It’s true that Clark Gable and Carol Lombard were lovers, but that’s not all…
With a stellar cast headed by James Brolin, Jill Clayburgh and more, what could possibly go wrong?
Gable and Lombard – Trailer, YouTube Movies
Gable and Lombard (1976) is not as my Darlin Husband joked an ill-matched buddy movie pairing of the Hobbs and Shaw (2019) variety. The
TV movie telling of the 1930s true love story between actor Clark Gable and actress Carole Lombard. This film tells how this Hollywood pair met, became lovers and then married until death they did part. I read that many critics and movie bloggers are divided on this film which has many glaring inaccuracies reported.
I’m never one to shy away from a bad movie, more like find one and switch it off. So after reading a delightful deconstruction of Liz and Dick (2012), a made for TV movie on the
real reel romance of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I thought I’d give Gable and Lombard (1976) a shot. This “true” biopic has a fabulous cast, headed by James Brolin as Clark Gable and Jill Clayburgh as Carol Lombard.
With regards to this review, I’ll tell of how the movie depicts a specific event and then follow this with those realities of their real life romance in brackets where this needs to be corrected. If there is anything I’ve not added or missed out on, I’m happy to have these comments added to this post.
the 1970s romantic comedy biopic Gable and Lombard, Clark Gable (Brolin) meets Carol Lombard (Clayburgh) at a Hollywood party. Wannabe film actor Gable (who had in fact made a number of successful films) is leaving the party in his new car. His car crashes into a tree as he makes way for an ambulance. Thus missing no1 actress and star, Carol Lombard making her big appearance as a fake ambulance victim. (Pretty sick introduction to this actress, bearing in mind how the real Lombard passed away.)
Gable confronts her about his now wrecked car, but she thinks he’s the waiter. This is despite the fact he’s not got a tray full of drinks and is smoking a pipe. They clash and then hate each other, as she punches him after he threatens to spank her.
Gable and Lombard are asked to make a film together. This is after the studio heads of respective studios set up a meeting between the stars. They meet again – despite Gable’s protests – and clash again. He bets his publicist Ivan Cooper (played by Red Buttons), a week’s wages that he can get a pair of her panties.
Both Lombard and Gable attend a Hollywood party, where he convinces the hostess to hold a scavenger hunt in pairs. He’s paired with Lombard. During this scavenger hunt, Gable is beaten up by some bad guys, who turn out to be part of a set-up by him. Lombard falls for this ruse and then takes him home apparently injured.
There she finds out the truth of his “beating” after nursing his “wounds”, but inevitably true love begins. Cue snog and him staying over. She’s single, but he’s married but separated. They talk work, then argue over breakfast and he leaves. But she rushes after him and she opens up about never finding love and they make up. Being the gent he is he doesn’t go through with the panties bet, and he pays off his publicist.
The starry loved up pair are warned individually by their respective studio heads not to date each other. With LB Mayer (Allen Garfield) at MGM and her director at Paramount stressing it will ruin their loved one’s career as he’s still technically married. So the pair take a wee break separately to think it over. Both make excuses to the other about family ailments.
What d’ya know, they head for Palm Springs, end up on the same bunker of the same golf course and inevitably spot each other. She tells him she loves him (I stifle a sob, well aware this is probably not when or how she said this, but nearly sob as she probably did say this). She then jumps on him in an embrace and they fall over (cue “hilarity” rather than tears).
(All of this film so far including their meet-cute film meeting could have all been cut out and replaced with a fun montage of the truth. With the reality of the real-life pair as extras possibly meeting on the set of The Plastic Age (1925) as co-eds. Or possibly when both were cast as Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) with him as a Roman Guard and her as a slave girl.)
The couple is finally paired up on the screen in their romantic leads in No Man of Her Own (1932). The pair both subjects to fun pranks from the other on their last day of the shooting of this film. They were not romantically involved at this time. She gave him a ham with his photograph on it, and he gave her some ballet slippers and a card calling her a prima donna. (The pair commencing their real-life love affair after The White Mayfair Ball. With more funny jokes from Lombard when they dated.)
