Sunday, February 05, 2012

FLIGHT (1929)

Lefty (Ralph Graves) is a college football player who becomes infamous for losing a game by running the wrong the way down the field. After the game, Panama (Jack Holt), a marine sergeant, befriends him (in a men's room!) and soon Lefty has joined the Marines, Panama is his flight teacher, and both men fall in love with a nurse (Lila Lee). Lefty shows promise, but on his first solo flight, he freezes up and can't get his plane off the ground so he's grounded. When the Marines are called into Nicaragua to deal with some murderous bandits, Panama takes Lefty along as his mechanic, and when Lee shows up, the two men fight over her. During a raid on the bandits, the plane Lefty's riding on doesn’t return to the base, and Panama, despite his anger, flies out into dangerous territory to find him. In the rescue, Panama is wounded; will Lefty be able to overcome his fear and fly himself and Panama out of peril?

This very early Frank Capra sound film has a plot that, if it wasn’t cliché at this point (military buddies who become romantic rivals), soon would be, especially during the first rush of patriotic WWII films. Capra's style is energetic but erratic, with some awkwardly shot scenes (even a couple out of focus) which probably should have been re-shot--though they do give the film a certain rough-edged appeal. With a plot like this, the chemistry between the lead actors is important, and though Lee is a zero, Holt and Graves (who co-wrote the screenplay with Capra) are good. There's an odd scene with an improvised feel in which, during a mock fight in their tent, Holt flips Graves over and spanks him. Between that and the men meeting cute in a bathroom, I'd like to give this a gay reading, but I'm not sure it would hold up. There is some good aerial footage, and some bad use of miniatures (and a surprising line of vulgar dialogue: "Cut the crap!"); overall, interesting as a relic but not crucial viewing. [TCM]

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