Saturday 21 July 2007

The Flying Fleet (1929) George Hill

Co-written by Lt Cmdr Frank Wead, USN, produced with the sanction of the US Navy and dedicated to to the officers and men of naval aviation, it would seem The Flying Fleet has the right grounding to succeed. It even starts at Annapolis with what looks like documentary footage of a graduating class. Then we head indoors to meet some of those graduating. It seems that they are allowed a period of liberty on the final day before they graduate but unfortunately most of them take the opportunity to get drunk and that gets one of them, appropriately called Dizzy, kicked out of the academy on his last day.

Soon of course they're out in the world, where they go their individual ways for the first year and then meet back up in San Diego for assignment. They also meet up with young Anita Hastings, played by the delightful Anita Page who unfortunately doesn't get to do much except be delightful, and immediately there's a rivalry between Tommy and Steve, the leading pair, played by Ramon Novarro and Ralph Graves. You might imagine that a mild love triangle and the gradual whittling down of the initial six midshipmen doesn't make for much of a plot, and you'd be right.

Beyond watching these actors strut their stuff (Graves looks and acts like an arrogant Burt Lancaster and Navarro varies between Richard Barthelmess, Harold Lloyd and himself, depending on how much of his head is covered), the film is blatantly and unashamedly a commercial for the air arm of the US Navy. Parts of it feel like a documentary and most of it feels like a recruitment video, especially with use of plenty of real planes, presumably the current cream of the crop, and the aircraft carrier, USS Langley. Even if you ignore the plot, there's plenty of historical value here.

Beyond just blind recruitment, it does fairly cover the likelihood of not succeeding (four out of the original six fail for one reason or another) but suggests that everyone should try anyway because even if you don't make it as a pilot, there are plenty of other jobs in the Navy. We focus mostly on the most prestigious ones though, the people flying the planes, and this film does give us something of the thrill of the being a pilot. The flying scenes are generally very good with admirable aerial photogaphy and only some poor model work letting the side down at a few points. All in all, it's perfectly watchable without ever really catching the interest unless you're a naval historian.

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