Then it’s all undercover romantic – but many sexual – secret liaisons (in real life their love affair is an open secret). Their constant pranks on each other (some seen out of context) and their jealousy of their partner’s co-stars. With her, it’s jealousy of Vivien Leigh (Morgan Brittany) on the set of Gone with the Wind (1939) (This in two well set up scenes yet these all too brief nod to Gable’s famous role. You don’t even see Brittany’s Vivien Leigh interpretation in a close-up or any meaningful dialogue).
The film also tells of Gable’s difficulties in getting a divorce from his wife Rhea, then Gable fighting an alleged paternity case. The paternity case going to court. Lombard admirably tells the courtroom, Hollywood and the world that he spent every night with her in “the sack” (the film says it that crassly) at the time in question so he didn’t do it. (Gable’s real-life paternity case, did not have Lombard present)
After he finally gets a divorce, they marry (sadly, off screen), he has to go to war and she does her bit for the war effort too. (It’s true he did join the American Air Force but did so after Lombard passes away.) Then Lombard gets killed in a plane crash. Leaving him to remember her as he is driven away from the scene (which did leave me in tears, with this sadly a true event..)
Despite all the inaccuracies, this film was played beautifully. Brolin does have the good looks, charm and charisma to convince me as Gable. I instantly felt his credible performance outshone everything in the movie, making his Gable a charming, gallant and likeable man.
He gave the poor script all his worth and I saw him as Gable, immediately his other roles – as diverse as TV’s Hotel (1983-88) and Skyjacked (1972) – faded from my mind. It’s bizarre to think of others in this Gable role. IMDb reporting both Burt Reynolds and Steve McQueen turning this role down.
Brolin’s romantic chemistry with Clayburgh’s Lombard was sweet and supportive. You always felt his strong love for this woman, rather than the actress. If Brolin is like this in real life – which I suspect he is – 20 years with Barbra Streisand is proof of this. With this like Lombard and Gable, a Hollywood made starry romance that is also so often in the spotlight.
Clayburgh looked lovely with her wardrobe one to envy, with eight times Oscar winner, Edith Head behind those marvellous frocks. Clayburgh plays her role as sassy and supportive of her man one moment and shows Clark her character’s vulnerabilities as a woman rather than an actress. However sadly at times, they made Lombard appear a crass and vulgar woman, who cheapened their love affair in the courtroom scene for the amusement of all. If they had to include this untrue scene, it would have been much more fitting to have her talking lovingly of their off-screen romance.
This could have been an interesting film but sadly it seems it concentrated too much on the fictitious scenes. These had the reality been shown would have reflected on this biopic more favourably and shown these as real-life people rather than a comic double act. Roger Ebert sums this film up wonderfully in his post HERE saying…
And there are so many dumb practical jokes and would-be risque innuendoes that any concern for their real thoughts and feelings is lost, So we don’t get a notion of their private lives, and we don’t even remotely learn from this movie what made them great stars and personalities.
There’s a lot of their true-life story skimmed over such as his proposal, their wedding and their hopes to have children. All of which would have added to the substance of this love story. There are just too many false romantic cliches that would fit in better in a different sub-genre.
With this at times playing like a screwball 1980s romantic comedy that should have starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks with a moustache with no references to Gable or Lombard in the script or plot. And this film cuts out the scenes telling off the real-life tragic endings for this real-life screen couple.
The film resembles more the Alternative History of Gable and Lombard than the more romantic reality. So should they recut this script, please cut out all references to this screen couple. Make it about two random fictional 1930 stars instead of those much loved real ones. Keep the frocks and ambience for the film, both of which made it a fitting and accurate movie and keep Brolin and Clayburgh. As fans and certain celebrated critics frankly my dear, do give a damn about this movie’s misinterpretation of the real Gable and Lombard.
This post was entered Love Letters to Old Hollywood‘s Second Clark Gable Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include James Brolin in Hotel and Skyjacked. He’s also seen here in the second review of Hotel. Jill Clayburgh appeared in Bridesmaids. Morgan Brittany in Dallas HERE, Gypsy and more. If you want to read more on those real-life stars Clark Gable stars in Teachers Pet and Carole Lombard in Nothing Sacred.