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Cary, Shep, Bill, and Francis are pilots who have just, and only just, survived the First World War. They linger in Europe in the aftermath, drinking and ostensibly having fun, but pessimistic and flip about their futures, as each feels himself somehow lost and dead inside as a result of the horrors he's experienced. They encounter a beautiful and vivacious girl, Nikki, and adopt her, not romantically but as a sort of mascot and light around which they can hover in hopes of regaining a sense of warmth and life. Nikki does her best to reinvigorate her new friends, but despite the seeming lightheartedness of their escapades, the shadow of the war can never be dispelled. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During the sequence in the bullfight ring in Lisbon, the footage of the actual bullfight is stock filmed during the silent era at the then-standard speed of 16 frames per second. Spliced into a sound film and projected at the sound-standard 24 frames per second, it looks unnaturally fast. See more »
Unique and fascinating study of post-war disillusion.
I have never seen a 1930's American film like this one! Perhaps this is because it was directed by German director William Dieterle when he was fresh off the boat. Apart from a slightly pontifical doctor musing about the difficulties of war-time flyers adjusting to civilian life near the beginning of the film, this is a subtle, evocative, under-stated and powerful depiction of this mal-adjustment. Following the end of World War One a group of American flyer buddies go on a six months long bender in Paris and Lisbon. They link up with a rich young woman, beautifully played by Helen Chandler, who drinks as hard as they do. They are all a little in love with death and wander from one meaningless adventure to another in pursuit of it. It is here that the film encounters some difficulties - making meaninglessness dramatically interesting is very difficult.
But the actors do an admirable job in suggesting the huge pain under the jovial partying. Richard Barthelmess was one of the greatest screen actors ever, and his talents are well utilised here. Johnny Mack Brown is a revelation as the rougher Bill - who knew this cowboy star was such a fine actor? David Manners is also a surprise, much better here than in "Dracula", he proves to be capable of doing great emotional work. Elliott Nugent as the heavily traumatised Francis is unforgettable, and Walter Byron is fine as an unscrupulous hanger-on.
This is not a perfect film, but it is a brave one, and is absolutely essential to an understanding of the mood after World War One. It is no surprise that the writer was also responsible for "Wings" (1927) - his understanding of the relationships between men in and after wartime is phenomenal. Make sure you see it.
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