(director/writer: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: from the story “The Flight Commander” by John Monk Saunders/Dan Totheron/Seton Miller; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editors: Ray Curtiss/Hugh Bennett; music: Leo Forbstein/Rex Dunn; cast: Richard Barthelmess (Dick Courtney), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Douglas Scott), Neil Hamilton (Maj. Brand), William Janney (Gordon Scott), James Finlayson (Field Sergeant), Clyde Cook (Bott), Gardner James (Ralph Hollister), Edmund Breon (Lt. Phipps), Frank McHugh (Flaherty), Howard Hawks (Von Richter); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert North; WB Archive Collection; 1930)
“Retains a certain power because of its great aerial footage.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This woman-less war drama is the first talkie by Howard Hawks (“I Was A Male War Bride”/”Red River”/”The Big Sleep”). It’s based on the story “The Flight Commander” by John Monk Saunders, and is written by Hawks, Dan Totheron and Seton Miller. Hampered by inadequate talkie technology, stilted dialogue and wooden acting, the creaky pic nevertheless retains a certain power because of its great aerial footage, used again for the 1938 remake that starred Errol Flynn and David Niven. Though the remake proves to be the superior film, upon its release Hawks’ pic was quite well-received at the box office and got across its point about the horrors of war as the audiences marveled at the aerial dog-fight footage.

In 1915, during World War I, in France, stressed-out Major Brand (Neil Hamilton), commander of the 59th British Squadron, is sickened that he loses so many flyers in the regular near-suicidal missions over Germany. The squadron’s ace pilots are the old veteran squadron leader Dick Courtney (Richard Barthelmess) and the new young brash hotshot Douglas Scott (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.).

Brand is bounced upstairs to headquarters for a promotion and his command is turned over to Courtney. Thinking Brand lacked the guts to be commander, Courtney soon thinks differently when he realizes the job’s responsibilities to all the men and begins to drink heavily to cover up his heavy heart at the losses. He even gets into a feud with Scott because his best friend’s newly arrived flyer green brother Gordon (William Janney) is killed on a mission.

The flyers survive with a gallows humor, singing songs at the rowdy pub that are dedicated to the next man who perishes and maintaining a mentally of next man up when one of their comrades goes down.

The pic concludes with a stunning dog-fight between the German ace Von Richter (Howard Hawks), the one who shot down Gordon, and Courtney, as the Brit pilot avenges the death of Gordon in a secret mission as he gets Scott drunk so he can take his place.

REVIEWED ON 4/23/2013 GRADE: B-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/