Test Pilot (1938)

VICTOR FLEMING

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1938. . Story by , Screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by .

is a dashing, spirited daredevil pilot who tests new airplane models, flying them to the limits of their endurance for the safety of future fliers and their passengers, while his man Friday () waits on the ground to do repairs.

Gable’s treatment of his finances is perpetually irresponsible, blowing all his money one day and taking a giant payload on a race or dangerous mission the next, and he spends most of his free time drinking, but everything changes when his cross-country flight is interrupted by engine trouble and he is forced to make an emergency landing in the field of a Kansas farm.

There, he meet the farmer’s daughter (), a sharp-tongued, adventurous lass who is immediately turned on by Gable and by the following day has run off to marry him. Tracy objects to their union, not because of jealousy but because he knows she’s not prepared for what she has gotten into, but she soon finds out: the drinking, the waiting at home to find out if he’s died and the continuing instability with money nearly drive her insane and put Gable in the position to decide if pursuing the adrenaline rush in the skies is worth losing someone he holds so dear.

Much of the film’s moralizing about love, marriage and booze would be corny if it weren’t for two very exciting factors: the flying sequences are actually really great, involving some breathtaking special effects, but even that wizardry has nothing on the sparkplug chemistry generated by the three stars. Gable and Loy are incredibly sexy together, it’s easy to believe that they would be not only attracted but deeply loyal to each other as well, and Tracy’s ability to bring such genuine everyman goodness to the role matches their intensity beautifully; it’s easy to see why he and Loy later named this their favourites of their own films. Victor Fleming directs with panache.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture; Best Original Story; Best Film Editing

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