Thursday, August 16, 2007


Pilot "Tailspin" Tommy Tompkins (John Trent) has founded a boy's club, the Scouts of the Air, with the intention of 1) keeping kids out of trouble, 2) getting kids interested in aviation, so that 3) they might become fliers when their country needs them (approximately two years hence, as it will turn out). Tommy befriends tough kid Whitey (Tommy Baker), an orphan whose older brother Mike (Dennis Moore) is a small-time thug and part of a fairly inept gang led by Dawson (Julius Tannen). When the gang tries but fails to hijack Brown's payroll delivery being made by car, Brown hires Tommy to fly the money out. However, in the middle of a bad storm, Tommy is asked instead to fly needed medical supplies to some dam workers. He does, using his only parachute to get the supplies to the ground, then crash lands. Just as searchers, including Tommy's buddy Skeeter (Milburn Stone), are ready to give up, Whitey and his fellow Scouts discover him and save the day. Whitey's heroic deed makes headlines and brother Mike plays on his ego to get him to help in a new scheme to get the ever-elusive payroll, involving a model airplane that can send out smoke signals. The ruse works, and Whitey and Tommy wind up prisoners in a basement until Tommy figures out how to rebuild a busted model plane and send his own message to the cops.

This is a pretty obscure little flick, one of four programmers made by bargain basement studio Monogram in 1939 featuring the comic strip character Tailspin Tommy, who had previously been the focus of two Universal serials. In look and feel, this is no worse, and maybe a smidge better, than any average adventure serial of the day, and the movie does feel like part of a serial, given that the story breaks down into two specific "chapters." The plane scenes, especially the storm, are handled acceptably. Baker and Moore are fine, and it's fun to see Tannen, whom many viewers will recognize as the "talking picture" demonstrator in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Stone makes a good if underused sidekick, but the weak links are Trent, who is boring, and Marjorie Reynolds as his girl, who is both boring and bad. She is known mostly as the love interest in HOLIDAY INN, and she's absolutely wooden in both films. The Alpha DVD print is in very bad shape, especially during the first reel--the picture quality gets better, but the sound remains spotty. The film seems clearly aimed at the kiddie matinee crowd of the day, but given its limitations, it's fun enough for an hour's entertainment. [DVD]

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