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TEST PILOT (director: Victor Fleming; screenwriters: Vincent Lawrence/Waldemar Young/Howard Hawks/from a story by Frank Wead; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Tom Held; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Clark Gable (Jim Lane), Myrna Loy (Ann Barton), Spencer Tracy (Gunner), Lionel Barrymore (Howard B. Drake), Samuel S. Hinds (Gen. Ross), Arthur Aylesworth (Frank Barton), Claudia Coleman (Mrs. Barton), Marjorie Main (Landlady), Ted Pearson (Joe, farmer suitor of Ann), Gloria Holden (Mrs. Benson), Louis Jean Heydt (Benson, test pilot), Virginia Grey (Sarah); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis D. Lighton; MGM; 1938)
“Myrna Loy’s favorite movie role.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s hard to believe this so-so action pic was nominated for three Oscars, including for Best Picture, original story and editing, and that this was Myrna Loy’s favorite movie role (like what was she smoking!). Victor Fleming (“Gone With The Wind”/”Captain Courageous”/”Red Dust”) directs the great name cast of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy with noisy ease, but the weak story by former Naval Captain Frank ‘Spig’ Wead that’s written by Vincent Lawrence, Waldemar Young and Howard Hawks never kicks in with interesting dramatic excitement or a romance story that matters. It all feels mechanical like the experimental flying machines. Nevertheless it was a big commercial success, giving the public the kind of dashing romance, easy-going comedy, first-rate aerial sequences and daredevil heroics it found uplifting. The film tries to make it alone on star power, and almost does.

Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is an arrogant, womanizing, boozing thrill-seeking test pilot who partners with his self-sacrificing best pal Gunner (Spencer Tracy), his loyal mechanic and arch critic, who tries to keep him straight and narrow. While testing a hot new aircraft, deemed ready to break the cross-country speed records, for wealthy airplane manufacturer Howard Drake (Lionel Barrymore), the cocky pilot crash lands in a Kansas cornfield where pretty, smart and sassy country gal Ann Barton (Myrna Loy) lives with her kindly folks. The footloose pilot falls in love with the wheat fields and with the homespun country gal, and after the plane is repaired the irresponsible lout takes off with Ann in tow and marries the innocent farm gal while stopping over in Indianapolis.

Jim, after facing a few tragedies that shake him up, now test flies a new Air Force bomber for General Ross (Samuel S. Hinds). It’s interesting to note, this plane was actually the experimental B-17 and turned out to be the plane that would be used so successfully to bomb Germany during World War II.

The film asks if Jim’s love for Ann will allow him to mature and become more responsible, and the answer should please those who believe people can change for the better.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”