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Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Great War's Bitter Aftertaste

The Eagle and The Hawk (1932) Takes Glory Out Of Dog-Fighting

Grim account of Great War flyers numbed by deaths they score up over France. Aerial antics had been stuff of thrills and romance since Wings made the mold, but this was letting us know that combat wasn't all scarves and air-set glory. The Eagle and The Hawk has Fredric March in progressive slip from sanity due to "mere kids" he shoots down, his eyes darkening clouds thanks to makeup reminiscent of Mr. Hyde lately essayed for home-lot Paramount. March gave versatility with capital V and so got parts all over thematic maps, him equal to task whatever the characterization (dual roles no stranger as he did several, plus playing Death itself on notable occasion). Opposite number in The Eagle and The Hawk is Cary Grant, still green and developing the Grant we'd know and prefer, but he's fun in head-to-head showdown with March. Paramount had a way of throwing lead men against walls and letting us watch them splat, or not. It really was survival of fittest around there. Grant would be man-toy to Mae West one week, soldier, gigolo, callow playboy the next. It was great training and he'd use it to improve. Wonder if he and Rock Hudson ever discussed career parallels.

Eagle is more March's show, however. I presume he is the Eagle, and the Hawk, Grant, or maybe that's Carole Lombard's spot. I'd know better if her part weren't denuded by Code-cuts imposed on a reissue and never put back, the gone footage evidently out for keeps. What a sap to energy watching these and knowing you're not getting all of goods. March meets Lombard on Paris leave and she gives it up for patriotism sake, plus being turned on by tormented types. Did combatants doing furlough ramp up war-is-hell mien to get better, or at least quicker, laid? I'd ask a veteran, but who of them are left? Works for March here, though it needs reading between clipped lines to know his score. I sensed dialogue dropped, and looks like a whole scene got jettisoned by later PCA authority (a repair to Lombard's hotel?). What's the good of whining, just take it as is, or forget the watch, which I'd rather not, as The Eagle and The Hawk remains strong meat, and March registers well. There's Jack Oakie too, in for fun, but also effective in a finish we don't expect. The Eagle and The Hawk comes on TCM in a transfer so old it still has the MCA logo from syndicated TV. It's lousy beside the DVD set which also has The Devil and The Deep plus The Last Outpost, two others with Cary Grant.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Very happy to see you back. Meanwhile I took a stroll through your archives. Boy, what a treasure to roam through. Cheers.

7:14 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Many thanks, Reg. The Archive remains in good shape, 2210 columns and counting.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

MCA logo? Good Lord, man, I'd have turned it off right then and there. (I've been spoiled by restorations). The most frustrating example of censor-complying are Wheeler and Woolsey's "So This is Africa" and 'Peach O'Reno" -- and those cuts were made before the movies were even released!

12:41 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I did not actually sit through the TCM broadcast, beyond the credits and that logo, opting instead for the much better rendition on Universal's DVD.

1:26 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

On the positive side, that MCA logo does bring back memories of many a happy afternoon watching the Marx Bros or W.C. Fields in WNEW Channel 5 in N.Y.

10:59 AM  
Blogger EricSwede said...

According to the Mitchell Leisen book by David Chierichetti there were some cuts made for the 1939 reissue. Leisen commented "It became a completely different picture. In the love scene between Carole and Freddy March, originally he said "You're awfully kind" and she said, "I want to be kind, your place or mine." Then I cut to the next morning, he wakes up and finds she's gone, but she left her gardenia in the hollow in the pillow where her head had been. All that was cut out.
And the end! The whole reason I wanted to do this script so much was for the end. When March commits suicide, Cary Grant gives him a Viking funeral by putting him in his plane and making it look like he'd been shot down in action. March becomes a hero in spite of himself. In the end, you see a plaque in March's hometown; that's where the film ends now, but originally, we pulled back from the plaque, until we see Cary Grant, walking by with a bottle in a paper bag. He has become a bum, and he will regret all his life the mockery he made of March's death."
Leisen directed the movie, not the credited Stuart Walker. Fredric March confirmed this to Chierichetti. Leisen also mentioned that Lombard only did the tiny part as a favor to him.

1:13 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks for these details, Eric. I have the David Chierichetti book, but had not looked at it recently with regards THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK. Chierichetti's book, by the way, is terrific, one of the best career studies of a director I have come across.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Dropping a $25 watch from an airplane is a damned good gag. Wonder who thought that up, Paramount or the watch company?

8:40 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

This is why I tend to avoid non-restored precodes. The ones to see are those that were never rereleased. Not as famous, but that's what makes them even more shocking.

