Boom Town (film)

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Boom Town
Boom Town poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by Jack Conway
Produced by Sam Zimbalist
Written by John Lee Mahin
Based on A Lady Comes to Burkburnett in
Cosmopolitan magazine (August 1939) 
by James Edward Grant
Starring Clark Gable
Spencer Tracy
Claudette Colbert
Hedy Lamarr
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Elwood Bredell (uncredited)
Edited by Blanche Sewell
Paul Landres (uncredited)
Release dates
  • August 20, 1940 (1940-08-20)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.6 million[1]
Box office $5 million[1]

Boom Town is a 1940 American adventure film starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, and Hedy Lamarr, and directed by Jack Conway. The supporting cast features Frank Morgan, Lionel Atwill, and Chill Wills. A story written by James Edward Grant in Cosmopolitan magazine entitled "A Lady Comes to Burkburnett" provided the inspiration for the film.[2] The film was produced and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


"Big John" McMasters (Clark Gable) and "Square John" Sand (Spencer Tracy) are two down-on-their-luck oil wildcatters who join forces. Without enough money, they steal drilling equipment from a skeptical Luther Aldrich (Frank Morgan). Their well proves a bust and they have to hastily depart when Aldrich shows up with the sheriff to take back his property. The two oilmen team up and make enough money to partially pay Aldrich. To get him to back them for a second try, they cut him in for a percentage of the well. This time, they strike it rich.

When Elizabeth 'Betsy' Bartlett (Claudette Colbert) shows up, McMasters sweeps her off her feet (without knowing that Sand considers her his girl) and marries her. Sand accepts the situation, wanting Betsy to be happy. However, on their first anniversary, she catches her husband dancing with a barroom floozy. As a result, Sand quarrels with McMasters and they flip a coin for the entire oilfield. Betsy leaves too, but returns when she learns that her husband has lost almost everything to Sand and needs her.

Each man goes through booms and busts. Building on his renewed success as a wildcatter, McMasters moves to New York to expand into refineries and distribution, competing against former customer Harry Compton (Lionel Atwill). Seeking inside information about his rivals, he hires away Compton's adviser Karen Vanmeer (Hedy Lamarr), who uses her social contacts and womanly charms to gather industry information.

Meanwhile, Sand loses everything he has built up in South America to a revolution. When he meets McMasters at an oilmen's convention, the two finally reconcile, and Sand goes to work for his old friend. When he suspects that McMasters is carrying on an affair with Karen, he tries to save Betsy's marriage by offering to marry Karen. However, she deduces his motives and declines. When a miserable Betsy tries to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills, Sand decides that the only way to help her is to bankrupt McMasters. Sand loses his costly battle with his former friend and goes broke. It is only when he asks McMasters to give his wife a divorce that the married man finally comes to his senses. Later, McMasters is prosecuted by the government for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and loses his business. In the end, poor, but happier, Sand and McMasters team up again, with the blissful Betsy looking on. Aldrich supplies them with equipment and the whole cycle begins again.


Cast notes:

  • Gable's father,William Gable, was an oil-well driller and as a teenager Gable himself worked for his father in Oklahoma, so he was familiar with the subject of this film.[3]


The actress originally considered for the lead role was Myrna Loy, for whom the part was written.[4] It turned out to be the second, and last, pairing of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, who had appeared together in It Happened One Night.[4] Gable and Spencer Tracy had also worked together before, in two other films, San Francisco and Test Pilot.[4] Eventually Tracy insisted on the same top billing clause in his MGM contract that Gable enjoyed, effectively ending the pairing. Tracy, in fact, was brooding over his second-billing status during the filming of Boom Town and was reportedly unpleasant to deal with. He especially did not get along with either of the female leads.[3]

Some of the location shooting for the film took place in Bakersfield, California.[4]


Boom Town was second only to Gone With the Wind in generating ticket sales for a Clark Gable picture.[citation needed] According to MGM records the film earned $3,664,000 in the US and Canada and $1,365,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,892,000.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

Boom Town was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Black and White Cinematography and Best Special Photographic Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie, Douglas Shearer).[5] It also made Film Daily's list of the 10 Best Films of 1940.[4][6]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ "Burkburnett, TX" on the Texas State Historical Association website
  3. ^ a b D'Onofrio, Joseph. "Boom Town (1940)" on
  4. ^ a b c d e "Notes" on
  5. ^ "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  6. ^ "Awards" on

External links[edit]