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Saturday, July 27, 2013

FLIGHT COMMAND (1940)

You can feel M-G-M tiptoeing their way into the war in this pre-Pearl Harbor number, a formula FlyBoy tale with a split personality, each half equally forgettable. The first part has Robert Taylor trying to fit in as the rookie pilot, but getting hazed by senior ‘Hellcat’ flyers until he proves himself in the air. Then, we get a big gear shift when commanding officer Walter Pigeon heads to D.C., leaving lonely wife Ruth Hussey (in a off-key, unsympathetic role) to fall hard for the romantically clueless Taylor. There’s a decent amount of legit flying footage, those stubby little planes look terrifying flying in close formation, an experimental radar system to tie the two halves together, and a lot of F/X flying scenes which sometimes work and sometimes don’t. It’s a poor fit for romantically inclined helmer Frank Borzage, but with three asst. directors, the action footage probably wasn’t his problem. At least lenser Harold Rosson gives the intimate scenes some portrait-worthy glamor and Red Skelton makes his feature film debut in the comic relief spot. That last, something of a mixed blessing.  (NOTE: Our Belgian poster is presumably from after WWII.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Borzage was fresh off THE MORTAL STORM/’40, an anti-Nazi heartbreaker with James Stewart & Margaret Sullavan, both in devastating form. But something seems to have gone wrong for him starting with this film, and he never regained his form. His earlier Robert Taylor pic, THREE COMRADES/’38, is infinitely better. That is, the film is infinitely better, with wonderful perfs from Sullavan, Robert Young and especially Franchot Tone, working off a script co-written by F. Scott Fitzgerald script. Taylor? . . . still not so hot.

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