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Never forgetting THE LOST SQUADRON of the Great War days,
three former flying aces stick together and become Hollywood
RKO produced this little Pre-Code adventure drama--now nearly forgotten--and filled it with good acting and fine production values. The aerial scenes are exciting and the story keeps the viewer's interest right to the end. Important names from Hollywood's future loaned their talents behind the camera, with David O. Selznick as executive producer, additional dialogue by Herman J. Mankiewiez and the score composed by Max Steiner.
Refreshingly, the four buddies in this film (the three pilots and their mechanic sergeant) remain so through every difficulty, sparing the audience from much unnecessary screen angst, anger & animosity. These are indeed friends forever.
As leader of the group, firm-jawed Richard Dix adds another fine performance to his portrait gallery. Decent, charismatic & implacably faithful to his buddies, Dix makes a good hero, even if his final act goes perhaps a step too far. Not quite yet a major star, Joel McCrea plays his character as impetuous and romantic. Robert Armstrong, his adventures with KONG still a year away, is the alcoholic pilot who takes too many risks. Rounding out the quartet is the whimsical Hugh Herbert, his gentle, quirky humor a nice balance to the film's serious tone.
Beautiful Mary Astor lends elegance to the role of the movie actress who rejects love to advance her career. Dorothy Jordan plays Armstrong's lively sister, a real pal to the pilots.
In a wonderful piece of casting, the legendary Erich von Stroheim portrays the vile film director employing the pilots. Obviously playing a parody of himself, von Stroheim seems to relish the villainous role, strutting about like a slightly maniacal martinet, consumed with jealousy & rage, inflicting pain both psychic & physical on those under his control. His eventual fate is deliciously deserved.
Man, he is evil in this. And he really wants you to know that. He plays a
film director who directs WWI scenes where he demands such realism that
people are regularly killed on set. If you are injured, he wants to hear
screaming, and these were silent movies! If you are supposed to be dead,
you'd better not move or he'll probably kill you.
That aspect of the movie is overdone, although interesting for fans of movies about moviemaking. But where the movie really shines is in its opening sequence when a group of soldiers literally clock out of WWI and head back to the States, only to find their business partners have swindled 'em, their girls have cheated on 'em, and there ain't no jobs to be had. So, it's Hobo City, until they make it to Hollywood and the lives of stunt pilots.
I thought Richard Dix was good in this, Joel McCrea seems a little wimpy. The whole last 20 minutes are pretty bad with the "good guys" showing such poor judgment and idiocy that the ending is sheer nihilism.
Definitely worth a view though and watch for the middle finger!
I found this pre-code movie a tad predictable but still enjoyable on several levels. I thought the behind-the-scenes look at the making of a World War I movie in 1930's Hollywood were quite fascinating. Erich Von Stroheim's autocratic director was both menacing and acerbically funny at the same time, although bordering on the campy. Richard Dix as 'Gibby' was only adequate as the central character, but Joel McCrea's naturalism shone through as 'Red'. I found it interesting too, that one of the central themes of this movie was the inadequacy the flyers suffered in civilian life, becoming tramps before riding the rails to Hollywood. They were trained to fly in war, and they end up flying in war movies...the difficulty of adjusting to peacetime was an issue not touched upon much in Hollywood until "The Best Years of Our Lives", almost 15 years later. Finally, to the delight of those of us who love pre-code movies, we are treated to Robert Armstrong giving Dix the bird as Dix tries to coax Armstrong into landing his sabotaged plane!
You should probably know that I love airplane films--particularly one
with vintage planes. So, I have a bias towards this sort of film and
some may NOT be excited in seeing the biplanes flying about during the
movie (even though many are post-WWI planes when they are supposed to
be WWI aircraft).
Richard Dix, Robert Armstrong and Joel McCrea play three buddies who served in the Air Corps during the war. However, now that about a decade has passed, they are forced to make a living working stunt flying for a sadistic film director (Eric Von Stroheim). Eventually, just how evil the director is and the depths of his evil come to light and this leads to a dandy, though grisly, conclusion.
Interestingly, of the three pilots, the least famous and important was McCrea, as he was not yet an established star. The other two (Dix and Armstrong) were big names, though only a short time later they were relegated to "has-been" status. All did a decent job and the film, though a bit tough to believe, was entertaining and was more than just a time-passer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A very good movie representing the early 30's. George Archainbaud
directs this excellent drama depicting an autocratic film director
Arthur von Furst(Erich von Stroheim), who hires three former World War
I flying aces to fly stunts in a Hollywood war movie. The aces, Capt.
