Too Hot to Handle (1938): Starring Gable and Myrna Loy

In “Too Hot to Handle,” directed by MGM’s reliable craftsman Jack Conway, Clark Gable plays Chris Hunter, the arrogant ace cameraman for Union Newsreels.

The movie is not as good or entertaining as “Test Pilot,” in which Clark Gable and Myrna Loy had recently appeared.

Chris and his rival Bill Dennis (Walter Pidgeon) are smitten with the same girl, Alma Harding (Myrna Loy), an intrepid aviatrix.  Alma needs their help to finance a search party to South America to find her brother Harry (Johnny Hines), who had been missing since he took on a flight over Brazil.

Sensing a good, commercial story, they agree and are soon on their way.  In the town of Pinto, on the Amazon, they encounter a native, who carries Harry Harding’s watch.  Chris’ assistant (Leo Carrillo), who can communicate with the native in Spanish, learns that he is a member of a voodoo tribe, and that the members have been practicing their secret rites on Harry; they now need a white woman for their rituals.

To forestall Alma, Chris and his assistant take the native down to the river in a canoe.  Approaching the voodoo village, they knock their companion out, and then cautiously make their way toward the village, where a ceremony is taking place.

An emaciated white man, who may or may not be Harry, is carried out, appearing nearly dead.  Using the smooth face of a cliff as a screen, Chris starts projecting a series of newsreels, in which he appears; the astounded natives think that he is a god.

The next day, Alma and Bill arrive in her amphibian.  Dressed as a native, Chris secretly takes pictures of the whole thing.  But the native exposes Chris’ real identity to his tribesmen.

Meanwhile, Alma and Bill, with Harry in the plane, have started down the river.  Chris and his assistant hang onto the tail of the ship and are pulled to safety.  But Bill, not realizing who the punt’s occupants are, fires at them.

Back in New York, Alma and Harry are given a royal welcome.  But Bill Dennis learns, to his dismay, that Chris has scooped him:  Newsreels of the rescue of Harding are showing all over.  Eager to see Chris, with no regard for the risk and danger involved, Alma joins him.

F.S. Nugent represented many critics when he wrote in The New York Times: “’Too Hot to Handle’ is any one of a dozen fairly entertaining melodramas you might have seen in the last five years. Gable plays Chris Hunter with his customary blend of bluster and blubber.  Loy’s lady-flier turns in a completely insincere performance.”

John Mosher of the New Yorker was harsher: “’Too Hot to Handle’ by sheer force bullies us into a kind of acceptance of its various preposterous details and all its endless jargon.”  Mosher resented the fact that the movie suggested that “newsreel cameramen, like reporters, are just big, grown-up boys”

Cast:

Clark Gable

Myrna Loy

Walter Connolly

Walter Pidgeon

Leo Carrillo

Johnny Hines

Virginia Weidner

Betsy Ross Clarke

Henry Kolker

Marjorie Main

Credits

MGM

Produced by Lawrence Weingarten.

Directed by Jack Conway.

Screenplay by Laurence Stallings and John Lee Mahin, based on a story by Len Hammond.

Camera: Harold Rosson.

Editor: Frank Sullivan.

Release date: September 16, 1938.

Running time: 105 minutes.