It was while he was a teen-ager, working as an usher in a downtown Toronto movie palace, that Sidney Furie decided he wanted to become a director. Fortunately for Furie, his job as an usher didn’t last long; unfortunately for filmgoers, he has managed to survive a lot longer as a Hollywood director. At 43, Furie has been responsible for almost as many bombs (The Appaloosa, Little Fauss And Big Halsy, The Naked Runner ) as the Irish Republican Army. Now, with Gable And Lombard, his latest disaster, he is almost assured of top spot on all the critics’ lists of the worst movies of 1976.
Gable And Lombard purports to tell the story of what is fatuously called Hollywood’s greatest romance. In reality, Clark Gable was a jug-eared actor with false teeth who even after he married the talented screen comedienne, Carole Lombard, could never keep his hands off the starlets around MGM. Furie and his screenwriter, Barry Sandler, have ignored all this and opted for á silly nostalgic myth about Great Lovers disporting in the surreal Ruritania that was Hollywood in the Thirties. Gable (James Brolin) meets Lombard (Jill Clayburgh) at a grotesquely sumptuous lawn party. He is a stiff, square, pipe-smoking leading man on his way up. She is a raunchy, profane movie queen who arrives in an ambulance that runs Gable’s car spectacularly into a tree. Sandler’s dialogue strikes the same note of subtlety: “Don’t be a stuffed shit!” Lombard shrieks when he objects to her pranks. “Holy jumpin’ catfish!” Gable exclaims when she knocks him down. What can’t be turned to heavy-handed farce is dressed up as turgid melodrama. Flinty-eyed studio boss
Louis B. Mayer (Allen Garfield) doesn’t want the already-married Gable to have an affaire with another woman. Gable and Lombard manage it anyway, sneaking around in cute disguises to fool the gossip columnists.
Not surprisingly, none of this has much to do with what actually happened. For example, in the film’s stomach-turning, climactic courtroom scene, Lombard turns up to bail Gable out of a trumpedup paternity suit. He couldn’t possibly be the father of another woman’s child, she explains, because he was curled up with her every night (presumably Gable’s libido shriveled in the sunlight). There was indeed a paternity suit against Gable, but it was another oíd flame, Franz Dörfler, who testified for him. Lombard never went near the trial. Now, Furie is blithely predicting an Oscar nomination for Broíin, which is only likely to happen if a special award is made for actors who can wiggle their ears. Brolin can’t begin to hint at Gable’s raw masculinity. But because few of Lombard’s movies are seen these days, Jill Clayburgh can get away with portraying the comedienne on her own terms. Unlike Brolin, she doesn’t have to get involved in the dangerous game of imitation. She simply rushes at full speed through the movie, surviving it easily.
The same can hardly be said for Sidney Furie. Even with his long list of flops, Furie often poses as a maverick whose true talent has been smothered by the commercial demands of Hollywood. “You soon learn out here.” he says, “that to keep working you make the movies the studios want made.” That philosophy won’t work any longer. Gable And Lombard reveals him for what he is: a fumbling packager of tinseled junk.
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