Boom Town (1940)

Boom Town
Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert

'Boom Town' is an dramatic and romantic adventure film made in 1940, directed by Jack Conway and starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, and Frank Morgan. The screenplay was written by John Lee Mahin from a story in Cosmopolitan magazine titled "A Lady Comes to Burkburnett" written by James Edward Grant.

The film received rave reviews, was the biggest moneymaker of 1940 and one of the most successful films of the decade. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, for cinematography and Special Effects, but won neither.


The plot covers a twenty year period and revolves around two oil wildcatters, "Big John" McMasters, played by Clark Gable and "Square John" Sand, played by Spencer Tracy in Burkburnett, Texas, who hit a gusher and go into business together. Claudette Colbert is the woman they both love and Hedy Lamarr is of course the glamorous "other" woman in husband Gable's life.

After break ups in their friendship and each making a fortune and losing it all, the two men learn the value of personal ties and the movie ends with the friends reuniting to start a new business. This film has four big stars perfectly cast and appearing at their very best, making what could have been a run-of-the mill movie a very entertaining one.


MGM planned to make an adventure film that would capture the spirit and excitement of America in the early 1900's when oil was discovered in West Texas. They assigned the reliable and experienced Jack Conway to direct and then recruited four of their top stars. Not since the era of 'Grand Hotel' and Dinner at Eight' in the early 1930's had MGM assembled four top performers in one movie.

Shooting began in early March, 1940 and lasted for 3 months. Some of the location work took place in Bakersfield, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.


Clark Gable felt comfortable with the subject matter of 'Boom Town' as he used to help his oil prospector father in the Oklahoma oil fields. Fresh from 'Gone With the Wind', he was the star of the moment and he and Spencer Tracy had previously worked well together in two other films, 'San Francisco' in 1936 and 'Test Pilot' in 1938. After 'Boom Town' Tracy, wanting to be a top star in his own right, insisted on top billing in his future MGM movies, which effectively put an end to one of American cinema's most famous film partnerships up to that time.

Tracy was said to be a brooding, temperamental figure during the shoot and did not have a warm relationship with Claudette Colbert (whom he called 'Frenchie') or Hedy Lamarr, with whom he was downright hostile.

The female lead was originally intended for Myrna Loy, but MGM cast Claudette Colbert, which gave rise to a flurry of publicity for the first Gable-Colbert reunion since their Oscar-winning performances in 'It happened One Night' six years earlier. Hedy Lamarr lobbied hard for the supporting role to prove herself as an actress and she and Gable were also paired up later in 1940 in the much less successful 'Comrade X'.

Rita Hayworth was considered for the Lamarr role and was actually tested for it.

Main Cast

Clark Gable ... Big John McMasters
Spencer Tracy ... Jonathan Sand
Claudette Colbert ... Elizabeth Bartlett McMasters
Hedy Lamarr ... Karen Vanmeer
Frank Morgan ... Luther Aldrich
Lionel Atwill ... Harry Compton
Chill Wills ... Deputy Harmony Jones
Marion Martin ... Whitey
Minna Gombell ... Spanish Eva 'Evie'
Joe Yule ... Ed Murphy
Horace Murphy ... Tom Murphy
Roy Gordon ... 'Mac' McCreery
Richard Lane ... Assistant District Attorney
Casey Johnson ... Little Jack McMasters
Baby Quintanilla ... Baby Jack McMasters


Director ... Jack Conway
Producer ... Sam Zimbalist
Screenplay ... John Lee Mahin
Adapted from ... "A Lady Comes to Burkburnett" by James Edward Grant
Music ... Kenyon Hopkins
Cinematography ... Harold Rosson
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date ... August 20, 1940
Running time ... 119 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Cinematography ... Harold Rosson
Special Effects ... Photographic by A. Arnold Gillespie; Sound by Douglas Shearer