Synopsis by Hal Erickson
When he was first offered the film version of the best-selling Frederick Wakeman novel The Hucksters, Clark Gable turned it down, characterizing the book as "filthy and not entertainment." He finally agreed to star in the film after screenwriter Luther Davis' extensive laundering job. Gable plays Vic Norman, a radio advertising executive just returned from World War II. His wartime experiences have soured him on the phony aspects of his profession; nonetheless, he takes a job with the biggest and phoniest agency in town, headed by the glad-handing Kimberly (Adolphe Menjou). At Kimberly's recommendation, Vic takes over the Beautee Soap account, which brings him in close quarter's with Beautee's boorish head man Evans (Sidney Greenstreet). At their first meeting, Evans unexpectedly spits on his highly polished conference table. "Gentlemen," he growls, summing up his philosophy on advertising, "You have just seen me do a disgusting thing. But you will always remember it!" (Evans was based on George Washington Hill, the colorfully crude president of the American Tobacco Company). Vic's first assignment for Evans is to round up 25 high society women to sign testimonials for Beautee Soap. The least cooperative of the bunch is young widow Mrs. Dorrance (Deborah Kerr, in her American film debut), the stepdaughter of an American war hero. Attracted to Vic, Mrs. Dorrance signs the agreement, but breaks off her personal relationship with Vic when it appears as though he's making unsolicited advances towards her. The ever-demanding Evans then insists that Vic sign up two-bit comedian Buddy Hare (Keenan Wynn) for a radio program. Becoming more and more corrupt with each passing day, Vic obtains Hare's service at a rock-bottom price by blackmailing the comedian's agent (Edward Arnold), Vic's onetime close friend. A demo record is made of Hare and of nightclub singer Jean Ogilvie (Ava Gardner), who is in love with Vic but who eventually gives him up because of his apparent lack of scruples. Returning to the Beautee Soap headquarters, Vic watches dumbstruck as Evans smashes the demo record--then laughs uproariously, telling Vic that the contract is his, along with a $25,000 bonus. By this time, Vic is so disgusted with himself and with Evans' childish baiting tactics that he tells off the soap mogul in no uncertain terms, ending his tirade by dousing Evans with a pitcher of water. Having regained his integrity, Vic is now worthy of the love of Mrs. Dorrance, who has forgiven him his earlier misdeeds. As the film ends, she encourages Vic to use his advertising talents for something clean and honest (and, undoubtedly, starve to death in the process!) To mollify Madison Avenue, screenwriter Davis narrowed the attack on advertisers to one single radio sponsor; to please Gable, Mrs. Dorrance was changed from a still-married woman to a widow, while Vic Rodman is transformed from a "huckster" to an idealist who Does the Right Thing at the end. The Hucksters is one of Clark Gable's best postwar films, as well as one of the finest Hollywood satires of the rarefied world of advertising.
advertising-executive, business-ethics, comedian, contract, radio, record [phonographic], soap, veteran [military]