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Too Hot to Handle

Too Hot to Handle(1938)

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teaser Too Hot to Handle (1938)

Myrna Loy enjoyed her fourth on-screen pairing with Clark Gable in Too Hot to Handle (1938); the previous three were Manhattan Melodramain 1934, the disastrous biopic Parnell in 1937 and TestPilot earlier in 1938. In fact, Too Hot to Handlewas intended to cash in on their success as co-stars of the latter film, althoughthis time out Walter Pidgeon took Spencer Tracy's role as the other contender forLoy's affections. Gable and Pidgeon play rival newsreel cameramen who bury theirdifferences to help aviatrix Loy find her brother, lost in the Amazon jungle, onlyto ignite a new competition over her.

Too Hot to Handle was very much a typical studio product for its era. The two leading roles were crafted to exploit the talents of its stars,with Gable doing his patented wisecracking he-man act and Loy offering her specialblend of warmth and aloofness. Although the globe-trotting adventure covered actionin China and Brazil, the crew never left the back lot, where standing sets stoodin for exotic locales and extras from Central Casting played the Amazon Indians (the subject of some unfortunate racist kidding from Gable's character). The filmis filled with inaccuracies -- Gable shoots sound footage on a hand-held camera years before such equipment would have been available to him; he mysteriously producesa projector and speakers in the midst of the jungle -- but moves so quickly it reallydoesn't matter. A lot of this is thanks to director Jack Conway, a specialist inaction and comedy who had previously put Loy through her paces in the hit comedyLibeled Lady (1936).

For all the inaccuracies, though, the film also has a touch of authenticity in its depiction of newsreel photographers manufacturing events with which to sell their work. Both Len Hammond, who wrote the film's original story, and Laurence Stallings, who co-wrote the screenplay, had worked for Fox Movietone news and drew on their experiences for scenes in which Gable hires the local children to play war orphans, crashes model planes as though they were real and stages a fake bombing raid. The latter scene allegedly came from comedy great Buster Keaton, who was working as a gag man at the studio he hadhelped make great.

During filming, Gable's off-screen love, Carole Lombard, was a frequent visitor to the set. Although he was still married to his second wife and MGM executiveswere doing everything in their power to keep the Gable-Lombard romance out of thepapers, she knew that the love of her life had a straying eye and paid frequent visits to him when she wasn't starring in a picture of her own. Of course, she had nothing to fear from Loy, who had recently wed producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr.,or the film's other two featured females, child actress Virginia Weidler (alreadyan accomplished scene stealer at the age of 12), or character woman Marjorie Main,but there were plenty of starlets on the lot who could have caught Gable's eye.

Too Hot to Handle would be the final teaming for Gable and Loy.During World War II, she would take an extended leave from MGM and the movies todo her part for the war effort. It actually could have been her last picture ever,at least according to studio publicists. For the scene in which Gable pulls herout of a burning crashed plane, special effects technicians lost control of theirfire, but Gable went ahead with the scene, pulling her to safety as scripted. Henever said a word to Loy about it. She only found out when the story was pickedup in newspapers around the country and was never entirely sure whether she reallywas in danger or the entire story was manufactured to sell the picture.

Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Director: Jack Conway
Screenplay: Laurence Stallings, John Lee Mahin
Based on a Story by Len Hammond
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Clark Gable (Chris Hunter), Myrna Loy (Alma Harding), Walter Pidgeon (BillDennis), Walter Connolly (Gabby MacArthur), Leo Carrillo (Joselito), Virginia Weidler(Hulda Harding), Henry Kolker (Pearly Todd), Marjorie Main (Miss Wayne).
BW-106m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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