Sunday, May 13, 2018

Test Pilot

Another recent movie watched off the DVR that's available from the Warner Archive is Test Pilot.

The movie starts off with Gunner (Spencer Tracy) checking a plane to make certain it's in good working order. Gunner's best friend Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is goin gto be getting in that plane to try to fly it across the country to set a new coast-to-coast speed record, these still being the days when aviation was young enough that coast-to-coast records and aviation records were still a thing. Anyhow, Gunner goes to get Lane, only to find that he's got one woman waiting for him, with Jim eventually showing up with another woman hanging from one arm. You get the impression that these aren't the only two women by any means.

Sadly for Jim, the attempt at the speed record is doomed to failure, as an oil line is going to break and Jim is going to be forced to crash land in a field somewhere in the middle of the country. As he's trying to fix the plane, he's approached by young Ann (Myrna Loy), a college graduate who lives with her parents on the farm where Jim crash landed, 20 miles outside Wichita KS. Jim immediately falls for Ann and the feeling is mutual. Ann, however, has conflicted feelings as she doesn't know whether she should go off with a pilot or take the safe way out of going with the man who's been pursuing her.

We all know there wouldn't me much of a movie if a leading lady like Loy walked off with the third wheel 20 minutes in, so we shouldn't be surprised that Jim and Ann elope and Jim shows up back at the office of his airplane-manufacturing boss Drake (Lionel Barrymore) with a wife, much to Drake's chagrin. Drake wants Jim to test a new plane before the big race, but Jim wants a honeymoon. Eventually, it leads to Jim quitting despite the financial hit he's going to take.

Being in constant financial straits is just one problem that Ann finds she's going to have in the marriage. There's a bigger problem, however, in that Ann is in many ways not Jim's wife but his mistress -- the real love of Jim's life is the sky, and Ann worries that the sky is never going to let Jim go, ultimately leading to Jim's doom. It goes on like this for the better part of two hours.

Test Pilot is the sort of movie that left me with no small amount of mixed feelings. It's well made, and yet there was something about it that just didn't seem quite right, and I couldn't quite put my finger on that something. One definite problem is with Jim's character, who for much of the movie comes across as a spoiled jerk. He wins a big air race, and then immediately squanders every last cent of the prize money on the bender to end all benders. If I had been in Gunner's position on finding Jim at the end of the bender, I probably would have beat the shit out of him and looked for a better job elsewhere, probably back with Drake.

Yet that I don't think was the only issue I had with the movie. For what is for large stretches an action movie, it has a very sterile feel to it. There's also a pretty big plot hole in the climactic flight also saying what it is gives some plot points away. The problem wasn't with the performances, I don't think. Gable does well in a caddish role; Spencer Tracy was still in his pre-Hepburn persona; and Myrna Loy is good as a wife who suffers a lot more than Nora Charles ever did. Ultimately, I can recommend the movie, although I think it could have been rather better.

Test Pilot is one of those movies that probably would benefit from being in a box set than only as a stand-alone DVD from the Warner Archive. It also looks as though they've increased the prices on the Warner Archive DVDs, as this one is listed at $21.99, although it's on sale at both Amazon and the TCM Shop.

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