5:58 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK, and its writer, John Monk Saunders (Part One):

John Monk Saunders, who wrote the screenplay for “The Eagle and the Hawk,” was a seminal figure in the making of aviation films, having also written the screenplays for “Wings,” “The Dawn Patrol,” “The Last Flight,” “Ace of Aces,” “Devil Dogs of the Air,” “West Point of the Air,” and “Conquest of the Air.”

The better of these, such as “The Eagle and the Hawk,” dealt with the disillusionment and psychological scarring that aviators experienced during the First World War. This was ironic, in a way, in that Saunders was in the United States Air Services during the war, but as a flight instructor stationed in Florida. Though he tried to get a posting overseas, the war ended before he was able to do so. It was a source of frustration ever after in his life, as it was for F. Scott Fitzgerald, who also missed what he considered to be the one great adventure of his generation.

Saunders understood the danger of flying in those days, when almost as many airmen were lost in training or accidents as in combat, and he captured their camaraderie, but the rest was a re-imagining of what they might have felt. No doubt this was affected by earlier novels or films, such as Erich Maria Remarque’s “Im Westen nichts Neues” (“Nothing New in the West”), which became Lewis Milestone’s film, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” or James Whales’ film of R. C. Sherriff’s play, “Journeys End.”

He was tall, handsome, a talented athlete and a Rhodes Scholar, but an enigmatic figure always seeming to promise more than he would accomplish. After graduation from Oxford, he became a journalist and wrote several short stories published in such magazines as “Cosmopolitan” and “Liberty.” An unfinished novel set in the skies above France during the war gained the attention of Jessie Lasky and Paramount Pictures, who engaged him to write the screenplay for “Wings.” The massive success of that picture carried him through the rest of his career and typed him as a writer of aviation films.

That Saunders was talented might be found in his “Nikki” stories, about a fey, charming American girl in France. He likely drew the character from his second wife, the actress Fay Wray, whom he married in 1928. He gathered these stories together for a novel, “Single Lady,” which later became the basis for his screenplay for “The Last Flight.” It could be compared to Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” which is set during the same time and places and is also about a group of American expatriates, most of them ex-servicemen, with little purpose in life, other than to wait for whatever turns up. Possibly the publication of the Hemingway novel five years before led to it being dismissed as little more than a pastiche. It did not, in any case, establish a reputation for him on the same level as Hemingway’s, though he surely hoped for more, given the dedication, “For Fay,” in large letters taking up a page.

4:01 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Dan Mercer:

“The Dawn Patrol,” which was directed by Howard Hawks, is perhaps his best film and his most popular, after “Wings,” but my personal favorite is “The Last Flight.” With apologies to Hemingway, I believe Saunders makes a better use of the essential theme. His ex-servicemen are all former pilots, hurt and broken but still flying on eccentric paths, heedless of any danger, until they crash into reality. It’s as though they had died during the war but haven’t quite come to terms yet with their deaths.
It is in his acknowledgement of the importance of love, however, that Saunders is most unlike Hemingway but, I think, truer to the realities of life. “The Sun Also Rises” ends with most of the friends lost or dead and Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley waiting for a taxi. “Oh Jake,” she says, “We could have had such a damned good time together.” “Yes,” he replies, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Neither for them nor anyone else is there any escape, whatever choices they make.

“The Last Flight” also ends with most of the flyers lost or dead, some foolishly, some sordidly, some gallantly. Nikki and the scarred Cary Lockwood have survived. On the train taking them from Barcelona to somewhere else—they really don’t know where their destination will be—he realizes what has been happening, but also that they are alive and in love. “What can I get you?” he asks, “What do you want?” “Well,” she replies, “I’ve always wanted a pair of Spanish earrings.” He smiles and takes her into his arms. At a cemetery earlier in the picture, where he was telling her the story of the legendary lovers, Abelard and Heloise, she’d made a joking remark about having at last found names for her pet turtles. In that moment, it destroyed whatever feelings he had for her. What he understands now, however, is that there are some things so beautiful or profound—some feelings so deep—that they cannot be put into words. That silly remark of hers was a way of saying what could not be said, not aloud, and he loved her all the more for it.

The thirties saw Saunders’ career and life gradually winding down through drinking, drug use, and many affairs. Wray was much distressed by this, especially the affairs, though he assured her that she shouldn’t be, that he was simply “oversexed.” She ruefully noted in her autobiography, “On the Other Hand,” that she had never turned him away, but then, such affairs are always about something other than sex. That he might have loved her, however, is perhaps glimpsed in his committing suicide not long after their divorce. Wray remembered afterwards that he’d often told her that a man always destroys the thing he loves best, but since he’d killed himself, after all, she wondered whether that destruction suggested who he had really loved.

Possibly, though, his love for her was as genuine as he professed. If so, then he was coming to terms with the destruction of what he loved in his life with her. His own death was an acknowledgement of that and, as such, a mere formality.

4:01 PM  

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