Review of the Movie Key to the City

Key to the City (1950) is a black-and-white film that stars Clark Gable (Steve Fisk) and Loretta Young (Clarissa Standish) as small-town mayors who meet and fall in love while attending a convention of mayors in San Francisco.  The director is George Sidney.  Although longshoreman Steve Fisk originally planned to party with “atom dancer” Sheila (Marilyn Maxwell), he quickly succumbs to beautiful Clarissa Standish, the mayor of Wenonah, Maine, who is a no-nonsense lawyer with a degree from Harvard University.  Her influence makes caddish Fisk take his job as mayor more seriously, and Fisk’s influence helps Standish to relax, party, and have more fun.

The subplot concerns attempts by a crooked Puget City council member and political boss named Henshaw and his gang to undermine newly elected Mayor Fisk while he is out-of-town.  Raymond Burr plays Les Taggart, Henshaw’s thuggish minion.  Although Burr is better known for his role as Perry Mason on television, the actor does a good job portraying the obnoxious Taggart.  Fisk has to return to Puget City to subdue the political rebellion.  In a climactic scene, Fisk and Taggart have a prolonged fight, while Standish subdues Taggart’s accomplice Sheila easily by throwing her off whenever Sheila attacks.

Eventually, Fisk and Standish get engaged, and he gives his fiancée the key to Puget City.

Key to the City has some feminist elements:  a competent and highly educated woman mayor who is a lawyer and knows how to defend herself.  Another nontraditional touch is that Standish proposes marriage to Fisk.  However, the movie portrays the heroine as willing to immediately give up her career once she gets engaged.  In this way, Key to the City follows the typical post-World-War-II film pattern of pushing women back to their role of homemakers after their nontraditional jobs during the combat.


Frank Morgan as Fire Chief Duggan and Fisk’s right-hand man provides comic relief.  Duggan is a straight-arrow married man foil for Fisk, who is a party-loving and rowdy skirt-chaser.  Toward the end of the movie, Duggan puts a match to documents that incriminate Mayor Fisk.  In the process, the Fire Chief nearly sets the hotel room on fire and also ignites his own fire hat!

This movie is well acted and has a good, fast-moving script.  Although Fisk gets Standish into trouble and they get arrested twice by the San Francisco police, Standish learns to appreciate Fisk’s love of life and fun.  I recommend Key to the City as a very entertaining romantic comedy.

Loretta Young actress photo

Photos by twm1340,

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