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DAWN PATROL, THE (director: Edmund Goulding; screenwriters: Seton I. Miller/Dan Totheroh/from story by John Monk Saunders; cinematographer: Tony Gaudio; editor: Ralph Dawson; music: Max Steiner; cast: Errol Flynn (Captain Courtney), Basil Rathbone (Major Brand), David Niven (Lt. Douglas “Scotty” Scott), Donald Crisp (Phipps), Melville Cooper (Sergeant Watkins), Barry Fitzgerald (Bott), Morton Lowry (Donnie Scott); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Robert Lord/Hal B. Wallis; Warner Bros. Pictures; 1938)
“Competent remake of the 1930 Howard Hawks film of the same title.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Competent remake of the 1930 Howard Hawks film of the same title; it uses much of the same aerial footage from the earlier version that was shot by Elmer Dyer. It’s helmed by Edmund Goulding (“That Certain Woman”) and written by Seton I. Miller and Dan Totheroh from a story by John Monk Saunders. The Dawn Patrol takes pains to point out the high mortality rate of the flyers and how the top brass makes their battle plans from their safe havens while ignoring the dangerous situations they often place their flyers in. The World War I drama is set in 1915 in France, where the British Royal Flying Corps, 59th division, are experiencing heavy casualties. Major Brand (Basil Rathbone, served in WWI and wears his own decorations in the movie) is the beleaguered commanding officer who keeps sending his pilots out on suicide-like missions and is roundly being criticized by the men under him for his callous disregard to their lives. Though presenting a frozen face in public, the Major takes the losses to heart. Errol Flynn plays Captain Courtney, the heroic squadron flight commander; Lieutenant Douglas Scott (David Niven) is the young replacement for one of the flyers who didn’t return. He quickly becomes friends with Captain Courtney, and they cope with the deaths of their squadron members after each mission by a rousing toast to the dead and keeping themselves occupied playing schoolboy pranks.

In a colorful air battle, German ace flyer Von Richter taunts the Brit flyers, but this only causes our two devil-may-care Brit flyboys to steal two planes and bomb the enemy camp. Despite disobeying orders, Courtney is surprisingly promoted for his action and becomes the squadron commander. Now Courtney must make the decisions Brand made and his first test is when green pilot Donnie Scott (Morton Lowry), the younger brother of Douglas joins the squad and before he can get his feet wet is sent with the squadron on a key air battle from orders by the brass. When Donnie is shot down, it leads to a follow-up dangerous mission with the self-sacrificing heroics by Courtney saving the day.

Though the dialogue is wooden, there’s no character development and the hammy narrative plays too much to glorifying the heroics of war, the action sequences were first-rate and the big money grossing film was easy to digest for what it was.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”