Fueling my love for any kind of aviation themed film I had to see Test Pilot. And nothing could get better for me than an aviation film starring Myrna Loy. Loy’s character is only a passenger and a spectator in the film with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy being the masculine, over confident flyers.
Gable plays a daredevil pilot named Jim Lane. On a flying record from California to New York his plane malfunctions and he has to land on a farm in Kansas. The farm Jim lands on belongs to Ann Barton (Loy) and her family. Ann comes running out to Jim. Immediately there is a spark between them. They both tease and banter with each other. Ann tells Jim he is like a dream that has fallen out of the sky to her. After some talking Ann takes Jim back to her house where he can wash up and eat. She takes him into town following breakfast where they go to a baseball game and a movie. That night Jim tells Ann he loves her and how he has never felt what he feels for her for a woman before. Ann feels the same way but she knows he has some wild tendencies and feels she needs to play things safe.
The next day Jim’s friend Gunner (Tracy) comes with some mechanics to fix his plane. Ann has thought things over and does not want Jim to leave. She even wants to go with him but he says no. Once in the air he realizes he how much really does love Ann and goes back for her. On the way to New York Jim and Ann get married.
Drake, the man who owns the plane Jim flies, lets him go. Jim has to borrow money from Gunner for a while until he gets a job. Eventually he gets a job as a test pilot flying new planes for the Army. The job is very dangerous. All three have had their nerves shaken after a friend of theirs died when his plane crashed. Ann feels like she is tortured every minute that Jim spends up in the air not knowing if he will come home at night. She confides in Gunner how she feels and he feels the same way at times but they cannot tell Jim how they truly feel they have to keep up a happy and supportive appearance. She tells Gunner she has packed her bags to the point where they are worn out and has a ticket back home in her bag at all times.
Gunner and Jim take on a dangerous test flight. Ann is more of a wreck than ever because she cares deeply for both men.
Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy were amazing together you can see they all had such great chemistry. They all fed off of each other so nicely. Loy wrote in her autobiography that she knew how to play against Gable’s tough side she said all she had to do was play tough with him. In the scene where Ann and Jim first meet and the scene where they say they love each other you can see her playing to his attitude and toughness. Before watching Test Pilot I was on the fence with really liking Gable as an actor but after this I saw his range and what little more he could do besides being the tough guy all the ladies want. There was a scene where he was talking to Lionel Barrymore’s character Drake at the end and he played the emotions of sadness and guilt so well it was such a fantastic scene. After that I became a fan of Gable. Loy was of course fabulous. She was so funny with Gable in the scene where Jim and Ann meet. I laughed so hard when they were at the baseball game and she was yelling at the players and all into the game. At the movies she was mouthing the lines. As usual she did extremely well with playing emotional scenes, all Ann wanted to hear was Jim tell her he really loved her and you can see that emotion on her face. All Loy’s scenes with Tracy were the best. Tracy is an actor I am not too fond of but I enjoyed him very much here. I liked how Gunner had a superstition where he would blow a kiss and then stick chewed gun on the back of the wing for good luck.
If I had not started watching Test Pilot at 11:30pm as soon as the film was over I would have watched it again. Everything about this film was amazing. The story was very well written and acted. The love story aspect was not overdone mostly because of Gable and Loy not overacting and the fact that Tracy’s character loved Jim like a brother as well. The dialogue is great it never fails to keep your attention. When Test Pilot was originally released it was reviewed favorably and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing and Editing but as with everything else at the Awards in 1939 it most likely had no chance and lost out to Gone with the Wind. Today the film is considered a significant aviation film because it showed contemporary planes. Myrna Loy said that this was one of her personal favorite films she made in her long career. You can clearly see her enjoyment watching the film.
As of this writing Test Pilot can be viewed on youtube, it is not available on DVD only VHS (which is a total crime). If you are any kind of classic movie fan or like aviation movies get over to youtube as soon as possible and watch Test Pilot. There are so many good elements and moments throughout the whole film that cannot be missed.