For this here Blogathon (hosted by My Good Friend In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood) celebrating the perfect reel-real couple of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, I chose to write about one of Spencer Tracy’s films from 1938 Test Pilot.
This choice for me is a bit of a different one. Usually I write about how much I adore a film- and everything about it- but I want to expand my reflections of film- even writing about ones I find OK or average. Even my choice of focusing on a Spencer Tracy performance is atypical for me- as he’s not a “favorite” of mine- but at the same time- I admire him and his craft.
Honestly- Its been a while since I’ve seen Test Pilot– and even more honest- it’s an OK film that I don’t even want to own for my personal collection- but it’s worth watching anyway because of the cast- no other film has had such a great trio of great actors- Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy??? It’s just what MGM wanted you to bank on back in 1938-but unlike most films that can rely on star power AND a great script- this film sadly relies more on star power—and its all thanks to the 1938 poll in which Clark was crowned King and Myrna named the Queen of the Screen.
Now- I’m not criticizing the performances- Myrna is great, Gable is great, and Spencer- although playing usual second fiddle to Gable (in their second of three films together)- is great, the script and plot is just terrible- its slow and at times a bit random.
However, the actors playing off each other- that is genuine and it translates to the audience- you care about what’s going to happen because its Myrna, because it’s Clark and because it’s Spence. All three actors had a marvelous time behind the scenes- and it’s been reported that it was a favorite of both Clark’s and Myrna’s. If this film were cast with subpar actors- it would have been another forgotten B-list film that you would catch on TCM and just decide to give a shot because well, why not.
Spencer Tracy in this film I feel is very believable in his role of Gunner- you can relate to and believe in his friendship with Clark’s character- but at the same time- you can see the slight jealously there is between them – and that’s just what happened off screen. Luckily for us, (and both Clark and Spencer), today we can look back and appreciate the friendship that did develop between the two- it’s unlikely a friendship but a really cool one too! I confess to not seeing too many of Spencer movies outside of his Katharine co-starring films, but I do say it is one of his best non Katharine Hepburn performances (along with Boys Town, of course)
I will also say the flying sequences for the time were quite impressive. The producers even secured the backing of the US Air Corps and had real life- but uncredited- Test Pilot Sammy Wroath do the sequences. Talk about authenticity!
IN the end, Test Pilot film may not be “AMAZING” but its an important piece of Hollywood history. Fans of all three actors should watch- as it’s a great excuse to watch them in their prime- and together on screen!!