After the box office success of Honky Tonk, MGM reunited stars Clark Gable and Lana Turner for the romantic war drama Somewhere I’ll Find You. Directed by Wesley Ruggles, the film follows two war correspondent brothers, Johnny (Gable) and Kirk Davis (Robert Sterling), who compete for the love of fellow journalist Paula Lane (Turner).
Kirk intends to marry Paula, but he is unaware Johnny stood Paula up three years ago, and for some inexplicable reason, she has been trying to get over him ever since. It’s a classic love triangle: Johnny as the bad boy Paula can’t stay away from, and Kirk as the good guy who does everything right, but can’t keep the girl.
But the romance fades into the background as the film progresses into full-blown war propaganda. It takes place before, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack, using that setting to espouse the import of armed forces and journalists to the war effort. In the final scene, set in Bataan, Gable’s Kirk dictates his take on the film’s climactic battle against the Japanese to Paula so that the American people can know and be inspired by the events happening halfway across the world. Of course, Kirk and Paula end up together, but the final scene features a patriotic act rather than a more traditional romantic walk into the sunset.
Gable and Turner have undeniable chemistry despite their twenty-year age gap. But the screenplay, by Marguerite Roberts and Walter Reisch, makes absolutely no attempt to earn their romance. The audience is supposed to believe Paula harbors an undying love for a man who stood her up three years ago—and then, once “reunited,” Johnny belittles Paula as a “lady reporter” and aggressively pursues her while she’s dating his brother. It’s rather comforting that a contemporary review from The New York Times agreed that “Mr. Gable’s and Miss Turner’s ardent romance has in it more box office logic than sensible human motivation.”1 Gable as Johnny does not give a particularly memorable performance, especially from the man who played Rhett Butler. But considering the tragic circumstances surrounding the film, it and Gable’s performance become a strange sort of time capsule.
Days into filming, Gable’s wife Carole Lombard died in a plane crash. Lombard was thirty-three. Gable was never the same. Somewhere I’ll Find You became glaringly insignificant in the wake of the tragedy, and production was shut down. Gable, seen by all as a bastion of masculinity and strength, returned to set one month later having lost both twenty pounds and his trademark confidence and vitality. Several MGM stars described him as “bleary-eyed and haggard.”2
Gable’s performance is certainly lacking his usual spark. Often his lines are delivered with much effort and little passion, as if his mind is elsewhere. Viewers unfamiliar with Gable may not notice anything off about the performance. His weariness only becomes glaring once the viewer learns of the context.
Gable managed to finish the film, and promptly joined the US army. He had not found a cause worth living for, but rather the opposite. Gable wanted to be with Lombard; according to friends, he wanted to die.3 He even joined the Army Air Corps, so that if he succeeded, he would go down the same way as his one true love.4 But Gable escaped the war unscathed, partly as a result of meddling on the part of MGM to keep him out of danger, and made Adventure in 1945, his first film since Somewhere I’ll Find You.
To the public, Gable was a charismatic, invincible star. But Lombard was the one woman who knew the real Gable—insecure, self loathing, and obsessive-compulsive.5 Gable would engage in numerous affairs, and marry twice more, but losing Lombard changed him irrevocably. The two were finally reunited in 1960, when Gable died of a heart attack and was buried next to Lombard.
While the true story behind the film is tragically fascinating, Somewhere I’ll Find You is a rather forgettable mess. Characters’ motivations are unclear and often absurd; the film says nothing new or insightful about war or romance; and drama behind the scenes turned out to be far more compelling than the story on screen. Maybe it would have been more interesting to see the real Gable, the one riddled with anxieties, instead of the arrogant, infallible Johnny. Perhaps the film only succeeded in capturing Gable during arguably the most difficult time of his life, and for that reason only, Somewhere I’ll Find You has a place in Hollywood history.
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References [ + ]
|1.||^||T.S., “‘Somewhere I’ll Find You,’ With Clark Gable and Lana Turner, at the Capitol,” The New York Times, August 28, 1942.|
|2.||^||Robert Matzen, Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 (Pittsburgh: GoodKnight Books, 2014), 322.|
|3.||^||Robert Matzen, Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 (Pittsburgh: GoodKnight Books, 2014), 323.|
|4.||^||Matzen 2014, 323.|
|5.||^||Karina Longworth, “Star Wars Episode II: Carole Lombard and Clark Gable,” podcast audio, You Must Remember This, MP3, January 13, 2015.|