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Film / Test Pilot

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Test Pilot is a 1938 film directed by Victor Fleming, starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, and Lionel Barrymore.

Gable is Jim Lane, the eponymous test pilot, and Tracy is Gunner, Jim's mechanic and best friend. Jim is out trying to set a speed record in an experimental plane when an oil pump failure forces him to make an unscheduled landing in a farm in Kansas, which happens to be the residence of Ann Barton (Loy). They quickly fall in love and get married, but the incredibly dangerous life of a test pilot brings stress to both Jim's marriage and Jim's friendship with Gunner. Barrymore plays Drake, Jim's boss.


  • Ace Pilot: Jim's job, testing experimental aircraft up to and sometimes beyond the limits of their performance.
  • As You Know: Some expository dialogue between Drake and Gunner about the test flight Jim's going on.
  • Babies Ever After: The finale reveals that Jim has retired from test flying and is now an instructor with the Army Air Corps, and he and Ann have had a son.
  • Call-Back: Gunner has a good-luck ritual of sticking his gum on the back of Jim's plane before Jim takes off. At the end, Jim does this with one of his Army fliers.
  • The Casanova: When Jim first appears in the movie, he's bringing a girl to his room, while another girl is already there waiting for him.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Gunner dies in Jim's arms after Jim pulls him from the climactic plane crash.
  • Driving a Desk: Done very obviously in classic '30s tradition when Jim and Ann are driving around.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Jim and all the other pilots get roaring drunk after Benson is killed.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Or the equivalent thereof. Benson's wife and three cute children show up to see the speed trials that both Benson and Jim are flying in. Naturally, Benson crashes and dies.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: One day together is enough for Jim and Ann to get married.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Jim wakes up hurting (and in a different city) after a bender.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Why don't you be gay for once and give yourself a shock?"
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jim and Gunner, although there are occasional vague intimations that it might be a bit less heterosexual on Gunner's part.
    Jim: [cheerfully] Who do you love, honey?
    Gunner: [somewhat more seriously] I love you.
    Jim: I love you, too!
  • Love Triangle: As Ann notes, there's a love triangle between her, Jim, and the sky.
  • Meet Cute: A guy crashing a plane into a girl's backyard has to count as meeting cute.
  • Romantic False Lead: There's some blandly handsome guy in Ann's hometown who fancies her. He seems to know he's in a Clark Gable movie, though, and soon disappears.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Apparently every time Jim goes up for a test flight, it's an above-the-fold front-page newspaper headline.