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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

War In The Air From Hawks' View


The Dawn Patrol of 1930 Shines Anew

Howard Hawks' air circus and occasion to go aloft in the Great War, action he missed despite having served, and flown besides, during the conflict. Hawks knew good writing and value of name authors, so inveigled John Monk Saunders, of Wings fame, to pen The Dawn Patrol as team effort with himself. Voila, they had a package, and studios wanted it. Result was Warner backing and Richard Barthelmess to star. Posterity agreed that this Dawn Patrol creaked until Warner Archive cleaned up the soundtrack in tandem with a fresh transfer; now the 1930 show flies high and ranks with any Hawks done in talkies' initial flowering. Writing credit remains iffy: let's just say Hawks and Saunders made a good team and that a follow-up would have been welcome. A big help at the time was splendid grossing The Dawn Patrol did, being one of the bigger hits WB had that year.



The players are low-key and effective, Barthelmess strong as always in speaking mode. Young Doug staked his spot for talkers here and went from The Dawn Patrol to precode hustling for WB. Neil Hamilton is the neurotic-in-command; maybe it's nature of the part that makes his a most theatrical perf of the lot, though Neil's subdued beside Basil Rathbone twitching in the 1938 remake. Hawks should have got a nod for all the footage WB borrowed for the encore; virtually all his air action got a recycle with Errol Flynn and David Niven at pilot controls. Stoicism is coin of The Dawn Patrol's realm, that inherent in the story and whichever version you watch. It's still got power for capture of pilot experiences in contested sky over Germany (Saunders/Hawks spoke with many who'd flown and fought). The Dawn Patrol was for me among most welcome DVD's released in 2013.

5 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Leatrice Gilbert Fountain tells in her book "Dark Star" about Howard Hawks and John Gilbert meeting with Louis B. Mayer to pitch DAWN PATROL as Gilbert's next picture for M-G-M. Mayer listened courteously and asked Hawks if he wanted to make it. Hawks said yes. Mayer then asked Gilbert if he would like to star in it. Gilbert agreed fervently. In response, Mayer called them both every name in the book, prompting Hawks to grab Mayer's coat menacingly and warn him never to try a stunt like that again. Hawks took the project to Warners.

9:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I always enjoyed that story, but never bought Hawks' claim that he grabbed Mayer by the lapels and slammed him against the wall.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

There may be something to it, since (according to the IMDB) Hawks only worked for M-G-M twice after that, and then without credit. I'm guessing Hawks reported to Thalberg rather than Mayer.

10:52 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers the 1938 version of "The Dawn Patrol":


Haven't seen the original, but part of what makes the Flynn version work for me is how it plays off assumptions of Flynn as hero and Rathbone as villain -- a dynamic the audience had grown used to. Not sure if it has quite the same impact with actors the audience was used to seeing in less clearcut roles, however good they are.


It's intriguing how Flynn's character is troubled not only by the demands of leadership, but by the facts he's no longer the unambiguous hero in the eyes of his friends despite doing what's required. It's like a popular actor knowing he has to make the audience hate him.


The movie gives Flynn a physically courageous exit, enough to momentarily pass for a standard heroic ending. But there's still the lingering sense it was a false victory, with ego trumping duty.

6:22 PM  
Blogger The Rush Blog said...

I remember the 1938 version and how I found it both intriguing and depressing. I gather the 1930 is more or less the same.

4:15 PM  

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