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The Call of the Wild (1935) Blu-ray Review

The Call of the Wild (1935) movie poster The Call of the Wild

Theatrical Release: August 9, 1935 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: William A. Wellman / Writers: Jack London (story); Gene Fowler, Leonard Praskins (screenplay)

Cast: Clark Gable (Jack Thornton), Loretta Young (Claire Blake), Jack Oakie ("Shorty" Hoolihan), Reginald Owen (Mr. Smith), Frank Conroy (John Blake), Katherine DeMille (Marie), Sidney Toller (Joe Groggins), James Burke (Ole), Charles Stevens (Francois), Lalo Encinas (Kali), Thomas E. Jackson ("Tex" Rickard), Russe Powell (Bartender), Herman Bing (Sam), George MacQuarrie (Mounted Policeman), Buck (Himself)

Buy The Call of the Wild from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Clark Gable DVD Collection Collection DVD

Clark Gable starred in three winners of the Best Picture Academy Award in the 1930s: Frank Capra's prototypical romantic comedy It Happened One Night, the seafaring adventure Mutiny on the Bounty, and, of course, his most celebrated film, Gone with the Wind. As impressive as that success was,
Gable made nearly forty movies in the decade, most of them neither acclaimed then nor well-remembered today. Falling somewhere in the middle of the actor's most productive period output is 1935's The Call of the Wild, adapted from the 1903 Jack London novel of the same name.

London's fiction was as popular in Hollywood as elsewhere in America. The author's writings had been adapted for film thirteen times by the time he passed away in 1916 at the age of 40. A 16-minute short film of Call was made in 1908 and a feature-length silent followed in 1923. His other books were frequently tapped as subjects upon the advent of talkies. However, the 1935 Call, a 20th Century Pictures production, became the first new London film adaptation in five years.

It's a loose retelling that expands the role of Jack Thornton, turning the outdoorsman into a hero worthy of Gable's stature. Set in the Yukon in 1900, the film sees gamblin' man Thornton looking for gold in the frigid region. He teams up with "Shorty" Hoolihan (Jack Oakie), an old pal fresh out of jail who has drawn up a map to a claim believed to be full of gold. Thornton acquires Buck, a large St. Bernard, to be his sled dog. On their expedition, the two soon run into Mrs. Claire Blake (Loretta Young), the wife of the man following this same trail. Claire's husband has been missing for two days, but she refuses to believe he's dead, despite Jack's certainty of that.

Friends and adventurers Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) and Shorty Hoolihan (Jack Oakie) have a laugh at the inexperienced competition. Frankly, my dear, Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) does give a damn about presumed widow Claire Blake (Loretta Young).

The three decide to join forces on their treasure hunt. The journey is a breezy one, as Jack and Claire wade into romantic territory while Shorty serves as comic relief. The film picks up some with an action sequence which finds wealthy rival adventurer Mr. Smith (Reginald Owen) betting Jack $1,000 that Buck can't pull a sled with 1,000 pounds of cargo a hundred yards. The wager is Smith's way of trying to acquire the big dog, who has twice given him a fright, to kill him.

Things get more dramatic and serious when Jack and Claire again cross paths with Smith and his men, this time at the gold mine that promises to make those prospecting it very wealthy.

Much of the time, Call is more easygoing than we know London's fiction to be. Gable seems cast for the romance and comedy, tasks he is plenty comfortable with. The movie around him isn't all that funny or, outside of a few sequences, thrilling. But it's appealing enough, as it sets these three on a mission that's never too pressing to pre-empt light diversion, like dog fights and rabbit chases. Only in the end, with a twist you long see coming, does the film really take its setting or story seriously. That's okay because we manage to get onboard with the tonal shift and stick with the film as it tries to figure out how the new romance it's been developing can overcome a major obstacle placed in its path.

To cheers from the gathered crowd, Buck the St. Bernard tries to pull a 1,000-pound sled one hundred yards. Mr. Smith (Reginald Owen) resurfaces with more than killing dogs on his mind.

Call doesn't seem to have done great business or earned strong reviews. Even the enduring popularity of Gable and London hasn't been enough to lift this film out of relative obscurity, having generated fewer than 1,000 user votes on IMDb. Call's biggest claim to fame may be that it brought Gable and Young together romantically.
The relationship between Gable, then on his second and longest marriage, and Young, single since a 1931 annulment, produced a child out of wedlock. Young claimed the child was adopted, but in 1994, Judy Lewis revealed in a book that she was indeed the biological product of the two Hollywood movie stars, a topic that had long inspired speculation. Lewis, who took her surname from Young's second husband Tom Lewis, passed away in 2011 at the age of 76, which illustrates just how long ago this all happened.

Meanwhile, Call made its Blu-ray debut yesterday as one of eight classic films (two per decade from the '30s through the '60s) chosen by public vote in Fox's "Voice Your Choice" campaign for release on the format. It becomes only Gable's fourth film to turn up on Blu-ray, joining Gone, Mutiny, and his final credit The Misfits. The film also gets what appears to be its first standalone DVD release, having previously been relegated to 2006's three-disc Clark Gable Collection.

The Call of the Wild: Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($14.98 SRP)
Previously released to DVD in Clark Gable Collection DVD (August 15, 2006)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Call of the Wild looks better than expected for such an old and not especially revered film. The terrific 1.37:1 presentation upholds the film's original Academy Ratio. The print is satisfyingly clean and clear, exhibiting nothing worse than slight, suitable grain on occasion. The sound, offered exclusively in 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, can't hide its age, which may inspire some to consult the subtitles that are kindly included in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

This seemingly rerelease trailer declares "The Call of the Wild" a very mighty film. This winning shot makes for an appealing static Blu-ray top menu image.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Call retains two of the four extras from its 2006 Clark Gable Collection DVD release. First up comes an audio commentary by Hollywood biographer Darwin Porter. He speaks knowledgeably of the film, its source text, its leading man and other cast members, and Gable and Young's affair (which gossip columnists knew of, but didn't report).
Porter grows quiet around a half-hour in, but recovers to keep specifics from filming and behind-the-scenes flowing. Interested parties should find this a pretty good listen.

The disc also includes Call's trailer (1:45), a windowboxed standard definition reissue promo that declares the film "mighty" and closes with Fox's familiar fanfare.

Not transferred over from the DVD: a restoration comparison, which presumably doesn't apply to this transfer, and a photo gallery, which most studios aren't bothering to convert to Blu-ray compatibility.

The menu plays a looped excerpt of score over a fitting static shot. The disc kindly both supports bookmarks and resumes playback. No inserts or slipcover joins the eco-friendly keepcase, whose artwork drops the first "The" from the title, just as the Gable Collection did.

Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) loves his dog, a large St. Bernard named Buck, in the 1935 filming of Jack London's "The Call of the Wild."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

This 1935 filming of The Call of the Wild is no classic, but Fox treats it like one with this impressively sharp-looking Blu-ray. Fans of Clark Gable and Jack London should make an effort to see this at some point. Even if you enter with no appreciation for either the star or the author but a love of vintage Hollywood, you may very well enjoy this light, sporadically diverting adventure.

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Reviewed December 4, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1935 20th Century Pictures, Inc., United Artists, and 2013 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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