Oh, the things I do in the name of this site.
I receive a lot of random emails (by the way if I don’t answer your email right away, forgive me as my emails server tends to send them in packs of 50 about three days after they were originally sent–don’t get me started). I do love to receive emails from new Clark Gable fans asking questions or just declaring their new love for Clark. I especially love to point Gone with the Wind fans in the direction of Clark’s other works, as there was so much more to the man than Rhett Butler. Over the years, I have received more than a few emails concerning the 1976 feature film Gable and Lombard. Apparently a large number of people have stumbled upon this non-biopic on Netflix or Amazon or late night cable and their opinions of Clark and Carole were shaped by its narrative, and that is downright horrifying. I have only seen it once, many years ago, and I watched it in sheer horror with my hands over my eyes. I swore to never watch it again.
But in the name of this site I decided to set the record straight. So, I am sitting down to watch Gable and Lombard again, Pepto Bismol in hand to control the waves of nausea.
I know that the film was not made to be a biography. I am well aware that you’d be hard pressed to find a movie on a real person where the facts weren’t skewed. But the point of this exercise is to point out just HOW INCREDIBLY wrong this film really is; how this film took a great love story and twisted and turned it until it was unrecognizable.
If I had Twitter, I’d probably do it on there as a live-tweet kind of thing, but I am very uncool and do not have Twitter, so here is my real-time reactions and corrections to Gable and Lombard as I watch it. Prepare yourselves.
(I am quoting a film that is rated R so pardon the language)
And so it begins.
Sweeping music as a portrait of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard morph into James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh. Which just shows you how little Clayburgh’s profile matches Lombard’s. Her features are just too sharp. Brolin is not bad.
And we get into the first scene with what is arguably the film’s biggest and most annoying mistake. We have Clark, dressed in his Army uniform, learning that Carole’s plane had crashed. For some reason this news is accompanied by upbeat swinging big band music. One of the most romantic and tragic details of their story is that he joined the Army after her death, to make her proud. The screenwriter apparently thought it held more dramatic weight to have him join before she died–makes no sense to me.
Then we flashback to Clark attending what was supposed to be Donald Ogden Stewart’s Nervous Breakdown Party for his wife in 1936. Clark, looking disheveled and grumpy, arrives in a sputtering car, smoking a pipe.
James Brolin is not a horrible-looking Clark. He gets the squint pretty good and the voice isn’t bad at all. The script on the other hand…
We instantly have him yelling out cliches like a hick. “I didn’t figure this would be monkey suits in the afternoon.” “I don’t own [a jacket]. Don’t plan on buying one. Nah, this kind of shindig just ain’t for me.” Lord. Instantly he comes across as a doofus.
And in 1936 Clark is being called “kid” by the studio publicist (Red Buttons)? Being told that after the latest preview he is going to be a big star?
Here comes a speeding ambulance, which causes Clark to drive his jalopy straight into a tree. Poor Clarkie. Sitting there, pipe still in mouth, surrounded by smoke like Jughead in Archie’s Comics.
And here we have Carole Lombard, who pops up out of the stretcher in a hospital gown, complete with jewels.
“Surprise, you dumb bastards!” How eloquent. She starts schmoozing, cigarette in hand, and casts Clark aside as a waiter. She is immediately unlikable.
Jill Clayburgh is pretty (was, as she died in 2010) but she just isn’t a good fit for Lombard.
When he confronts her over the car, she calls him a “stuffed shit” and he says he doesn’t expect her to understand him being upset over the car since she’s a big movie star making $4,000 a week and he makes $300. Um what. In 1936, Clark Gable was a household name, the top of the heap at MGM and had an Oscar for crying out loud. I don’t even understand the logic in twisting the truth to make him this dimwitted wannabe-star while she is a movie queen. That doesn’t make one lick of sense.
Oh and then she chases him, shreiks at him “yeah yeah yeah” and then wants him to put up his dukes, dancing around like a moron. She proceeds to haul off and punch him, knocking him into a piano. She throws money at him. “You gotta go around showing you’ve got balls. Wouldn’t hurt to have the balls to show.” Wow, isn’t she likable.
