Test Pilot (1938)

120 mins | Drama | 22 April 1938

Director:

Victor Fleming

Producer:

Louis D. Lighton

Cinematographer:

Ray June

Editor:

Tom Held

Production Designer:

Cedric Gibbons

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Some reviews and modern sources call the character played by Spencer Tracy "Gunner Sloan"; the onscreen credits say only "Gunner," and his surname is only spoken once, by Clark Gable's character, who calls him "Gunner Morse." The title Test Pilot was first announced by M-G-M in 1933. According to news items in FD and HR , Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Jimmy Durante were to star in the picture with Clark Gable, that was to be filmed partially on location at Wright Field in Dayton, OH by special permission from the the U.S. War Department. A 1 Feb 1936, HR news item noted that M-G-M was buying the story "Test Pilot" by Frank Wead for a Lucien Hubbard production to be adapted by Bertram Millhauser for Gable. In late Apr 1937, another HR news item noted that Homer Berry and John Lee Mahin were doing a treatment for the film. Wead, who was himself an ace pilot, is credited on the screen with the original story (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), and Vincent Lawrence and Waldemar Young are credited with the screenplay. No other sources credit Millhauser, Mahin or Berry, and the extent of their participation in the completed film has not been determined. Although Gable was mentioned in sources from 1933 through production as the star of Test Pilot , it is possible that the 1933 title referred to an unrealized project and is only coincidental to the 1938 film.
       Some reviews indicate that events in the film were based on the life of test pilot James "Jimmy" Collins. Collins ... More Less

Some reviews and modern sources call the character played by Spencer Tracy "Gunner Sloan"; the onscreen credits say only "Gunner," and his surname is only spoken once, by Clark Gable's character, who calls him "Gunner Morse." The title Test Pilot was first announced by M-G-M in 1933. According to news items in FD and HR , Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Jimmy Durante were to star in the picture with Clark Gable, that was to be filmed partially on location at Wright Field in Dayton, OH by special permission from the the U.S. War Department. A 1 Feb 1936, HR news item noted that M-G-M was buying the story "Test Pilot" by Frank Wead for a Lucien Hubbard production to be adapted by Bertram Millhauser for Gable. In late Apr 1937, another HR news item noted that Homer Berry and John Lee Mahin were doing a treatment for the film. Wead, who was himself an ace pilot, is credited on the screen with the original story (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), and Vincent Lawrence and Waldemar Young are credited with the screenplay. No other sources credit Millhauser, Mahin or Berry, and the extent of their participation in the completed film has not been determined. Although Gable was mentioned in sources from 1933 through production as the star of Test Pilot , it is possible that the 1933 title referred to an unrealized project and is only coincidental to the 1938 film.
       Some reviews indicate that events in the film were based on the life of test pilot James "Jimmy" Collins. Collins died in 1935 in a plane crash similar to the one in the film in which character Greg Benson dies in a nose-dive crash after his plane loses its wings. According to news items in HR and MPD , Collins wrote a book called Test Pilot shortly before his death. In Jul 1938, Collins' widow, Dolores Collins, filed a suit against M-G-M charging that the studio had plagiarized her husband's book. The suit was settled in late 1938 when the judge ruled against Collins saying "I am satisfied that there was nothing in the motion picture that confirmed this came from the plaintiff's story."
       According to a news item in HR on 1 Dec 1937, actress Janet Beecher was signed to play the part of Myrna Loy's mother; however, Claudia Coleman played the the role in the released film. An article in Life magazine state that portions of the picture were filmed at March Field, CA, and that the final airplane crash of the film was based on another 1935 incident in which the first "Flying Fortress," a Boeing 299, went down. Articles in HR prior to the beginning of principal photography noted that location work at the Cleveland Air Races was being done by pilot Paul Mantz, M-G-M legal department representative Harry Prinzmetal and assistant director Cullen Tate. HR and IP list additional backgrounds and location shooting at Chino, CA, Van Nuys Municipal Airport, Mines Field, Metropolitan Airport and Union Air Terminal in Southern California, Lindbergh Field in San Diego and Langley Field in Virginia. IP also notes that the picture was scheduled for thirty-five days of location shooting on a seventy day shooting schedule, and that it was the first aviation picture made by M-G-M in several years.
       The MPH review noted that the studio held previews of the picture simultaneously in Westwood and New York on a Thursday and opened it the next morning, usually a sign that the picture would not do well. The review further noted but that this would definitely not be the case for Test Pilot , which had the added plus factor that Loy and Gable had just been named the "King" and "Queen" of Hollywood. (This was a reference to a poll of over 20,000,000 fans conducted by fifty-five metropolitan newspapers, and sponsored by New York Daily News and ChicTrib . Reviews also noted that the film would receive added attention because Tracy had just won an Oscar for Captains Courageous (see above). The picture was one of the top box office films of the year and, though it received many positive reviews, several critics mentioned that the film was "too exciting" and would not be suitable for young children. The picture was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Writing (Original Story) and Best Picture. Robert Taylor and Rita Hayworth appeared in a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the story on 25 May 1942. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
15 Apr 38
p. 3.
Film Daily
21 Mar 33
p. 4.
Film Daily
15 Apr 38
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 33
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 36
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 37
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 37
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 37
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 37
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 38
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 38
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Apr 38
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 38
p. 1.
International Photographer
Feb 38
pp. 10-12.
Motion Picture Daily
13 Jan 38
p. 6.
Motion Picture Daily
15 Apr 38
p. 5.
Motion Picture Daily
14 Jul 38
p. 7.
Motion Picture Daily
29 Dec 38
p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald
18 Dec 37
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald
8 Jan 38
p. 46.
Motion Picture Herald
23 Apr 38
p. 40.
Motion Picture Herald
24 Dec 38
p. 13.
New York Times
16 Apr 38
p. 17.
Variety
20 Apr 38
p. 15.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Charlie Sullivan
Lulumae Bohrman
Estelle Ettaire
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Victor Fleming Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Orig story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir assoc
Art dir assoc
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Rec dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Mont eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech dir
Tech dir
DETAILS
Release Date:
22 April 1938
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles premieres: 15 April 1938
Production Date:
1 December 1937--18 February 1938
retakes 30 March--early April 1938
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
15 April 1938
Copyright Number:
LP7971
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
120
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
4108
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Because test pilot Jim Lane loves carousing almost as much as he loves flying, his partner, Gunner Morse, has to watch out for him. During a flight in a plane owned by Drake Aviation in which Jim is attempting to break the cross-country speed record, Jim has to make an emergency landing on a Kansas farm owned by Ann Barton's family. Ann and Jim are immediately attracted to each other, although each feigns disinterest. Jim and Ann spend the day together before Gunner arrives to fix the plane and although they have a good time, that evening Ann and her local "sweetheart" announce their engagement. The next day Jim leaves, but he comes back, and the two fly off to get married. Drake and Gunner are surprised and annoyed at the marriage, but Ann, whom Drake calls "Thursday" soon becomes an important part of their lives. Jim continues on the way he has, despite Gunner's warnings, and narrowly escapes death in an air race during which fellow pilot Greg Benson dies when his plane loses its wings and takes a nose dive. Ann now realizes that they are faced with three roads, all ending in doom, but she promises Gunner that she will stick with Jim no matter what. Jim keeps flying, blissfully ignorant of the devastating effect that his wrecklessness has on Ann and Gunner, as both become more and more fatalistic. On a flight to test the altitude potential of a military plane, Gunner rides along to help. As the plane reaches thirty thousand feet, the sandbags simulating bombs break loose during a tail-spin and Gunner is crushed. ... +


