LOST SQUADRON, THE
(director: George Archainbaud; screenwriters: from the story by Richard V. Grace/from the play by Wallace Smith/Herman Mankiewicz/Robert S. Presnell/Humphrey Pearson; cinematographers: Edward Cronjager/Leo Tover; editor: Willaim Hamilton; music: Max Steiner; cast: Richard Dix (Capt. ‘Gibby’ Gibson), Mary Astor (Follette Marsh), Robert Armstrong (Lt. ‘Woody’ Curwood), Dorothy Jordan (‘Pest’ Curwood), Joel McCrea (Red), Erich Von Stroheim (Arthur von Furst), Hugh Herbert (Sgt. Fritz), Ralph Ince (Det. Jettick, homicide); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; executive producer: David O. Selznick; RKO; 1932)
“Penned in a delightfully nasty cynical way by Herman Mankiewicz.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
George Archainbaud directs an inspired action comedy that’s based on the story by Richard V. Grace (real-life Hollywood stunt flyer) and the play by Wallace Smith. It’s penned in a delightfully nasty cynical way by Herman Mankiewicz. The black and white film is set after WW I when three ace pilots from the same squadron, Captain ‘Gibby’ Gibson (Richard Dix), Lt. ‘Woody’ Curwood (Robert Armstrong) and Joel McCrea (Red), and their loyal mechanic Sgt. Fritz (Hugh Herbert), drink a toast and pledge to stay together as a team just as the war ends and they finished flying their last mission. On the homefront each find things are not so rosy after they come home. Newspaper headlines show that Congress fails to pass a benefit package for the war vets and many are forced to go on the bread lines. Red returns to his former workplace and discovers his return will mean a family man he’s friendly with will get laid-off, and decides not to go back. Woody learns his business partner absconded with the funds and he’s no longer a rich man. Gibson visits his flame Folette (Mary Astor) in her apartment only to find her living with another man. Gibson, Red, and Fritz band together and ride hobo style on the railroad to Hollywood, where they attend the premiere of an aviation picture directed by the tyrannical genius von Furst (Erich Von Stroheim) which stars his wife Folette. They also meet Woody there, who has been flying stunts on that picture. The squadron reunites in Woody’s Hollywood pad and are introduced to Woody’s perky sister “Pest” (Dorothy Jordan). Red falls in love with her, Woody upsets sis because he drinks too much while flying and Gibby grouses that the broad he loves is married to such a snot–thinking the things an ambitious broad would do to get ahead in Hollywood. The squadron boys decide to team up again and become stuntman on von Furst’s next picture.
The egotistical bullying von Furst berates his actors and has an instant hatred for his wife’s former lover. He arranges for difficult flying scenes as he tries to get great action shots for the film and at the same time get Gibby killed. In one scene, Gibson loses control and his plane crashes in the drink; by a miracle he survives. Folette begs Gibson not to fly, telling him her jealous hubby will kill him. This time Woody is sober and takes Gibson’s place. Von Furst pours acid on a control wire thinking Gibby would be flying. Red finds acid in von Furst’s pocket, and threatens to kill him if Woody crashes. Gibson goes up in a plane to warn Woody to come down; but Woody’s plane crashes and is destroyed in flames, as the control wire snaps.
In the concluding scene the squadron members band together to get von Furst to confess, but things get dicey and the men resolve the homicidal situation in a tragic way.
The film had some first-class aviation photographed stunts. There are many insider references to the way Hollywood does business and it includes a perfectly cast Von Stroheim spoofing his own reputation as both an inspired filmmaker and a Prussian tyrant on the set. This bizarre film puts on a good show and its strange combo of thriller and comedy was effectively carried out.
REVIEWED ON 8/4/2005 GRADE: B