The real story of the party being about Donald Ogden Stewart’s wife’s release from the sanitarium would have helped. Why else would Carole arrive at the party in an ambulance and hospital gown? And her challenging him to a game of tennis in their evening clothes to make up for their argument would have been a cute addition. Instead she punches him and throws money at him. Yeah great liberty you took there.
In the next scene, we see a billboard for China Seas that advertises him as “New Star Clark Gable”??? HELP ME. The man already had an Oscar and had been a star for four years! Why was this even part of the script?! The movie never says what year it starts in, and I am sure that is on purpose. Because if they were trying to pass off their meeting as 1932—(at a party that actually took place in 1936) and ignoring that they starred together in No Man of Her Own, well Carole wasn’t a huge star either in 1932 (and married to William Powell, a fact that never gets mentioned) and immediately after the party we have China Seas, which came out in 1935! In just a few scenes we will have him filming Gone with the Wind, which would have been 1939! So…many…timeline…errors…
Clark’s meeting with a poor imitation of Louis B. Mayer is nonsense. Only truthful part is his white half-circle desk.
Oh, the point of this meeting is to propose Clark pair up on screen with Carole. Oh yeah, too bad that that already happened four years before that, and they were very friendly and got along great behind the scenes. Instead here we have Mayer proposing that Clark star alongside Carole, and Clark refuses.
Mayer even declares that Carole is the#1 female star in the country. When would Mayer EVER say that a Parmount star was the #1 star, not one of his minions at MGM?
My head already hurts. Why distort the truth so much. Part of their allure was that they were two big stars and fell in love. She was not a big star falling in love with him as some newcomer.
So then Clark goes over to Paramount to meet Carole. You know, to discuss the picture he doesn’t want to star in with her. All rubbish.
Of course Carole is a big movie star and so is shamefully late to the meeting. And doesn’t care at all that she made him wait. Isn’t she just enchanting.
She calls him “The King,” a nickname he wouldn’t earn until 1938. God the complete smearing of the timeline! Why would he be called “the King” after apparently one hit picture? She also makes a reference to John Wayne being “The Duke.” John Wayne didn’t even have his breakthrough role until 1939!
She condescendingly mocks his screen performances–“I realize that you’re rather new to the business and your first performances are bound to be a bit uh….undisciplined…you make up for virile intensity what you lack in subtlety and emotion.” Can you even imagine Carole Lombard saying such a condescendingly–pardon my french but for lack of a better word–bitchy thing to ANYONE? She never was this holier than thou movie star. EVER. Hey maybe this movie is actually about Clark and Garbo? Maybe Norma Shearer?
Oh she goes on, “Do you really think I should be playing against this newcomer, this unproven risk?” This is horrible. “The public does expect me to match my leading men, not demolish them!” Wow, what a likable, adorable gal she is. Sure hope he falls in love with her. What a gem.
Clark’s retorts to her are told in a bland, monotone and emotionless voice. Which Carole matches with shrieks. He underacts, she overacts. Dumps fruit on his head. Naturally. And of course he puts a cake in her face. Seriously this is like a bad Lifetime movie.
Oh, now Clark declares he will win Carole over and bring the publicist a pair of her panties. Class all the way. Wasn’t that scene reused in Sixteen Candles?
He calls to win her over. Now she is stumping and shouting to him on the phone. “You save the bullshit for the chorus girls, dunghead!” I think my five year old has better insults than dunghead. “You just stay out of my way or your head is going to be shoved so far up your rear end, you’re going to be whistling Dixie to your prostate!” Again, what a lovely lady. Boy, do I hope they fall in love, don’t you!! I do believe the only personality description the screenwriter received for Carole is that she shrieks and curses a lot.
So now all of a sudden Clark decides he does want to pursue her, just to win this bet with his publicist, supposedly. So he follows her to a party where he throws one of his shoes to the dog to get by and calls it a “dumb mutt.” Yup sounds just like Clark doesn’t it.
Then of course he falls down and gets covered in mud, because he has to look like a complete moron in all situations. Other stars pretend they don’t see him. He is such an embarrassment!
We find out this party he has crashed is the White Mayfair Ball. Which took place inside. This is outside. Which was hosted by Carole. This is hosted by Edwina Foxcroft.(?) Clark greets her with “Howdy do, ma’am.” Because you know, he is a dimwitted hick, in case you haven’t caught on.
