Tuesday 10 July 2007

China Clipper (1936) Ray Enright

'This photoplay is not historical in any sense,' we're told before we even see Pat O'Brien. He's Dave Logan and he's just got back to New York in time to see Lindbergh arrive back from his historic non stop flight across the Atlantic. He saw him land in Paris too and he's hooked. Unlike his boss at Ross Import/Export, he believes that planes are ready for the commercial sector and so quits to set up an airline. Unfortunately nobody else seems to buy the concept so the Washington to Philadelphia run ends not long after it starts. So Logan and his partners switch to a historic run taking the US mail from Key West to Havana.

The partners in Trans-Ocean Airways include Ross Alexander, who committed suicide a year later, and Henry B Walthall, who collapsed and died on the set of this film. Before too long they add in old war buddy Humphrey Bogart, who thankfully stayed alive and active in the movie business for a long time yet. They're all excellent, which is hardly surprising. Pat O'Brien is abrupt but powerful, hard and tough and blatant, and Bogie is young but solid, able to show us what he would become in only a few years. Ross Alexander reminds me of Franchot Tone and his career was cut tragically short after only 17 films in six years. Walthall reminds of an old Peter Cushing.

There are women in the film, not that they get to do much except turn the men into human beings. Beverly Roberts is Skippy, Logan's estranged wife, but I know Marie Wilson much better, as probably the most memorable ditz of the thirties. There's something of a plot and it drives forward so hard that it's hard not to be caught up in the maelstrom of it and so miss out on the fact that there's not actually much there. Logan has a lot of visions but most people think he's nuts at every stage. and he drives them all very hard indeed to prove his point. Pretty much everything else is bluster, just highly professional bluster.

I enjoyed the film but it left me completely dry. For most of the film I rode along with Pat O'Brien's charisma and wondered when I could next watch Only Angels Have Wings. That had charisma too but it had a heck of a lot more too. The only thing this one has extra to the bluster is the fact that it makes a round fifty Humphrey Bogart movies for me which also means I'm over two thirds of the way through his filmography.

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