Movies about real life famous couples can be risky ventures. When the two people in question are liked and admired, their personalities portrayed on film must try and match how they are perceived by the general public or the film’s integrity stands to be rejected (regardless of the director’s ability, the script and the actors themselves). If the couple were notorious and perhaps misunderstood, people can turn away from wanting to see a relationship “train wreck” and disparage the film and its content on perhaps “moral” grounds. And yet again if the couple had struggles internal to their relationship alone, and these are revealed within the film, whether or not it is intended, the audience can takes sides for or against either of the two people that form the relationship.
Some of this went through my mind when I recently saw the movie Gable and Lombard that depicts the romantic relationship of actor Clark Gable and actress Carole Lombard in the late 1930s/early 1940s. This film was released in 1976 and stars James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh as these two famous stars who fell in love in an era when public moral opinion could make or break an entertainer’s career. The film portrays how these two people met and how their love relationship developed. What was hard for them was while Gable had been for some time separated from his wife before meeting Lombard, his wife still would not grant him a divorce. Gable and Lombard went ahead and lived together hoping the wife would finally relent; eventually she did, however not without a scandal. The tragedy, of course, is that within a few years after Gable and Lombard were married, Carole died in a plane crash in 1942 . The story is that she remained for the rest of Clark Gable’s life the love of his life (while he did go on to marry two more time before he died, he requested to be buried next to Ms. Lombard in a Glendale, California cemetery).
Unfortunately the film, Gable and Lombard was not well received when it was released in the mid 1970s. Finding the film fairly refreshing and captivating, I was curious as to why the film was disliked. From what I’ve researched, it was in part due to how Ms. Lombard was portrayed. She was considered, during her lifetime, to be a classy well-bred and yet funny lady while actress Jill Clayburgh instead depicted Ms. Lombard as an earthy and fairly free-spirited wise-cracking woman. Evidently there were still quite a few people alive in 1976 who remembered and knew Ms. Lombard from 35 years earlier, and these people did not take kindly to Ms. Clayburgh’s portrayal. Myself a fan of Carole Lombard, I found no offense in Jill Clayburgh’s depiction – I thought she brought out smart, down-to-earth yet silly qualities, making it understandable how Clark Gable would fall for Ms. Lombard.
Other interesting films about real life famous couples possibly worth seeing are:
“Sid and Nancy” (1982) – The story of British punk rock musician, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen
“Tom and Viv” (1994) – The story of the marriage of American poet, T.S. Eliot and British woman, Vivienne Haigh-Wood
“W.E.” (2011) – The story of the romance/relationship of American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, and King Edward VIII of England