“Just so someone in Paris can get a card on Tuesday instead of Thursday.”
It has been a while since I wrote about a classic film whose plot deals with early aviation. Night Flight I bought back in January and just finally got around to seeing it. The film was billed as the Grand Hotel of the air with a handful of their most popular actors starring in it and the use of multiple narratives/points of view.
Night Flight takes place in South America where a man named Rivere (John Barrymore) runs an air mail business and has pioneered night flying. What sets off the plot is the need of a polio vaccination at a children’s hospital in Argentina. Rivere sends pilot Auguste Pellerin (Robert Montgomery) to take the vaccine to the children’s hospital.
A thick fog has set in along with the darkness and news of a storm keeps coming in. Rivere tells his partners and investors that the flights will still go on he hired brave, experienced flyers who could fly through any kind of weather.
Jules Fabian (Clark Gable) is flying right into the storm. He does not want to land for the night and wait for the storm to pass otherwise he will lose money. The night is clear and gorgeous but then he comes into the storm and has to push his plane to the limit to get out. As he pushes the gasoline runs out. Jules and the other pilot bail out but unfortunately they die in the choppy waters of the ocean. The newspapers the next day roar with the headlines of the deaths of the night pilots.
As Jules was flying his wife Simone (Helen Hayes) was waiting all night for him to come home. She had his flight timed and when he did not arrive when he was supposed to, she frantically tries to get in touch with Rivere but he will not take her calls. At her wits end Simone goes down to the air field only for Rivere tells her that Jules’s plane is lost.
The airline calls the home of a pilot (William Gargan) and his wife (Myrna Loy) answers. It is very early in the morning and she is upset only because her husband has not been able to rest before he takes off again. The pilot wakes up but the wife tells him that she feels like they barely have a life together and that she cannot understand how he can spend so much time flying. At the air field before he takes off the wife asks him why he is doing this just so people could get their mail on Tuesday instead of a Thursday, why is he risking his life just for the mail.
The pilot gets the vaccine to the children’s hospital in Argentina.
Unfortunately the film not too entertaining. I did not really find it boring but I found my interest wandering at certain points. The cast was great as I said it was a cast like Grand Hotel with all the well known names. But as far as the story it comes nowhere near being as good or as interesting as the former. John Barrymore was the serious business and he looked like he could have been one who pushed the limits of his employees. Lionel Barrymore did not have too many scenes but he had the comedic scenes of the film. His character Robineau was middle management who made sure the planes and the pilots were running on time. Everyone yelled at him to stop scratching his eczema which was flaring up from stress. Robert Montgomery was a cocky pilot who had a girl in every port. As he sits down to dinner with Robineau a woman comes up to him and he says that he has another woman in his room upstairs. This was the first time I have ever seen Helen Hayes in a film. She is considered the first lady of the stage so I figured she would be a very good actress. I was totally unimpressed by Hayes I found her acting to be completely over the top. I guess I should reserve full judgment until I have seen her in other films. Clark Gable did not have too many scenes where he had lines or just many scenes in general so I cannot really say anything about his performance.
A few reviews I have read mention the fact that we are supposed to sympathize with the characters but we cannot since their scenes are so small and the story is all over the place. Two reviews mentioned that the only characters who they sympathized with and had the only moving scenes out of the whole film were William Gargan and Myrna Loy. As I said Helen Hayes overacted I could feel nothing for her because I was distracted by her acting. With Loy and Gargan they had a very touching scene. Neither one of them overacted nor under acted you can believe that they love each other, that Loy is genuinely concerned about Gargan having to fly after Jules’s death. What made the scene sad was that the wife could not understand why her husband had to go and his love of flying. She feels shut out of his life when he is up in the sky. Her pleading with him at the air field was very touching.
Night Flight is alright. It would not be the first old Hollywood film I would recommend but if you get a chance either from TCM or youtube- if it ever goes to either- give Night Flight a try it is not completely horrible.