"Any Number Can Play" (1949) is a spot-the-character-actor festival. Shown recently on TCM, I came in late, after the opening credits, and knowing nothing about the film, I had a ball picking out character actors I knew or thought I knew.
Alexis Smith is his wife, who has grown lonelier through the years in his absence, and especially now that her son is almost grown. Darryl Hickman plays their boy, who is angry at his father for being absent, being the town notorious clip joint owner, and for wanting him to fight other kids when he has no desire to punch anybody.
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on Gable's disappointment in his son's lack of a brawling gene (there is a toy model of two boxers in a ring on Gable's desk), and his resentment at being resented.
This is our post-War Gable, older and looking it, but still with that incredible magnetism. When he walks through the crowded gambling salon, he's the only person you watch.
It is a small hideway, a looking almost like a camping cottage. There are a few pieces of mismatched old furnature, a phonograph, a baby's wooden highchair, and an old double bed that had been theirs in the small apartment they had when they were first married. All the items are from the early years of their marriage, including the box of fishing flies Gable wants.
He is astonished, and she explains in a low, almost whispered voice that she misses the days when they were together more, when he was just starting out in business, and when they shared all their thoughts and experiences. Her pain and her disapointment, and her frustration at having to be the linchpin between her estranged husband and son, are mitigated only by her great love for this man. He flops on the lumpy mattress and she joins him, still whispering between kisses, a very touching seduction scene (We can only suppose she's keeping one foot on the floor). She is more impressive in this scene than Gable, whose normal tone of speaking voice seems almost a shout compared to her softer tones, and he looks uncomfortable. He's the rogue of younger days, chasing women in between wisecracks, and does not seem to like being seduced.
However his later scene with Mary Astor, as an old flame who still pines for him, is more profound and shows Gable as lonely as his wife. One interesting thing about this movie is that, despite Gable's obvious magnestim before the camera, he must also have slipped the cameraman a buck or two because in several scenes he is shown facing the camera and we see only the back of the person talking to him. This happens most glaringly with Mary Astor, who plays much of their one scene together with her back to us. Mary Astor, of all people.
Knowing nothing about this film, and missing the opening credits, Mary Astor pulling on the arm of a slot machine was only one happy surprise. The rest of the movie became an Easter egg hunt for familiar faces.
Frank Morgan has a great role as an aggressive gambler, a rival and enemy to Gable, who intends to clean him out. Morgan is a far cry from his normal jovial roles. He's menacing, snide, sarcastic, but ultimately respecting Gable for playing the game of life as hard as he does. Mr. Morgan died only two months after "Any Number Can Play" was released.
Leon Ames is the doctor who tells Gable to cut out bad habits (including work) or he's a goner. Lewis Stone plays the town drunk, who borrows money from Gable, and loses everything at poker. If you had no idea Judge Hardy could act, have a look at this movie.
That's William Edmunds as the men's room attendant - remember Mr. Martini from "It's a Wonderful Life"?
That photo in Gable's office of his son as a little boy -that's not a young Darryl Hickman. That's a young Scotty Becket. You recognize him right off, and it threw me. I spent the rest of the movie wondering when Scotty Becket would show up
Barbara Billingsly is supposed to be a gambler, too, but I didn't see her anywhere. Instead, I saw a couple people who weren't there. I thought I recognized one fellow as Leon Belasco, and another as Regis Toomey, at least from profile - but IMDb doesn't list them in the credits.
I got so hung up on hunting for character actors at that point, I was starting to see things.