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Thursday, December 3, 2015


William Wellman, who flew in WWI and made his rep with an aviation classic on it (WINGS/’27), must have seemed a logical choice for this history-of-flight formula romance. At heart, a budget-padded programmer, some of the flying scenes are early TechniColor eye-poppers, but Wellman can’t get anything going on its standard two guys/one gal storyline. Fred MacMurray’s devil-may-care flyboy may prove irresistible to childhood gal-pal Louise Campbell, but they both underwhelm on-screen. (Campbell, promoted from B-pic leads, never did break thru.) And while Ray Milland’s loyal plane engineer, happy to wait (and wait) for his chance at romance, isn’t much better, he sure takes well to the early TechniColor camera. Lord, that man was handsome @ 30; he looks almost as good as the planes. And looks are the main thing here, TechniColored looks. Not just the air-borne primary-colored flying machines (lots of real action mixed with better-than-expected process stuff), but also the translucent color on some delicately toned location exteriors. An early scene in a field of wild flowers might be a living lithograph. (Studio interiors are another matter; visually dead in so many ways, including Wellman’s staging & composition.) All told, it's 'meh' as a pic, but one of the best examples of pre-‘40s TechniColor to be had (lenser W. Howard Greene) before the process standardized into a pudding rich impasto few were able to counter.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Look, it’s Donald O’Connor at the start of his mini-run playing younger versions of big stars. Here, he’s young MacMurray; next year, young Gary Cooper in BEAU GESTE/’39 (also for director Wellman) and then a kid vaudevillian who’ll grow up to be Eddie Albert in ON YOUR TOES/’39. (And, unlike Albert, doing his own dancing.)

CONTEST: Wellman must have kept scripter Robert Carson on retainer. They’d just done A STAR IS BORN/’37 and manage to steal a big moment for this pic. Name it to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choice.

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