William Wellman’s 1935 version of Call of the Wild has arguably been called the best adaptation of Jack London’s classic 1903 novel that took place in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. But whereas the book centers around a sled dog named Buck, who is bought and sold, abused and worked in harsh circumstances, and eventually succumbs to his beastly nature, following a pack of wolves into the wild… the movie Call of the Wild is about a man named Thornton who happens to rescue a sled dog named Buck.
Rabble-rouser prospector Jack Thornton (Clark Gable) loses all his money gambling in Skagway, so teams up with a guy named Shorty (Jack Oakie) who claims to have secret knowledge about an untapped gold field in the Yukon. Never mind that he got this information by opening other people’s mail… they figure if they can get to the location first, they can make a claim on the spot and become rich.
While gathering supplies, Thornton pays $250 for a wild sled dog named Buck, to keep the dog from being shot by a sneering villain of an Englishman named Smith (Reginald Owen). Eventually, Buck proves his worth as a badass lead dog, as he fights for dominance and respect on the team. Buck’s story falls by the wayside though because Thornton and Shorty have stumbled upon and rescued a woman (Loretta Young) alone in the wilderness. Claire’s husband Blake has gone off to find help after they lost their team, only to never return. Turns out Blake was the original owner of the map that Thornton and Shorty were trying to follow, so the trio decide to team up to find the gold.
Call of the Wild has gained its own notoriety, not necessarily for the film itself, but because while being snowed in on the set of the film, Clark Gable (married and 34 at the time) had a secret affair with Loretta Young (an unmarried Catholic 22-year-old). A love child was born, and the girl’s parentage was one of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets in a time where such affairs were certainly hush-hush. But if you know this while watching the film, it makes the later scenes between Gable and Young much more poignant. There is a farewell scene between the two late in the film, where you can clearly see the adoration in Gable’s face, and it is quite moving. This makes Call of the Wild a special sort of Hollywood lore time capsule beyond just being a very watchable and entertaining outdoor adventure movie.
Call of the Wild has been digitally restored and released on Blu-ray as part of 20th Century Fox’s “Voice Your Choice” campaign where classic films were selected for release by fan votes, which is pretty cool. Extras are pretty sparse, including only an audio commentary by Darwin Porter, and an original theatrical trailer.