After coming home from World War II, Vic Norman (Clark Gable) wants to get back into the advertising business. When he lands an interview with Mr. Kimberly (Adolphe Menjou) at Kimberly Advertising Agency, their meeting is interrupted by Evan Llewellyn Evans (Sidney Greenstreet), the very demanding head of Beautee Soap, their biggest client. Evans wants them to get socialite Kay Dorrance (Deborah Kerr) for a new ad campaign and Vic volunteers to talk to her into it. When he arrives at her apartment, the two of them hit it off and he has no problem getting her to agree. On the day of the photo shoot, Kay is unhappy with the negligee she is asked to wear and Vic stands up for her and gets them to photograph her with her children wearing a respectable evening gown. Evans isn’t happy when he finds out Vic disregarded their idea, but when he hears a radio spot produced by Vic, he’s won over.
Vic continues to see Kay and he wants to take her to The Blue Penguin Inn, a place in Connecticut he liked to visit before going to fight in the war. But when he gets there, he finds out the place has gone downhill while he was away. When Kay arrives, she doesn’t see Vic, but she finds out they would be staying in adjoining rooms and gets the wrong idea and leaves. Vic is heartbroken, but his weekend is soon interrupted when Evans wants to have a Sunday meeting. He wants Beautee Soap to have a radio show starring comedian Buddy Hare (Keenan Wynn), so he sends Vic out on the next train to Hollywood to sign a deal with him and get started working on the show.
On the train, Vic runs into his former girlfriend Jean Ogilvie (Ava Gardner). It’s a good thing they’re still friendly with each other, because Jean is able to help Vic talk to Buddy’s agent David Lash (Edward Arnold) and he gets Buddy to do the show for a good price. While working on the show in Hollywood, Vic and Jean rekindle their relationship, but Jean can see that Vic still loves Kay. By then, Kay has come around and Vic finds her waiting for him one night. Vic proposes and he becomes focused on being the best provider he can be.
Vic is determined to be the best provider he can be for Kay and her children, so when it turns out there’s a problem with Buddy’s contract, he resorts to doing some pretty awful things to get Lash to fix it. But Vic honestly likes Lash and immediately feels awful about it. He hates what the advertising business has done to him and decides to tell Evans off and leave while he still has his dignity.
The Hucksters has a lot going for it, but it could have been a stronger movie overall. Clark Gable was very good in it and Deborah Kerr wasn’t bad, either. This was Kerr’s first American film, so it’s too bad she didn’t really have very much to do in it. Even though I liked them both separately, I wasn’t really sold on Gable and Kerr together. I thought he had much more chemistry with Ava Gardner. The supporting cast was excellent, particularly Sidney Greenstreet (who was so perfect for that role), Adolphe Menjou, and Keenan Wynn.
The Hucksters is just under two hours long, but I felt like it could have been a little bit shorter. It also seemed like it should have packed more of a punch, but it didn’t quite get there. The Hucksters was based on a 1946 novel by Frederic Wakeman, which from what I’ve heard, was pretty scandalous. Clark Gable himself called the book filthy, so I can imagine the movie was a pretty heavily sanitized adaptation. Maybe the novel has more of the impact I felt like the movie should have had.