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A jolly, wholesome and refreshingly human picture, called "The Air Circus," is the current William Fox production at the Gaiety Theatre. It is an exceptionally fine specimen of film work, a bright entertainment that exudes the spirit of youth and eagerness for adventure among the clouds. It carries one along with it, and there are moments, through the wonderfully contrived air scenes, when one feels as though one were above Mother Earth looking down from blue patches in the sky. Imagine a film concerned with airplane activities that contains so much fun that at the opening performance, last Saturday afternoon, it kept the audience in gales of laughter for most of the time. And this comedy is natural and all the more appealing to those who have made flights. True, the film has its sober moments, but they are none the less interesting.
This production was directed by Howard Hawks and Lew Seller, who have cooperated so well that the minute the picture starts with the two would-be fliers it captivates the attention. One of these youths, Speed Doolittle, is the Don Juan of Ypsilanti, and when he decides to go forth to be an aviator many an eye is wet and many are the kisses Doolittle receives. His pal is Buddy Blake, a boy with dimpled cheeks and an engaging smile.
Up to the time they are introduced, Blake and Doolittle have had to satisfy their ambitions with a homemade glider attached to a ramshackle automobile. They are thrilled by the sight of every real airplane and they long to pilot their own way through the air. Mrs. Blake (Louise Dresser) is loath to permit Buddy to be a flier, for she has lost one son in the war. Nevertheless, she consents, and with beating hearts the two youths leave Ypsilanti for the Pacific Coast to become students of flying. Then there is Sue Manning, the fetching young aviatrix, who listens to Speed Doolittle's romancing, at first without revealing to him her skill in the air.
Those who have made flights in small machines will best appreciate the enthusiasm of these two youths and their subsequent feelings when in the air. Buddy is perceived gritting his teeth as he looks down while the machine takes him gradually aloft. His expression is that of a boy who looks once and then decides not to look again; but a second later he summons up courage to bend over the side again and is wonder-struck to see the earth so far beneath him. Subsequently, when Speed Doolittle and Buddy Blake have had a few trips in the air Speed, when soaring above the clouds, asks the pilot through the speaking tube what would happen if he pulled a certain lever. "Try it and see." says the pilot. The boy pulls the lever and soon the machine is looping the loop, which alarms the young man and makes him wish that he hadn't been so inquisitive. Buddy Blake then has a crash, due to trying to avoid a collision with the machine Doolittle is piloting. Blake is only slightly injured, but he loses his nerve. He has another try, after being prevailed upon to go up by the instructor. Here one sees the airplane leaping about like a huge grasshopper, darting over trees and telegraph wires, and subsequently when it lands there is a mild bust-up. Mrs. Blake, due to a premonition that her son has met with an accident, comes to see her boy. It is here that one of the dialogue sequences is introduced with Louise Dresser singing in a motherly fashion to Buddy, who is depressed because he believes himself to be a coward. The dialogue is quite good most of the time, but it is a little too long. The sounds of Buddy sobbing are too loud and might be excluded. But there is a wonderful charm to those scenes in which Mrs. Blake comforts her son. She doesn't want him to fly any more and she asks him to promise her that he won't. Buddy does so. It is only a few moments later that Sue Manning and Speed take off, and in doing so they lose the undercarriage of their machine. They soar aloft, blissfully ignorant of what has happened. Buddy pleads with his mother to let him chase after Speed to warn him, and eventually Mrs. Blake consents. Buddy then springs into an airplane and is soon rushing through the air after Speed. Eventually he is near enough to warn his pal, and, realizing the danger first, Sue leaps from the wing of the machine and parachutes to the earth. A second or so later the intrepid Speed turns a somersault from the machine's wing and is perceived also parachuting down.
David Rollins's acting of the part of Buddy is wonderfully natural. Arthur Lake is excellent as the heart hunter. Speed, who left a dizzy blond or two back in Ypsilanti. Miss Dresser is charming in her part, and Sue Carol is attractive as the girl.
This 1928 is now presumed a lost film, however, Hal Erickson states the silent version "was rescued from oblivion in the early 1970s."
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