Monday 30 July 2007

Central Airport (1933) William A Wellman

Amazing as it may seem, not every aviation film from the silent and precode eras was written by John Monk Saunders. In fact, a quick look at his credits shows only 18 films as a writer, (two of which are the same film) and one as a director, just before his suicide at 45. I don't know if that means that Saunders's films are the best or just the most shown.

Richard Barthelmess is back again and just like in The Last Flight, he's been grounded at the very start of the film. This time around though it isn't enemy aircraft shooting him down, it's a storm that his character Jim Blaine was fool enough to attempt to travel through and it causes him to crash land, breaking his arm in the process and ending any career he might have had in commercial flying. Now he's forced to sit back and watch his kid brother take over his skies, as a test pilot for Lockheed, which hurts of course as his heart is still in the air.

Then Jill Collins falls out of the sky to him, literally, as she's a carnival parachutist. Her brother's plane blows up about ten minutes later leaving her high and dry, so Jim Blaine gets the gig of taking her up for her jumps. They fall for each other but Blaine doesn't believe that flyers should ever get married, because of the danger of their work. I guess he's not paying much attention to what his girlfriend does. Naturally the moment the whole discussion comes up, kid brother Bud enters from stage right and immediately falls for her too. Next day Blaine has to deliberately crash his plane to stop a runaway and Bud suddenly has his job and his girl both.

Barthelmess is solid here, especially after he goes into intense mode complete with eyepatch. He's also helped by the difference in ages between him and his supposed brother, Ned, played by Tom Brown. Barthelmess was 38 and Brown was 20, making the love triangle a little kinky but hey, this was the precodes. You don't even have to pay that much attention to see a married couple sharing the same bed: the shame of it! Love interest Sally Eilers was 25 so she's believable both ways. In fact she and they are a lot more believable than the story, which forsakes Saunders's usual brand of psychological insight for airborne soap opera.

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