Test Pilot (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Fleming|
|Produced by||Louis D. Lighton|
|Written by||Frank Wead|
|Screenplay by||Waldemar Young
John Lee Mahin
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Editing by||Tom Held|
|Release dates||April 22, 1938|
|Running time||118 minutes|
Test Pilot is a 1938 film directed by Victor Fleming, starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy, and featuring Lionel Barrymore. The film tells the story of a daredevil test pilot (Gable), his wife (Loy), and his best friend (Tracy).
Reckless test pilot Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is forced to land on a Kansas farm in his aircraft, the "Drake Bullet", where he meets Ann Barton (Myrna Loy). They spend the day together and fall in love. Once Jim's best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Spencer Tracy), arrives, Jim ignores Ann. To spur him, she gets engaged to her sweetheart. Jim leaves in the morning, but soon comes back for her. They quickly get married.
Jim loses his job at Drake, when he clashes with the owner (Lionel Barrymore), and takes a job with another outfit, flying a very experimental aircraft. Ann soon finds out how dangerous her husband's occupation is, but she promises Gunner that she will stick to her man. Jim wins the race, but Benson, the man Drake sends in Jim's place, dies, leaving a wife and three children behind.
Jim tries to reform his ways and begins by taking a job testing aircraft, even conducting dangerous flights as he wants to give Ann a real home. Gunner remains true to his friend.[N 1]One day, Gunner accompanies Jim on a test flight of a new bomber (an early Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress prototype). Something goes wrong; the bomber goes into a spin and sandbags (substituting for the weight of bombs) break loose, pinning Gunner. Unwilling to bail out without his buddy, Jim manages to crash land, and pulls a badly injured Gunner out of the wreckage right before it burst into flames; but it is too late for Gunner. When Jim realizes the toll his job has taken on his wife, he gives it up.
As appearing in Test Pilot (main roles and screen credits identified):
- Clark Gable as Jim Lane
- Myrna Loy as Ann Barton
- Spencer Tracy as Gunner Morris
- Lionel Barrymore as Drake
- Samuel S. Hinds as General Ross
- Marjorie Main as Landlady
- Gloria Holden as Mrs. Benson
- Virginia Grey as Sarah
- Priscilla Lawson as Mable
- Arthur Aylesworth as Frank Barton
Test Pilot brought together three of the most "bankable" Hollywood stars of the period, but while Loy and Gable became friends, an uneasy relationship existed between Tracy and Gable. Although recognizing that the film was an "actioneer", Tracy was aware that his male co-star and tacitly, the lead of the film, was awed by acting with him, and proceeded to steal as many scenes as possible, including the lengthy "death" scene in the doomed aircraft. At the climax of another lengthy take where he was cradling his comrade's head in his arms, Gable was reported to have said, "'Die, goddamn it, Spence! I wish to Christ you would!' ” and dropped Tracy’s head with a thud.
Principal photography took place from December 1, 1937 to February 18, 1938 at MGM studios and on location at Van Nuys, California, Lindbergh Field (San Diego), March Field, California and at the Cleveland National Air Races, with retakes on March 30 to early April 1938. Test Pilot utilized authentic United States Army Air Corps airfield settings and was able to obtain rights to film using Boeing's new Y1B-17, which was destined to become the progenitor of the wartime B-17 bomber series. The Drake Bullet was actually the SEV-S2 NR70Y, a modified civilian racer version of the U.S. Army Air Corps P-35. The other test aircraft that is flown to its top diving speed is a Northrop A-17 attack bomber.[N 2] Renowned movie "stunt" pilot Paul Mantz served as the second unit director in charge of the flying sequences. Although uncredited, real-life test pilot Sammy Wroath did the flying sequences.
Proving to be an "audience-pleaser", becoming one of MGM's top money-makers in 1938, Test Pilot also found favor with critics, with The New York Times review characterizing it as "... one of those irresistible MGM potboilers of the 1930s that coast along on sheer star power." Today, it is considered a significant aviation film by historians due to the use of contemporary aircraft. Even at the time of its release, Variety noted that the "story bespeaks authority in detail, obviously explained by the fact that Capt. Frank Wead, who authored the original, has had (a) practical aviation background."
Both Loy and Tracy (despite his obvious scene-stealing battles with Gable) later claimed Test Pilot was their favorite film.
Awards and honors
- Gunner has a superstitious preflight ritual of putting a piece of chewing gum on the aircraft. In The Right Stuff (1983), Jack Ridley, Chuck Yeager's best friend and engineer on his test missions, also had given him a stick of Beemans chewing gum before Yeager's test flights. This allusion to a chewing gum ritual was later included in The Rocketeer (1991).
- In the film, the A-17 sheds a wing.
- "Beemans Gum Featured In The Right Stuff." Beemans gum. Retrieved: August 25, 2013.
- "Credits: 'Test Pilot' (1938)." IMDb. Retrieved: January 5, 2013.
- Tatara, Paul. "Test Pilot: Articles." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 5, 2013.
- "Test Pilot: Original Print Information."Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 24, 2013.
- "Test Pilot". Aero Files. Retrieved: August 25, 2013.
- Orriss 1984, pp. 13–14.
- Erickson, Hal. "Test Pilot." The New York Times. Retrieved: February 3, 2010.
- Nugent, Frank S. "The Screen: 'Test Pilot,' Metro's aviation drama, opens at the Capitol". The New York Times, April 16, 1938, p. 17.
- Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 61.
- "Test Pilot." Variety, January 1, 1938. Retrieved: February 3, 2010.
- Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
- Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Buff's Guide to Aviation Movies". Air Progress Aviation, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1983.
- Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
- Test Pilot at the TCM Movie Database
- Test Pilot at the Internet Movie Database
- Test Pilot (film) at allmovie