Because test pilot Jim Lane loves carousing almost as much as he loves flying, his partner, Gunner Morse, has to watch out for him. During a flight in a plane owned by Drake Aviation in which Jim is attempting to break the cross-country speed record, Jim has to make an emergency landing on a Kansas farm owned by Ann Barton's family. Ann and Jim are immediately attracted to each other, although each feigns disinterest. Jim and Ann spend the day together before Gunner arrives to fix the plane and although they have a good time, that evening Ann and her local "sweetheart" announce their engagement. The next day Jim leaves, but he comes back, and the two fly off to get married. Drake and Gunner are surprised and annoyed at the marriage, but Ann, whom Drake calls "Thursday" soon becomes an important part of their lives. Jim continues on the way he has, despite Gunner's warnings, and narrowly escapes death in an air race during which fellow pilot Greg Benson dies when his plane loses its wings and takes a nose dive. Ann now realizes that they are faced with three roads, all ending in doom, but she promises Gunner that she will stick with Jim no matter what. Jim keeps flying, blissfully ignorant of the devastating effect that his wrecklessness has on Ann and Gunner, as both become more and more fatalistic. On a flight to test the altitude potential of a military plane, Gunner rides along to help. As the plane reaches thirty thousand feet, the sandbags simulating bombs break loose during a tail-spin and Gunner is crushed. Jim refuses to bail out and is able to crash-land the plane, but Gunner dies, telling Jim that he has taken the easiest road. At home, Jim is confronted by an almost hysterical Ann, who says that she wished that he had died too. Jim then goes to Drake's office where Drake helps him realize that he loves Ann. Later Drake calls her to say that Jim will no longer want to fly because his heart is on the ground with her. A few years later, Jim is an army officer, training young pilots and Ann happily brings their little boy to visit the air field. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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