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CENTRAL AIRPORT (directors: William A. Wellman/Al Green; screenwriters: based on the story “Hawk’s Mate” by Jack Moffitt/Rian James/James Seymour; cinematographer: Sidney Hickox; editor: James Morley; music: Howard Jackson/Bernhard Kaun; cast: Richard Barthelmess (James Blaine), Sally Eilers (Jill Collins), Tom Brown (Neil Blaine), Grant Mitchell (Mr. Blaine), James Murray (Eddie Hughes), Claire McDowell (Mrs. Blaine); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Warner Bros.; 1933)
“The excellent aerial footage keeps this one from crashing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William A. Wellman (“Heroes for Sale”/”Battleground”/”Blood Alley”) distinguished himself as one of the most famous pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, the air wing of the French Foreign Legion, knows how to shoot aviation films. He made 11 flying films in his career, and his Wings won the Oscar where he literally invented how to shoot such a picture. Here Wellman directs this action/romance film about a flying hero who is a star-crossed lover. The title is misleading, as it has nothing to do with this film–it’s a film about brothers in love with the same woman and as result have a falling out. The film is based on the story “Hawk’s Mate” by Jack Moffitt; the screenplay is by Rian James and James Seymour. John Wayne has a non-speaking bit part as the co-pilot of Tom Brown, who drowns trying to save a passenger during a crash-landing. When Wellman had the flu, Al Green stepped in to shoot a few scenes. The excellent aerial footage keeps this one from crashing. Otherwise it’s an undeveloped story that seems too contrived and packs only a little emotional charge, and the choice of Tom Brown as one of the stars was a mistake–he brought no charisma to his role and his taking away of his brother’s girl, Sally Eilers, was unconvincing since he showed no chemistry with her.

After WWI service as a decorated flyer Jim Blaine (Richard Barthelmess) flies a commercial airplane. One stormy day he crashes and even though he has a previous spotless record of 4000 flying hours and it’s not his fault, the airline grounds him because of carelessness. Unable to get a job anymore on a commercial plane, he joins lady parachutist Jill Collins (Sally Eilers) in a carnival stunt pilot act when her brother dies in a crash. The two fall in love, but Jim fails to marry her and tells her with firmness he believes that flyers should never get married. Jim is slightly injured in a freak accident during the air show and his kid brother Neil (Tom Brown), who idolizes him, pays him a visit from Los Angeles where he’s a test pilot. Neil falls in love at first sight with Jill and on the rebound she immediately marries him. When Jim recovers, he comes over to the hotel where Jill is staying to tell her he changed his mind and wants to marry but instead finds her in bed with Neil. Upset that his brother betrayed him, Jim spends a number of years in different foreign countries taking dangerous flying assignments that have him losing an eye and walking with a limp. Neil, in the meantime, becomes a commercial pilot and settles down into a happy marriage. The brothers have not corresponded in all this time, and in the concluding scene Jim heroically rescues Neil’s plane that is down during a severe storm off the coast of Havana. This allows the brothers to kiss and makeup and then for the noble and self-sacrificing Jim to push on to a new place to find adventure to make up for losing the only woman he ever loved–a woman that he knows still loves him, but he won’t do anything to hurt his kid brother.

REVIEWED ON 12/26/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”