Sunday, March 07, 2010

PILOT X (1936)

Airplanes are mysteriously crashing, particularly planes that were built by one company headed by Henry Hall, and the Feds want to know why. One man who briefly survives one of the crashes is able to tell authorities that he saw a plane come out of nowhere with an "X" painted its wing, and an explosion followed. A theory is quickly floated that a WWI fighter pilot, used to killing, is having what we might today call post-traumatic flashbacks and is compelled to go up in the air and kill. A group of suspects are brought together under the pretext of helping the feds to find out what's behind the crashes, with ace pilot John Carroll (pictured) heading the investigation. One by one, the pilots start getting killed off; will Carroll find out who’s behind it before he becomes the next victim? Despite a promising story and a decent opening, this is a rather drab affair made by a Poverty Row indie company. Carroll, who had a very respectable career as a B-lead, is good, as is Leon Ames, early in his career, as Hall's son and a rival with Carroll for the affections of Hall's ward, Lona Andre. Weak direction (flubbed lines, awkward camera shots held too long) and improbable plotting allow whatever excitement gets worked up to dissipate quickly—the aerial scenes are OK, though most of them are obviously taken from other films or stock footage. Near the end, it seems like we're going to get a creepy, stormy-night climax, but that gets pissed away as well. Even worse, you'll figure out who Pilot X is very quickly. The Alpha Video DVD contains a very splicey print. In other words, despite the intriguing title and interesting premise, you may want to pass on this one. aka Death in the Air and Murder in the Sky. [DVD]

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