We interrupt Carole Lombard Month to bring you this post, which is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles Blogathon.
I’ve selected Test Pilot to talk about because, in my humble opinion, it should be the third Clark Gable movie you ever see if the first two are Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night. Here are the reasons why:
1. It is truly a textbook example of a Clark Gable film. It’s got it all: adventure, romance, comedy, snappy dialogue and some intense drama. Clark is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Myrna Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Spencer Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.
Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.
2. It is directed by Victor Fleming, Clark’s longtime pal and a man who had previously directed Clark to greatness in Red Dust and The White Sister. He would later also direct him in Gone with the Wind and Adventure.
3. It co-stars the great Spencer Tracy. Tracy plays Clark’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner. They had previously been paired in San Francisco. They admired each other but ultimately had a sort of “frenemy” relationship–Clark was often jealous of Spencer’s serious acting ability (this stemming from Spencer being nominated for San Francisco and Clark being ignored). Spencer was envious of Clark’s great popularity. Their last pairing was Boom Town in 1940.
4. Clark’s love interest is the divine Myrna Loy; this was the sixth of their seven films together. Clark’s pairings with Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow get more attention, but him and Myrna had this great, easy chemistry. They were never romantically involved–she claimed their relationship resembled more of a brother-sister camaraderie–but their chemistry was always evident.
5. The supporting cast is no slouch, either. We have Lionel Barrymore as Clark’s grumpy boss, and Marjorie Main as his huffy landlady. Plus Clark’s future off-screen girlfriend Virginia Grey has a small part at the beginning of one of his character’s many girlfriends.
6. It was one of Myrna’s personal favorites of all her films. “It really stands as an example of what big-studio film making could be: the writing, the directing, the photography, the technical expertise, the casting of that impeccable stock company.
7. Clark’s technical advisor on the film was Paul Mantz, who was a onetime copilot and navigator for Amelia Earhart. Clark was fascinated with Mantz’s work. Later, Clark took some flying lessons to pursue a pilot’s license, but never completed them–due to Carole Lombard’s death in a plane crash.
8. The script is great. Some of Clark’s truly “Gable-esque” quotes include:
“Say, I’m just in the mood for a bull, sister. You go get him; I’m liable to pick him up and throw him right back in your lap!”
“Do all the girls around here look like you this early in the morning? Every girl I’ve ever seen this early…”
“She’s crazy, I broke all the records too! I entered high school a sophomore and came out a freshman!”
9. Clark is handed one of his best emotional scenes and he hits it out of the park. After [SPOILER] another pilot dies, Clark gets drunk and laments, “The sky looks sweet and wears a pretty blue dress, doesn’t she? Yeah well don’t kid yourself. She lives up there, she invites you up there and when she gets you up there, she knocks you down!” Myrna Loy remembered, ” In Test Pilot, [Clark] had a moment when he talked about the girl in the blue dress–the sky. That scene terrified him, scared him to death. He got so upset when we shot it I had to keep reassuring, comforting him. Not that he couldn’t do the scene–he did it beautifully–but he was afraid it would make him appear too soft. He had this macho thing strapped on him and he couldn’t get out of it.”
10. Myrna is also given a great dramatic scene, near the end of the film. Tired of constantly worrying about him when he’s in the air, she cries and yells at Clark, “Why won’t you just die already and leave me alone?” I’ve heard people say before Myrna had no dramatic chops and I wouldn’t agree!
12. The scenes of Clark and Myrna’s day out together are adorable–they go to the movies and a ballgame–and how I’d like to imagine they would have hung out in real life!
13. It’s one of the few times that you get to see Clark in the role of a father–albeit briefly. To be the onscreen spawn of Clark and Myrna! Lucky kid!
14. It is one of only four Clark Gable films that were nominated for Best Picture. It was also nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Writing, Original Story but walked away empty handed.
15. It was filmed right when Clark was at his prime–in love with Carole Lombard and happy, the film started a swing of hits for Clark at the end of the 1930’s. He followed it up with Too Hot to Handle, Idiot’s Delight and Gone with the Wind.
Clark Gable makes a great addition to this blogathon. For Planes, Hell Divers and Night Flight would qualify as well, for Automobiles To Please a Lady all the way (or you could pick It Happened One Night because of the bus scenes), and there are great Train scenes in No Man of Her Own, Saratoga, Idiot’s Delight and Honky Tonk.
You can read the rest of the blogathon’s entries here.