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Thursday, May 7, 2015

DEVIL DOGS OF THE AIR (1935)

HERE COMES THE NAVY/’34 must have been still playing in third-run houses when Warners offered up a second-helping of James Cagney & Pat O’Brien in slightly different uniforms. This time, O’Brien’s a flight instructor for the Marine Air Corp and Cagney’s an old pal turned stunt pilot he’s bringing in. Will cock-of-the-walk Cagney learn to play by team rules? Will gal pal Margaret Lindsey stay true to O’Brien in the face of Cagney’s ‘id’ appeal? And will ambulance driver Frank McHugh finally get a customer to cart off to hospital? (Odd comic relief that, no? Still, McHugh scores big with a silly bit of Busby Berkeley song-and-dance.) More recruitment infomercial than story, but loaded to the gills with stupendous daredevil stunt flying & smartly faked process trick work for the boys’ airborn close-ups. (Just how much of the film was actually handled by director Lloyd Bacon and not the 2nd Unit?) Best of all, a fascinating look at what might as well be a practice run for the Normandy Invasion a decade before the fact. With half of the film given over to flying & various military drills, Cagney plays more broadly than usual, yet manages to be obnoxious and irresistible. When O’Brien was doing this character a couple years back, he never got much past obnoxious. It’s piffle, but fun.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Margaret Lindsay, as always, is pleasant enough, but no match for Cagney. Much more comfortable playing against O’Brien. It makes you wonder why they didn’t revamp the ending.

DOUBLE-BILL: Cagney & O’Brien are at their serious best in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES/’38; at their comic best in TORRID ZONE/’40.

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