CEILING ZERO (director: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: Morrie Ryskind/Frank Wead/play by Wead; cinematographer: Arthur Edeson; editor: William Holmes ; music: Bernhard Kaun; cast: James Cagney (Dizzy Davis), Pat O’Brien (Jack L. Lee), June Travis (Tommy Thomas), Stuart Erwin (Texas Clarke), Barton MacLane (Al Stone), Craig Reynolds (Joe Allen), Dick Purcell (Smiley), Carlyle Moore Jr (Eddie Payson), Isabel Jewell (Lou Clarke), Addison Richards (Fred Adams), Henry Wadsworth (Tay Lawson), Martha Tibbetts (Mrs. Mary Lee); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hal B. Wallis/Jack L. Warner; Warner Brothers; 1936)
“An entertaining adventure story of an irresponsible but great civil airline pilot.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An entertaining adventure story of an irresponsible but great civil airline pilot, which crashes as it goes sentimental before the third act ends. Nevertheless director Howard Hawks(“Scarface”/”His Girl Friday”/”Rio Bravo”) keeps it crackling despite its staginess. It’s based on the Broadway play by the crippled former Navy pilot, Frank ‘Spig’ Wead. Looking back, it seems to be a test run for Hawks’ loftier Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Though Cagney says it was his favorite of the nine films he teamed up with O’Brien.
Dizzy Davis (James Cagney) is a womanizer and a cocky, devil-may-care, civil aviator during peacetime at Newark Airport, delivering the mail, and Jake Lee (Pat O’Brien) is a no-nonsense ground commander, who soberly tries to keep his best pilot on the square. In one instance, Dizzy romances the attractive Tommy Thomas (June Travis), the girlfriend of a fellow pilot, instead of showing up for his dangerous flight assignment. Dizzy is indirectly guilty of the death of his friend, the meek inexperienced pilot, Tex Clarke (Stuart Erwin), whom he switched flights with. Dizzy’s fellow pilots and Tex’s outspoken brassy wife (Isabel Jewell) let the irresponsible pilot know that his selfish actions ticked them off. Dizzy seeks redemption by volunteering to fly a test flight for an anti-icing device in fog-laden “ceiling zero,” and dies a hero.
It was remade in a wartime setting as International Squadron (1940).
REVIEWED ON 10/8/2014 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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