In honor of Veterans Day, consider Hollywood’s most famous World War II veteran, the King himself, Major Clark Gable. Away from the screen since 1942, the year of the plane-crash death of his wife Carole Lombard, Gable had gone to war, surviving several bombing missions over Europe. Anticipation was high for his return vehicle at MGM, with the studio intending to provide as classy a comeback as possible for their leading-man superstar, which included a reunion with his GWTW director, Victor Fleming, and a first-time pairing with Greer Garson, the recent Oscar winner who had become the studio’s queen during the war. Their teaming brought forth perhaps the most famous tag line in movie history: “Gable’s Back and Garson’s Got Him.” Unfortunately, the line became a classic while the film proved to be a huge disappointment. How did it all go so wrong?
Adventure is an unintentionally ironic title for a movie that is surprisingly pretentious and not at all sexy or action-packed or even entertaining. Instead, it’s dull, aimless, and talky. And very long. Based on a novel by Clyde Brion Davis, the screenplay appears to be under the impression that it has valuable things to say about love and war, about hearts and souls. I can’t say if the book is as muddled or as highfalutin as the movie, but I can say that the movie will not send you racing to find a copy of the book.
Gable is in the merchant marine, and Garson is a San Francisco librarian. Thomas Mitchell (Scarlett O’Hara’s father, here spending quality time with Rhett Butler) is a boozy sailor who’s certain he’s lost his soul, a character trait that quickly becomes tiresome. And Joan Blondell is Garson’s roommate, a secretary. You’ve probably already guessed that Blondell steals the film, providing a sunny, flirty personality that sparks the film to life whenever she enters. Gable and Garson move from hate to love rather quickly, marry impulsively, then agree to divorce after three days. They are not a good screen team: he seems such an irritating jerk around her; she seems much too starchy for him. And they both seem to be pushing, perhaps overcompensating for their apparent lack of chemistry. Though Gable is in his familiarly cynical pre-war mode, he had noticeably aged in the last three years. Garson, too, appears to have entered her ”mature” period.
Their on-again/off-again love story is an uncohesive, uninvolving mess. Where’s the pulse and the pacing in Fleming’s filmmaking? Where’s the sizzle from the man who directed some of Gable’s best films, not just GWTW but Red Dust (1932) and Test Pilot (1938)? After the stars split and Gable goes back to sea, Garson discovers she’s pregnant. The baby almost dies, but Gable makes a speech to the infant boy (one of so many speeches in the movie), and, yep, it starts to breathe. Or is that yawning?
The pleasures of Adventure are few and all of them incidental. You can see Garson break a plate on Gable’s head. You can hear Gable and Blondell sing a few bars of “The Trolley Song.” The rest is blather. Garson’s career went into immediate decline. Gable made few films of merit over the next fifteen years. This wasn’t directly the fault of Adventure. However, some adventures are simply best not taken.