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Thursday, May 5, 2016

CHINA CLIPPER (1936)

Fictionalized account of the team that created the famous China Clipper, a sort of luxury boat with wings that expanded commercial aviation by flying in stages across the Pacific. (It’s what got Pan-Am going. See the cool posters below - click to enlarge.) B-pic director Ray Enright, with a solid B+ budget, has a good cast on the male side, but a remarkably uneventful story. Pat O’Brien is the hard-nosed company head, putting friendship, romance, even loyalty to the side in his single-minded pursuit to get things off the ground . . . and he does! That’s about it on the story-arc side. But what makes the film worth a look is how it reflects on a few personal issues. There’s Henry B. Walthall, a leading man from 1908 on, here in his last role. Only 58, but looking as if he couldn’t cast a shadow, he fell ill on the set, dying almost precisely as his character does in the film story. Then there’s light comic supporting man Ross Alexander, working a running gag about chasing off the unwanted attentions of man-hungry Marie Wilson. A closeted gay actor on his way out @ Warners, he’d suicide the following year. Most of all, there’s an unexpectedly raw depiction of the troubled marriage between O’Brien and little remembered Beverly Roberts. This is almost certainly personal shit from the life of the physically disabled aviator/scripter Frank ‘Spig’ Wead, using a relationship that would receive fuller attention & development in John Ford’s deeply felt, wildly uneven THE WINGS OF EAGLES/’57.*



DOUBLE-BILL: *As mentioned, WINGS OF EAGLES/’57; a unique film from any standpoint, half boisterous flyboy Air Force drama/half blistering Scenes From A Marriage reportage.

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