29 August 2005 | VPaterno
Bad biopic; does neither Clark nor Carole justice
Struggling in the mid-seventies just before the blockbuster era settled in, Hollywood looked back to its history for material, and this was one of the results. Based on a pretty good book by Warren G. Harris, the problem with "Gable & Lombard" isn't so much the acting (Brolin does what he can in a no-win situation, and Clayburgh's halfway decent, though it's nearly impossible to suspend disbelief and believe she's Lombard), but the script. It's awful, and worse, historically inaccurate in so many ways (unlike the book).
First of all, Clark and Carole initially met filming "No Man Of Her Own" when Gable was loaned to Paramount in late 1932, while Lombard was married to William Powell; they got along well on the set, but no sparks flew and from all accounts they didn't keep in touch.
Second, Lombard was never a bigger star than Gable (although at the peak of her career, she was the highest-salaried star in the industry thanks to her shrewd business sense). Both elevated their rank in 1934, ironically through films at Columbia -- "It Happened One Night" for Clark, "Twentieth Century" for Carole. Her only film at MGM also came that year, but it wasn't with Gable; it was a gangster comedy called "The Gay Bride," sort of a thirties "Married To The Mob" (in fact, that phrase is actually used in the film). Carole always called it the worst film of her career (although, personally, I deem it far superior to her lone foray at Warners, "Fools For Scandal" in 1938).
Third, and perhaps most inexcusable to me, was having Gable in uniform at the time of Carole's death in a 1942 plane crash returning from a war bond rally in her native Indiana. Lombard was far more interested in world affairs than Gable, and many believe Clark enlisted out of guilt for what had happened to his wife -- something that would have been far more poignant than what was shown on screen. (There's also been conjecture that Gable and Lana Turner, who were making "Somewhere I'll Find You," were having an affair at the time of Carole's death, and that Lombard decided to fly home because of her suspicions. Since Turner was alive in 1976, one can understand why the script didn't touch this issue.) All in all, a mediocre film about two personalities who deserve far better treatment, especially since both were, by all accounts, generally good people and acknowledged as such by those who worked with them. Lombard in particular deserves a decent biopic, as her timeless, iconoclastic qualities still resonate today.