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Monday, September 30, 2013

THE DAWN PATROL (1938)

Edmund Goulding’s remake of Howard Hawks’ Early Talkie still finds those WWI British flyboys facing impossible odds against German aces. And still sends them out, over & over again, with ever younger replacements showing up as fodder for death’s maw, a burden that eats away at their guilt-weary commander. As you’d expect, the later pic is smoother and more polished, but also showing less welcome signs of the homogenized tone of late ‘30s studio house-style, missing the immediacy & bitter tone of Hawks’ original beauty. The acting is largely better in '38, Errol Flynn, as the top flyer, has a verbal fluency Richard Barthelmess never quite mastered, while Basil Rathbone’s C.O. shows a nuance & natural command that make Neil Hamilton’s one-note delivery look a bit hysterical. (Team 1930 does win out with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as the post’s dashing scapegrace pilot. It’s probably his best perf, edging out in cocky glamor & spirit David Niven’s excellent work.) There’s a fair amount of rewriting here, so the film no longer jumps awkwardly between cracking air fights in the sky and male bonding right out of the famous play JOURNEY’S END on the ground. (END was also filmed in 1930 by James Whale. Not seen here.*) The flying scenes are generally better in the earlier work, with less process work, though the big climatic munitions-dump run, heavily borrowed here, has the most dated F/X in the film. Hawks’ film remains a significant achievement, particularly as his first in sound, but this slighter work has a charge all its own and is no knock-off.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hawks’ original (once called FLIGHT COMMANDER) is now available on V.O.D. from Warners Archive. (*And those with a tolerance for murky prints in low-resolution might want to check out Whale’s film of R. C. Sherriff’s JOURNEY’S END here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvqDPt-KGcs

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