Following on the heels of the very successful Test Pilot, Clark and Myrna Loy were teamed again in 1938 for another romantic adventure drama.
This film is an interesting look behind the scenes at the now-extinct-thanks-to-television newsreel business. Gable is Chris Hunter, a newsreel cameraman who is always where the action is. Walter Pidgeon is Bill Dennis, a rival newsreel cameraman who is constantly trying to out-scoop Chris. Both of them are bored in Shanghai since they can’t get anywhere near the action of the Chinese-Japanese war. His boss (Walter Connolly) demanding action shots of the war, Chris starts making up fake shots using toy airplanes and sending them in. This angers Bill who decides to get even by sending his girlfriend, Alma (Myrna Loy) to fly in and he tricks Chris into thinking she is delivering vaccines so he’ll get an action shot. Chris’ driver ends up accidently causing Alma’s plane to crash while trying to get the shot and Chris rescues her from the blaze. Chris and Alma soon fall for each other, much to Bill’s chagrin. The two men constantly try to outdo each other, until binding together (somewhat) to help Alma find her brother, who is held captive by voodoo bushmen in the South American jungle.
Clark and Myrna have great chemistry, as usual, although I kind of feel like Myrna is wasted in this plot; she doesn’t have much to do but look worried.
And Clark and Walter make good sparring partners.
Being a classic film fan as I am, I hate to use this sentence, but it’s true: this film feels dated. Mainly because nowadays news is instant–on the television, on the computer, on the phone in the palm of your hand. Reporters are live on the scene in every country and video is available instantly in many formats. So it’s a little funny to see Clark’s boss saying he’s waited two weeks for news footage from Shanghai, and to see how the newsreels are flown over in big planes and then processed strand by strand. Although I suppose the idea of newsmen trying to out-scoop each other will never be dated!
Speaking of dated, how about the enormous X-ray machine used in one scene….Walter and Clark stand on either side of Myrna (not to mention many others in the room milling around as well) while she sits on a stool as she is X-rayed and Clark even uses the X-ray very haphazardly to blacken some film. Ah, the days before anyone worried about cancer…
Myrna Loy had this to say about the film:
“[Too Hot to Handle] wasn’t really much of a part, rather routine. It really was mostly Gable. He’s wonderful, very comical, as the newsreel reporter who fakes stories. The whole thing was fun though, and a bit hazardous. Clark supposedly saved my life on that picture. The script called for him to resuce me from a burning plane wreck after causing it. They turned on controlled fire from a valve behind the cameras, and Clark ran over to pull me out. He yells, “Come on, those gas tanks will blow any minute!” I counter, “What did you expect ’em to do, you clumsy jackass?” Supposedly, the controlled fire went wrong at this point, but Clark kept coming and yanked me out as the plane burst into flames. Ten seconds later, according to news reports, I might have burned to death. That incident received enormous coverage, but it could have been pure publicity. You do a lot of crazy things in pictures, but it all happens so fast and you’re usually well protected. I don’t recall feeling extreme heat or anything; I can’t honestly say if Clark really saved me or not. Such was the power of Howard Strickling and the MGM publicity department.
Indeed a big deal was made out of Clark “saving Myrna Loy’s life” on the set. All over the newspapers and fan magazines was the account of Clark’s heroism, each more overblown than the last. Myrna’s probably right, it was more than likely pure publicity.
Not a publicity stunt, however, was Clark’s injury when he dove into a mud puddle during a scene. Mud got into his eyes and started burning. A nurse was called and production was halted for the rest of the day while Clark’s eyes were flushed out with saline. He was given a sedative and told to go home and rest his eyes for at least 10 hours. He was back at the set the next day; those beautiful gray orbs back in working fashion!
For me, this film starts to lag when they head down to South America. It’s much more interesting to see Clark and Walter battling it out for Myrna and out-scooping each other than the racism-tinged jungle scenes. It starts to feel like two movies in one.
Fourteen years later, Clark was again in the jungle for Mogambo; main difference being that that film was actually filmed in Africa, while Too Hot to Handle was filmed entirely on the MGM backlot. In fact, the jungle is the very same one used six years earlier in Red Dust.
The publicity stills from this film are some of my very favorites. Playful, cute and gorgeous! You can see over 130 photos from the film in the gallery.