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Level headed Mike Miller runs Desert Airport, an air mail base full of daring young pilots risking their lives to get the mail through-regardless of the weather. Following the death of one pilot in a horrific crash, Miller is forced to engage the wild and arrogant, yet skillful, Duke Talbot. When pilot Dizzy Wilkins crashes and dies in a storm, Talbot runs off with the young Mrs.Wilkins, leaving Miller to complete the last leg of Wilkins' mail run. Miller crashes on a mountain. Alive but in an inaccessible location, Miller tries to endure his injuries while futile attempts are made by air mail pilots to rescue him. Hearing of the impossibility of reaching Miller's crash site in time to save him, Talbot can't resist the challenge of trying an airborne rescue himself. Written by
Gary Jackson <email@example.com>
At the time of the film's production, Universal built a special stage to film miniature scenes. A gantry was constructed above the stage so a model biplane could be 'flown' over a huge miniature set. The stage is still on the Universal lot and is numbered 27. The stage also contains a large water tank. At one time it was known as the John Fulton Stage since when the stage was built, Fulton was in charge of all visual effects for Universal. See more »
If any of you have seen John Ford's tribute biography to Spig Wead The Wings Of Eagles, you'll recall that Ward Bond plays a director modeled on Ford who is contacting former flier Wead to write a screenplay of an aviation film he's planning to do. For some reason Airmail has not been readily available for the public in years, but fortunately I did get to see a copy and now know what Ford and Wead were negotiating for.
Airmail stars Pat O'Brien and Ralph Bellamy as a hotshot pilot and the supervisor of an airport in the western USA. O'Brien curiously enough is playing the kind of role that James Cagney would have been cast in the many collaborations those two did at Warner Brothers where O'Brien would sign in the following year. Bellamy in turn is playing a typical Pat O'Brien role, the authority figure who has to take the wind out of Cagney's sails.
Airmail does live up to Spig Wead's hopes and dreams of a tribute to the men who flew these crates delivering the mail. As airplanes got better and safer mail delivery got to be taken for granted. But putting an airmail stamp on a letter meant in the early Thirties you were asking a pilot to risk his life so your loved ones could get news from you. The film was extremely timely as in 1932 the topic of air safety was a big one as news of pilot crashes of mail planes seemed to be occurring regularly.
O'Brien who has no hesitation in letting everyone know he's the best at what he does, starts an affair with Lillian Bond the unhappily married wife of fellow pilot Russell Hopton. This isn't a first for either O'Brien or Bond. Later on Hopton is killed, one among the many deaths in Airmail.
The climax has O'Brien flying a rescue mission for Bellamy who with a lack of pilots takes an Airmail plane up to deliver the mail what happens is for you to see Airmail, but it's along the lines of several Cagney/O'Brien films.
Speaking of which Cagney and O'Brien a few years later starred in the screen adaption of Spig Wead's Broadway play Ceiling Zero. That one is rather static owing to a bad cross over from stage to screen. Airmail is qualitatively better.
And while the special effects are ancient, the drama is real and contemporary. Try to see this rarely seen Ford feature when it's broadcast. It was strange to see O'Brien in a Cagney part, but he acquitted himself well.
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