'Gibby' Gibson(Richard Dix), Lt. 'Woody' Curwood(Robert Armstrong) and
Red(Joel McCrea)are astounded by the fact that the director has them
flying maneuvers as dangerous as if they were still in battle. For a
little feminine charm there is Dorothy Jordan as Curwood's little
sister; and then there is the movie star Follette Marsh played by Mary
Astor. Wanting realism, the director has planes rigged to crash. There
is romance, infidelity and murder involved along with the stunning
aerial sequences. Other players include: Hugh Herbert, Ralph Ince and
William B. Davidson.
Astor gives a certain touch of class to the film. Dix and Armstrong every bit the matinée idols. And von Stroheim superb as the overbearing movie director.
A rather different relic from the early sound era. The in vogue at the
time fixation on "aeroplanes" was a justifiable wonder of the modern
age. Also, the plight of the returning WWI soldiers was still very
fresh in the public consciousness and this makes honorable use of the
shortcomings of the soldiers homecomings.
This one goes quickly from the end of the war to the behind the scenes making of Moving Pictures circa 1920 Hollywood and that makes it of interest to film buffs (and flight freaks). Add in a bonus of Von Stroheim playing pretty much a take on his own eccentricities of a real life troubled Director.
It is a well mounted film with an interesting cast although Robert Armstrong's irritating drunk shows why, accept for King Kong the next year he will be forever mostly forgotten. But it is Stroheim, the on the set realism, the flying acrobatic special effects, and the dark ending that makes this an in interesting inclusion that has been parked in the Odd Cinema Hanger, and is only brought out once in awhile to be looked at like a Smithsonian.
Lost Squadron, The (1932)
*** (out of 4)
When WW1 comes to an end, three pilots (Richard Dix, Robert Armstrong, Joel McCrea) find themselves on hard times but they wind up in Hollywood where they work as stunt fliers for a sadistic director (Erich von Stroheim). Problems come up when the director learns that his wife (Mary Astor) had a flame with Dix. When people think of weird movies from 1932 it's usually FREAKS that pops up in the mind but that Browning film has absolutely nothing on this movie. I don't want to react too strongly and call this the weirdest movie I've ever seen but it's certainly one of the most shocking. This movie starts out as a rather light-hearted comedy but quickly it changes pace as murder, suicide and abuse comes into play and in the end we're left with an incredibly dark tragedy. I'm really not sure what the screenwriters or producer David O. Selznick were thinking but they've left a rather bizarre final product for film buffs to enjoy. No matter what half is your favorite I think the film manages to remain very entertaining thanks in large part to the terrific cast. Dix is certainly strong enough as the lead and he manages to turn in a good performance. Armstrong is probably the weakest as the screenplay pretty much makes him play a drunk, which is something he did way too many times. His comic timing as the drunk is alright but at times it feels out of place. McCrea has the smallest of the three pilot roles but he manages to be entertaining as is Astor who is a major part of the film but then her character disappears during the finale for some reason. The stuff with von Stroheim is rather interesting because people obviously know about the sadistic director aspect of his reputation and that's on full display here. As an actor he turns in a very good performance and it's fun to see him "going mad" as you can't help but wonder if that's how he really directed his own pictures. The screenplay throws a couple rather mean spirited gags at him including a minor subplot about him being called away from the set due to his wife being injured, which is something that happened to him in real life. The aerial flights are all rather amazing to watch as the stunt work is quite effective but at the same time the twist in the story is a little disturbing as there were many, many stunt pilots who were killed during this era so seeing that plot in the film was a tad bit hard to take as entertainment. Again, I'm not sure why the film took such a dark and twisted turn but it certainly made for an interesting film. This certainly isn't a classic but the film has such a great cast and bizarre story that most will find themselves entertained.
This film is an entertaining and well-produced drama about the
lingering effects of war, about lost love and betrayal, and about
self-sacrifice. Nineteen-thirty-two was the year before Robert
Armstrong went on to bigger things with King Kong (1933), and nine
years before Mary Astor played the role of femme fatale again in The
Maltese Falcon (1941).
Also appearing are Joel McCrea on his way to be a star of the western genre and Richard Dix, a well-known star of the silent screen who successfully continued in films when sound came to the movies. Capping such a stellar line-up is Erich von Stroheim, the actor-director appearing as Von Furst, the dictatorial film director everybody loved to hate.
Mixing the camaraderie of The Three Musketeers (1921) with the romantic heroics of Beau Geste (1926), the story follows three ex-air force fliers (Armstrong as Woody, Dix as Gibson and McCrea as Red) cashiered at the end WW1 and who wind up at Hollywood as stunt men for war/action movies produced and directed by a menacing Von Furst. The three friends call themselves part of The Lost Squadron, in memory of those who gave their lives in France; and each is looking for fame and fortune. And, why not?
