Gable and Lombard, a romantic drama about the illicit love affair and subsequent marriage of real-life Golden Age movie stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, is so preposterously fictionalized that it’s a pointless endeavor. Among many other howlers, the movie features a climactic scene in which Lombard (Jill Clayburgh) testifies on behalf of Gable (James Brolin) at a court hearing related to his divorce from the woman to whom he was married when he began keeping company with Lombard. Not only did this testimony never happen, but the filmmakers portray Lombard as such a crude loudmouth that when asked to describe her relationship with Gable, she proclaims, “Me and that big ape over there have been hitting the sack every night, and I’ve got a sore back to prove it!” Yet Gable and Lombard lacks the courage of its convictions—instead of going wholeheartedly down the road of tabloid tawdriness, the movie is meant to be some sort of loving tribute to once-in-a-lifetime passion. Unfortunately, Barry Sandler’s inept screenplay and Sidney J. Furie’s unsophisticated direction makes the leading characters look like sex-crazed buffoons instead of incandescent lovers.
This tone-deaf portrayal is exacerbated by performances that are, to say the least, uneven. While Clayburgh is grandiose and shrill, it’s possible to discern some of the emotional realities she’s attempting to communicate. However, Brolin is laughable, growling and smirking through a paper-thin impersonation of Gable’s most obvious onscreen tics. When these dissonant performances merge during interminable dialogue scenes—Gable and Lombard runs a deadly 131 minutes—the result is loud, superficial nonsense. It’s also impossible to know whom this movie was meant to please: The picture’s narrative is far too bogus to please diehard Gable-Lombard fans, and far too cliché-ridden to work as a standalone romance. Yes, the movie is handsomely produced, but so what? Even the supposed appeal of re-creating Old Hollywood is wasted, since the only other major character drawn from history is studio chief L.B. Mayer (played unpersuasively by Allen Garfield). As the real Lombard’s onetime secretary told syndicated columnist Dick Kleiner at the time of the Gable and Lombard’s release: “I couldn’t associate a single scene with anything that I’d lived through. Nothing in it is right, not even the clothes.”
Gable and Lombard: LAME