Too Hot to Handle (1938)
Release Date: July 7, 1938
Directed by: Sam Wood
Available on DVD through The Warner Brothers Archive Collection
Nutshell Review, March 2014
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 (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 (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.
Modern Screen, December 1938:
**”Too Hot to Handle” is the first feature-length glorification of the newsreel cameraman and, if some of the exploits of these gallant gentlemen seem slightly incredible, you can blame that condition on the fact that the movies are sometimes guilty of exaggeration for the sake of drama. Up to now no one knew the newsreel business harbored such glamorous characters as Myrna Loy, Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon, but this trio of expert troupers will make most audiences feel that newsreel people take heroics as a matter of course, disaster and tragedy as part of a day’s work.
Gable and Pidgeon are rival newsreel men in China when the picture opens, and most of their time is spent on phony stunts and faked stories, all of which will undoubtedly make all of us more skeptical of our newsreels from now on. Miss Loy enters their lives through one of these stunts, and stays with them through a series of hectic adventures comparable only to the daily thrills enjoyed by a movie newspaperman. As a matter of fact, “Too Hot to Handle” will remind you of newspaper films, but it is made different by the simple substitution of a camera for a typewriter. In place of the usual screaming movie managing editors, they have substituted newsreel bureau managers who scream just as loud.
This reviewer doesn’t feel that the picture comes up to the recent and somewhat similar “Test Pilot”, but it has action and melodrama and heroics galore, and the majority of people will like it. Gable and Pidgeon are ideally cast, Miss Loy is somewhat less sparkling than usual, and there are fine performances by Leo Carrillo and Walter Connolly in the supporting cast. Directed by Jack Conway.
Photoplay, December 1938:
Spectacular, thrill-packed, richly produced and timely of interest, this is the prize Clark Gable-Myrna Loy team’s sequel to the hugely successful “Test Pilot”. It is built on the idea that a newsreel cameraman’s life has never a dull moment. The background is the chaos of today’s China.
Of course, there’s a feud between two cameramen, and there’s a girl. Gable and Myrna, with the suave, humorous Walter Pidgeon, replacing sorrowful Spencer Tracy, form the star trio. The two men, in their attempts to outdo each other, even stoop to faking shots; then, when Gable signs Aviatrix Loy to aid him, the rivalry develops an obvious sex angle. Mark down an extra star for Hal Rosson’s photography, Jack Conway’s fine direction, and the support given by Walter Connolly, Leo Carrillo and all the others.
Photoplay, February 1939:
Letters to the Editor
I never thought I would be writing adverse criticism about Myrna Loy–but here goes! Years ago I wondered when the movie moguls would recognize the ability of lovely, girlish, unaffected Myrna. When she was finally starred I was amazed to see her cats as a sophisticated and rather blasé type.. In grooming her for the parts, the studio must have given her an icy veneer.
In Too Hot to Handle, Myrna wasn’t even slightly lukewarm. In one sequence, she says, “how terrible” and shortly afterwards she says, “how wonderful”. There was absolutely no change of voice. Her voice rang with insincerity and artificiality. Her emotion seems to be limited to occasional gasps of oh” plus a slightly startled look. I’m sorry Myrna has fallen off her pedestal. I don’t think she is entirely at fault. The studio made a mould and poured Myrna in and it just didn’t turn out the Myrna it should.
~Mrs. McBride Dabbs, Mayesville, South Carolina.
As long as you invite both criticism and praise, I will send a little of the former and be relieved to let off a little steam in this innocuous way. I recently saw “Too Hot to Handle” and came away dazed and full of questions I wanted answered. In the first place, I dislike those sophisticated and smart-alecky names which has nothing to do with the content of the picture. Then it was like a four or five-ringed circus with so much going on in so many quarters of the globe, and such a display of bombing in one hemisphere and native negro dances in the other, with so little continuity to link up the divergence that it left the beholder, at least thus one, worried. Besides it seemed to me terribly poor taste to make a laughing matter out of such stark tragedy as the bombing of the poor Chinese. The hero and heroine seemed to be falling out for unknown reasons and making up for equally dim ones, while the protagonist and the antagonist seemed hating each other and then going around in bosom-friend manner–the whole thing was a jumble.
~Mrs. Herbert Gardner, St. Petersberg, Florida.
Watch the trailer:
“Here we are, ladies and gentlemen, on the other side of the world and all the ships at sea!” first line
“Well I guess I don’t live right!”
“Why did I have to do this the hard way? Why couldn’t I have found a nice bombardment at the front?”
“I didn’t distort the truth. I merely heightened the composition.”
“You’re the best there is and that’s what’s the matter with you!”
“Where have you and I been all of our lives?”
“Well if it doesn’t hurt too much, start thinking!”
“I think I’ve got chicken head’s job!”
“I’m going to pan down to you and when I do give me that Camille look baby, oh turn it on honey,
this’ll be the greatest newsreel shot I ever made!” last line
Behind the Scenes:
While filming the plane crash, it was reported that the fire got out of control and the director wanted to cut the shot so they could get Loy out of there in time. Gable rushed in and pulled Loy out of the plane, saving her life before the flames engulfed her. The press quickly got wind of the story and it was front page news. Loy recalled she never thought she was in any danger and speculates it was the studio just trying to get some publicity for the film.
In Production: Too Hot to Handle:
Pictures on Fire, Silver Screen, October 1938
Out here, “Too Hot to Handle” goes on and on and on but the gods are against me. Last month, Myrna Loy wasn’t working, so I postponed covering the set until this month. When I get there today she still isn’t working and life looks very, very dark indeed. Mr. Clark Gable and Mr. Leo Carrillo are working and both of them are most estimable gentlemen. But neither of them is Miss Loy. I cover my chagrin as best I can and pretend to be very, very glad to see both of them which, indeed, I am. But just as I am on the point of wheedling an invitation from Mr. Gable to accompany him on an a lion hunt (more on the strength of my ability as a cook than because of my prowess as a marksman—not that I’m not a good shot, mind you), Jack Conway (the director) has to go and call them for a shot.
About five hundred nude negroes troop into the scene, done up in loin cloths and war paint and purporting to be Djukas from South Guiana.
“Where’s that make-up man?” yells Mr. Conway and without waiting for anyone to answer he shouts, “spray some sweat on these people!”
But the script man says, “No! It’s isn’t time for them to sweat yet. They don’t sweat until the beef begins.”
Peter Lynton is supposed to be Myrna’s brother and he is being held captive by the natives. He’s been wounded and Gable is supposed to carry him into the scene and lay him down on a cot. Gable lifts him tentatively to see if he can carry him in his arms or if he’s going to have to sling him over his shoulder. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it but that Gable is not only built like a brick house, he’s as strong as an ox. He picks up Mr. Lynton and it looks like he’s going to heave him from the door to the cot.
“Remember, Clark”, Mr. Conway encourages him, “you’re really Paul Bunyon and Pete is just a feather in your arms.”
“Well, he’s the heaviest feather I ever lifted.” Clark grunts.
They rehearse this scene until my own arms ache thinking of Clark carrying around about 160 pounds, but he doesn’t seem to mind. I glance hopefully towards Miss Loy’s—but it is still dark. I know when Clark finishes this scene he is not going to be in any mood for lions or even cooking or anything else but a Scotch and soda and he can make that as well as I can. So I fare on…