Gibson, though, is looking for more: having been rejected by his former girl friend, the film star Follette Marsh (Mary Astor), he forms what seems to be a mutually promising attachment to The Pest (Dorothy Jordan), Woody's sister. At the same time, Follette now married to Von Furst in a typical Hollywood union gives the impression she is flirting with Gibson; so much so, Von Furst makes it clear he wouldn't be unhappy if Gibson was injured or killed during any one of the stunts in the air. Personal tensions mount; relationships begin to sour; trust is inevitably eroded between Von Hurst on the one hand, and Gibson and his buddies, Red and Woody, on the other.
Gibson, all the while, tries to maintain a sense of honor and decorum. But, his efforts to dispel Von Furst's jealous rage are in vain. Matters come to a head when Gibson is once again rejected in love by The Pest who favors Red, sending Gibson into quiet, controlled despair; at the same time, Von Furst's insane jealousy results in tragedy for all of the friends, setting the stage for a plan to exact revenge upon Von Furst. The denouement, although highly contrived, is nevertheless in the finest tradition Wren's classic story of the Foreign Legion.
Overall, while the sound was scratchy at times, the cinematography, editing and direction are up to the mark. Of the actors, von Stroheim towers over them all with the intensity of his presence; while Dorothy Jordan overshadows Mary Astor, for sure no mean feat, I think. The dialog is particularly good for the first and second acts; only during the final act does the script seem to fall into a deep, unbelievable hole. Still, the final scenes make up for those shortcomings, in my opinion.
Of further interest is the fact that this is very much a self-referential perhaps even self-parody film about Tinsel Town with much of the action being directed by Von Furst as we look on, thus giving the viewer a look at how things were done back in the thirties and hence allowing for some occasional, comic relief. Special mention goes to the aerial stunts and battle scenes.
Von Strohiem, of course, went on to star in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) where he again played the part of a film director, but reduced to working as a chauffeur for Gloria Swanson and her part-time gigolo, William Holden.
The Lost Squadron is not a great movie, but it is well worth watching; and it's suitable for all to see. Give this a solid seven out of ten.
October 3, 2012
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a gritty pre-code adventure/thriller that just happened to be
on TV last week at 1.30 in the morning!! It has a similar theme to
another film "Lucky Devils" made in 1933.
Dorothy Jordan was a very pretty ingenue who was kept extremely busy until her retirement in 1933 when she married Merian C. Cooper. Apparently she was about to be cast in "Flying Down to Rio" (1933) as Honey Hale but backed out to go on her honeymoon. The role went to Ginger Rogers. Dorothy plays "Pest" Curwood, kid sister of Woody (Robert Armstrong) one of a group of friends who were flying aces during the war.
This gritty film shows how shamefully returned soldiers were really treated. They return to find things have changed. "Red" (Joel McCrea) returns to find his place of employment in the middle of re-trenchments. The war has made "Red" restless and he chooses to travel rather than go back to his old job. Woody is also restless but finds while he was away "on important business in France" his former business partner has swindled the company. Gibby (Richard Dix) returns to find his ambitious girlfriend, Follette (Mary Astor) has left him for a richer man.
Years later "Red", Gibby and Fritz (Hugh Herbert) down on their luck, find themselves in Hollywood, hoping to catch up with Woody. Woody is the chief aerial stunt man in "Sky Heroes" which is having it's Hollywood premiere. The star is none other than Follette, who is married to the director Von Furst (Erich Von Stroheim in another intense performance) - a "terrible fathead" according to Woody. He persuades his mates to go to work as aerial stuntmen. Von Furst is a tyrannical director who rules his crew and his wife with an iron fist!!! Follette believes Von Furst (because of his insane jealousy) will tamper with Gibby's plane. He actually puts acid on the control wires - but Woody is the one flying it, to pay back a favour Gibby did him, when he was too drunk to fly.
From an action packed aviation adventure it turns into a tight psychological thriller. The last 10 minutes takes place at night in a disused hanger. Richard Dix is heroic and manly, Robert Armstrong gives another great character performance and Joel McCrea was an up and coming new talent. For all her top billing Mary Astor didn't have much to do.
The Lost Squadron concerns four men who are the last of a squadron of
aviators from World War I, pilots Richard Dix, Robert Armstrong, and
Joel McCrea and their orderly Hugh Herbert. The war is over now, but
flying is what they know and love. They now make a living doing stunt
flying for the movies, recreating some of the dangers they went through
in the war for war films.
That can be as dangerous if not more dangerous when you are working for a director like Erich Von Stroheim who wants his films to be the last word in realism. And things get real tense on the set when Von Stroheim discovers that his wife Mary Astor still has a thing for Dix.
I won't go on any further except that but for Von Stroheim everyone behaves gallantly. It's what terribly dates this film. If it were done today the characters would be far more cynical and probably come up with a creative way to deal with their tyrannical director.
Von Stroheim is the best thing about The Lost Squadron he pulls all the stops out in doing his terrible Teuton. If Von Stroheim was the man folks went to the movies in order to love to hate him, this film will send many into orgasms.
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