Clark finds Carole. They start dancing after she tells him to “be a dear and piss off.” So lovely.
“Sorry, ain’t much of a dancer,” he says. “Honey, you ain’t much of anything.” she replies. Oh isn’t she zany and so adorable? No? How about bitchy and condescending?
I like her dress. That is all. The costumes for the film were by Edith Head and truly the best part of the whole mess.
Clark walks around, covered in mud, munching on an apple, as the other stars make fun of him for crashing the party.
Then they start a scavenger hunt which I do think is just lifted from the script of Carole’s film My Man Godfrey. Clark instigates the whole idea just to win over Carole. Supposedly the inspiration for this was indeed the 30’s screwball comedies Carole was starring in at the time.
Clark then starts beating guys up in a field who accost them. Carole cheers him on then joins in.
Turns out is all an elaborate farce to make her fall for him, complete with fake blood. So he ends up in her bed at her house to recover from his fake injuries. Yeah sure why not.
“Lady, you’ve got a wall up so thick you couldn’t blast through it with a ton of dynamite,” he says to her when she kicks him out after discovering his charade. Who would ever say that about the lovable, sweet and generous real Carole Lombard?
I hate how she calls him “GABLE” in this harsh shrill tone constantly.
Then he falls down the stairs and they kiss and sleep together. Okay, whatever.
While in the kitchen making breakfast the next morning he says, “You can have it with all this king stuff; I’m just a lucky slob from Ohio who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.” Oh look, they grabbed a real Clark quote from somewhere and threw it in! Does that count as doing research?
They start fighting.
“You’re about as powerful as a chocolate eclair…off the screen of course.”
“What’s the matter, my coffee’s no good? He steals my virtue but he won’t drink my coffee.”
Wow. No Oscar nomination for screenwriting for this film, really? With gems like that? Jill Clayburgh is a good actress but no one is good enough to save this script.
She chases after him, starts crying. Lord this is tedious.
Things get philosophical. She says she’s “never said I love you to anyone and meant it.” She doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror. She’s “a cold empty bitch who can’t get a hard-on.”
His response, “You know kid? I never was much into this psychology stuff. But it seems to me a baby don’t come into this world all cold and empty. They only become that way if the people around them make them that way. Now it seems to me that you just never met the right people.”
What is this? Carole is some troubled soul?
Oh and now they are in love suddenly. Complete with terrible love music.
“That dame’s no dame. She’s a real lady.” Clark says as he hands over the check to the publicist, claiming he lost their bet.
Clark marches into Mayer’s office (in a suit, ill-fitting hat and no shirt, of course) when he is told Mayer is ticked off that Clark spent the night at Carole’s. Here, 45 minutes in, Mayer finally mentions that Clark is a married man, which Clark dismisses with the fact that he and Ria hadn’t lived together for more than two years. Mayer gives Clark a lesson on morality, stating he’ll be run out of the business like Fatty Arbuckle. “But you do what you want to do,” he says. Oh yeah that sounds like a real meeting with the infamous Mayer.
Carole also gets a talking-to from her studio head. “It’s not only your career at stake, it’s his too.”
Oh, they are both so tortured. They call each other and lie about going out of town for different reasons, both sad they can’t be together.
They both decide to go down to Palm Springs to get some space, neither knowing that the other one is there too. He realizes she is next to him on the golf course when she yells “oh shit!” and throws a golf ball when she misses a shot.
Oh, by the way, all of this is hogwash.
They declare their love for each other. Well, she says she loves him and he says he’s been thinking about her too.
“If we played it smart, who’s going to find out?” he says. “We’d have to watch our step.”
“I do a great soft shoe,” she says.
“We can’t be seen in public,” he says.
“I hate crowds,” she says.
“Have to avoid each other at parties,” he says.
“We’ll have our own party,” she says.
“You think we ought to give it a try?” he says.
“You know me, I’ll try anything,” she says.
“Might be just a fling,” he says.
“Might be,” she says.
“Could burn itself out after a week,” he says.
“Well don’t you just stand there, you big ape, and start the god damn fire!” she says. (I audibly groaned just then)
She jumps into his arms. They fall over and start kissing. No, I did not make any of that up. Yes, someone actually got paid to write that.
Coming up next, Part Two. I have to stop here and go out and get more Pepto Bismol.