ELIZABETH COTTON (LANA TURNER) after a kiss: "I want you to stay away from me."
"CANDY" JOHNSON (CLARK GABLE): "No, you don't. Why don't you jump in and get wet all over."
It was scenes like this, between two of the biggest stars of the '40s, that MGM was counting on to make Honky Tonk a box office bonanza, and they weren't disappointed. Fans weren't disappointed, either. If the plot seemed familiar - the story of a gambling-hall hustler (Gable) and his sparring partner and eventual wife - that was because it was derivative of many an Old West yarn.
When Honky Tonk opened, however, most reviewers ignored the thin plot about an Old West conartist "fleecing the sheep" and moved on to the chemistry between Miss Turner and Mr. Gable. Said The New York Times: "Miss Turner is not only beautifully but reggedly constructed...Mr. Gable snarls, wrinkles his eyes and occasionally becomes condescendingly tender, but usually he keeps his chin well out in front. One could hear rapturous sighs all over the Capital mezzanine yesterday...Miss Turner gives a competent, if limited performance and Mr. Gable again shows off his muscles." Newsweek also thought the virtues of the two leads were the film's strong points, terming Honky Tonk "a horse opera without the horses," and adding that MGM's main purpose in making the film seemed to be the "glamour merger" of Gable with Turner and "the promise of exciting and unpredictable variations on the tender passion."
Honky Tonk's producer, Pandro S. Berman, was one of the most ubiquitous filmmakers of all times. His work spanned four decades, with his name appearing on dozens of important movies, including The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, National Velvet, The Three Musketeers, Father of the Bride, Ivanhoe, The Blackboard Jungle, Tea and Sympathy, The Brothers Karamazov, Butterfield 8, and many others.
This movie was really a lark for Berman. The casting of Frank Morgan as Judge Cotton, father of Lana Turner's character, was not unusual since he was a Metro contract player. And when it came time to select his wardrobe, he was attired in almost the exact same outfit he wore in The Wizard of Oz
. Add to that Gable's character looking like Rhett Butler, and we get something akin to Gone With the Wind
meets The Wizard of Oz.