Sunday, July 30, 2006

SKY GIANT (1938)

This is an RKO B-movie version of the kind of aviation male-buddy movie that Warners and MGM did better, so instead of actors like James Cagney or Spencer Tracy, we have fading silent star Richard Dix and B stalwart Chester Morris. The flying footage, like the stars, is passable but not terribly exciting, and the plot is strictly routine. Harry Carey is a crusty old retired army colonel who starts a flight school for commercial pilots and runs it in strict military fashion. Dix, who had been a captain under Carey, is railroaded into working for him and, though there is some tension between the two, there is also respect. Morris is Carey's cocky son, a former diplomat, who comes to the school not knowing that his father is in charge. Of course, Dix and Morris become friendly antagonists, first in the air, and then in competing for the attentions of Joan Fontaine, the cousin of another pilot (Paul Guilfoyle). Fontaine settles on Morris, assuming he'll give up flying, but when he winds up joining Dix and Guilfoyle on a project to map Arctic flight routes, she breaks it off and accepts Dix, on the condition that he make this his last air job. They get a marriage license, but on the test flight, the men crash land over the Yukon. Guilfoyle winds up with two broken legs and wants Dix and Morris to leave him behind. When they refuse, Guilfoyle crawls out at night into the elements to sacrifice himself so Dix and Morris can make it more quickly to safety. In the end, they still have to sort out the romantic triangle, and though there is a traditional resolution, the last shot seems to suggest the uneasy threeway relationship may continue. Fontaine doesn't have a lot to do, but she's lovely (and quite young, only 21, in comparison to Morris's 37 and Dix's 45, though I have to say that neither man looks quite as old as he really was so the triangle isn't too creepy). The pilot school is identified as TWA's, an interesting bit of early product placement, perhaps. [TCM]

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