Test Pilot is a story where men put their lives at risk for the sake of aviation and women find that irresistible. Clark Gable plays Jim, the cocky hotshot test pilot who tries to moonlight as a lady’s man. Spencer Tracy is his right hand mechanic, Gunner, who spends most of his time keeping Jim on track with work and prying him away from the ladies. When one of Jim’s test flights has mechanical trouble, he makes an emergency landing in a Kansas field and meets Ann, played by Myrna Loy.
A hunky pilot lands right in front of a little farmer’s daughter dreaming of more? We know where this is going, but the writers decide to stretch this act out a bit. See, Ann shouldn’t come off as easy and besides, she’s got herself a dopey farmer boyfriend. She’ll just flirt with Jim for a while, have him take her out on the town to pick up Gunner (he’s got to get out there and fix the plane) and lead him on before the intro to farmer boyfriend. Gunner sees the chemistry brewing when he arrives and being the sensible one, warns Ann against running off with Jim. It seems she’s made the sensible choice when Jim starts his flight back to New York, but Jim is a loose cannon and turns around to whisk his sweet farm girl away. They make a pit stop in Indianapolis to get married.
So now their married and can live happily ever after right? Uh, no. See, Jim and Gunner are roommates with no room, no money and Jim has a plane race on Thursday he has to be at or he’s fired. Nothing like a new bride watching her hubby haggle for an apartment to share with his mechanic and then watching him in a death defying race. Once Ann sees the dangers in Jim’s job she realizes the mistake she’s made. Yes, we’re calling it a mistake here. Who runs off their daddy’s farm to marry a man they’ve known for a day? Dumb little girls who realize their husband could crash and die at work anytime, that’s who. Have a nice honeymoon.
Though Jim wins, the race is a traumatising event for both Jim and Ann. Now Ann realizes she could become a widow at anytime and is just waiting for Jim to die so she can be free. How romantic. And Jim goes on a long binge, all the way out to Chicago and loses all his winnings. So much for providing for the new Mrs.
I realize how cynical I’m being about this film, I was siding with Gunner on everything. He’s the one who’s got half a brain, yet no one listens to him until they realize what a mess they’ve stepped in. Jim and Ann are lucky to have a guy like Gunner with them, he’s not going to sugar coat the rash things they’ve done, but he’ll stick by them until the end.
Sure, the plot is a little eye-rolling, but the plane scenes are fun and exciting. Their edited so well that just a few seconds of plane footage against another few seconds can really put a story together. The plane race scene is fast paced and the first time Ann can really see the dangers Jim faces.
To any classic film enthusiast, a film starring Clark Gable, Mirna Loy and Spencer Tracy is pure gold, no matter the air-headed plot. It really is an enjoyable film because of these three great actors. The fact that this film is hard to find makes it even more valuable. Just keep checking TCM now and then, it was on last week it has to come back sometime.
“Just listen, I got so many words.”