John Monk Saunders, Hollywood’s go-to writer on WWI flyboys (WINGS/’27; DAWN PATROL/’30 & '38; THE LAST FLIGHT/’31), finds variations on his usual themes in this anti-war pic. Cynically unmoved at war’s parade, fine-arts sculptor Richard Dix plans to take a pass on WWI, much distressing his patriotic fiancé Elizabeth Allan. Cut to an airfield in war-torn France where he quickly rises to hard-hearted pilot; while she’s now a disillusioned nurse amid the dying. No big story surprises then, but everyone makes a decent job of it. Silent-screen star Dix has grown a little more confident with dialogue, nailing a tricky Paris reunion scene where he convinces Allan to lower her guard (and her garters) for a two-day pass. And the film would be even better if helmer J. Walter Ruben varied the pace now & then. But there are some neat plot & character reverses; a fresh cast of flyboys without the usual movieland suspects, and an unusual look to the aviation scenes, using an effective mix of real stunt flying & good model work. Too bad about the cop-out ending.
DOUBLE-BILL: Richard Dix may be a year stiffer on screen in THE LOST SQUADRON/’32, where a trio of WWI vets (Dix, Robert Armstrong, Joel McCrea) fly stunts for tyrannical director Erich von Stroheim, but it’s a better story. And hopefully, out soon on DVD.