Along the way, they find Claire (Loretta Young), the wife of the man who had the original map. They are clearly in over their head in the wild Alaskan countryside. He took off awhile ago looking for help and is now presumed dead. She is sick and exhausted and would have surely died had our heroes not found her.
They fix her up and take her to the closest town. There they convince her that she’ll need their help if she wants the gold, and so they form a pact and head into the deepest, darkest wilderness to find this lost claim.
Of course, they do find it. Of course, Jack and Claire fall in love. Of course, Mr. Smith shows up and tries to take it all away. This is Hollywood in the 1930s so there are no real surprises and endings are happy. This doesn’t at all detract from the film, as it's really just a good old-fashioned romp.
The film is lots of fun and is funny. It's filled with adventure and romance and a few thrills. The scenery (with Washington state filling in for the Alaskan wilderness) is marvelous, and the acting as good as you expect from this sort of production. It is very old Hollywood in its storytelling. The stars always look good, and even though she spends much of the film hundreds of miles from the nearest bath or hair dresser, Claire’s hair is always perfectly coiffed and her wardrobe impeccable.
The video looks impressive considering its age and that it's not exactly a revered classic. There is noticeable grain throughout but the image is sharp and clear. The audio shows its age a bit more with some noticeable hissing, but I never had trouble understanding the dialogue. Extras include an audio commentary by Darwin Porter, which is very informative if a bit dry, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Call of the Wild is not a great film, but it's an entertainingly light adventure with one of the world’s biggest stars and some great character actors.