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Clark Gable was indeed sued in a paternity suit and he did wind up in the courtroom. However, Carole Lombard did not come to Gable's defense. Gable was able to prove he was not in England where the conception was said to have taken place and the woman was sent to a year in jail for slandering his name. See more »
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GABLE AND LOMBARD is the kind of film that Hollywood history buffs hate, but fans of love stories just eat up. In other words, the truth is often distorted or ignored, but the emotional core is dead-on.
I won't dwell on the many mistakes, but two are glaring, and must be pointed out. While Carole Lombard was a truly gifted actress (particularly in comedies), she was never Hollywood's #1 star (Lombard never achieved the status of Shearer, Garbo, Davis, or Crawford); L.B. Mayer's 'ordering' rising star Gable to 'make nice' with her, so she'd agree to do a picture at Metro with him is pure hokum. Actors had virtually no say in 'loan outs' in the 1930s; studios made all the decisions, based on maximizing their profits, and controlling their stars. A case in point was Gable's participation in Columbia's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. Had he been given the opportunity, he'd have refused to go (he considered it a 'step backward', and it was, in fact, done as punishment against him, on MGM's part), and he would have never have won his only Academy Award!
The other major gaffe is showing Gable as an AAF officer at the time of Lombard's death. He didn't enlist until after she'd died, partially because of the guilt he felt over his lack of involvement in the war effort, a cause Lombard had died supporting. While Brolin, as Gable, looks terrific in uniform, it just wasn't the truth.
The effectiveness of a story like this relies heavily on the actors portraying the stars, and GABLE AND LOMBARD offers an interesting combination. Despite David Janssen's heavy lobbying for the role of Clark Gable (he always felt he was, actually, Gable's son, and he did, in fact, share many of the actor's physical and vocal qualities), the producers felt that, at 46, he was too old for the role, and went, instead, with 36-year-old James Brolin. Brolin, best-known for his stint in the hit TV series, 'Marcus Welby, M.D.' (and later, in another series, 'Hotel'), was an actor who had all the right 'tools', but never quite achieved film stardom. Nearly cast as Roger Moore's replacement as James Bond (despite a terrific screen test, producer Cubby Broccoli decided to stick with United Kingdom actors), Brolin, with a mustache, looked eerily like Gable during the actor's peak years, and could mimic the actor's vocal inflections and physical mannerisms very effectively. The end result of his mimicry, however, was a Gable who lacked depth, and his performance frequently seemed more a caricature than a portrayal.
Jill Clayburgh, as Carole Lombard, faced a different problem. The 32-year-old actress (who would achieve stardom the following year, in SILVER STREAK), had a very well-written role, which was, in fact, quite close to the actress' actual personality (big-hearted yet at times acerbic, Lombard was known for her salty humor and frequent use of four-letter words, in stark contrast with her classic beauty). Clayburgh, however, with her broad features, looked nothing like Carole Lombard. (If you're unfamiliar with Lombard's 'look', her closest contemporary counterpart is Michelle Pfeiffer.) Clayburgh plays the role very well, but, knowing this, I could never 'suspend disbelief' enough to accept her as Lombard.
However, as I said at the beginning, if you are hooked by true love stories (and aren't familiar with the 'real' Carole Lombard), GABLE AND LOMBARD has all the elements you can ask for; antagonism turning to attraction and then 'forbidden' passion, nearly insurmountable obstacles blocking happiness, eventual triumph, then a heartbreaking tragedy that would ultimately immortalize the lovers. Gable 'carried a torch' for his lost love until his death, in 1960, and GABLE AND LOMBARD gives ample evidence of her impact on his life.
The film is a flawed, but moving testament to their love.
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