One of the hottest casts ever to appear in a '40s film - Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Cobert, and Hedy Lamarr - made Boom Town a powerhouse at the box office, which was exactly what MGM was banking on. These were the most popular stars at the beginning of the decade, and the studio probably would have had a hit no matter what the quartet appeared in. Time noted, "Like most movies that are built on the theory that four stars are better than one, Boom Town is not so much a picture as a series of personal appearances." Had Disney's Pinocchio
not enjoyed such prosperity from their many re-releases over the years, Boom Town would certainly be considered the number-one film for 1940.
The story is a simple one - environmentally disinterested "wildcat" oil drillers find love and big bucks in the West Texas oil fields, a premise that would again be used successfully in the 1956 hit film Giant. State-of-the-art special effects of oil-well gushers and spectacular fires caught the attention of the Motion Picture Academy, which nominated Boom Town for a Special Effects Oscar. (Watch for Mickey Rooney
's father, vaudeville entertainer Joe Yule, in the minor role of "Ed Murphy.")
Female audience members were swooning by now over Clark Gable, lately of Gone With the Wind
. Ironically, Gable himself was the son of an Ohio farmer-turned-oil-driller. In 1915, at the age of 14, he left school to work in a tire factory in nearby Akron. There he saw his first play and was hooked. Stock company bit parts followed. An MGM screen test found him turned down by that studio, as well as by Warner Bros. Producer Darryl E. Zanuck declared, "His ears are too big. He looks like an ape." He was eventually signed by MGM, and it was on a loan-out to Columbia that the highly successful It Happened One Night (1934) was made. Gable and co-star Claudette Colbert both won Academy Awards
for their roles, Boom Town marked their first screen reunion, much to the delight of movie audiences.