Night Flight (1933)

 |  Drama  |  6 October 1933 (USA)
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Polio breaks out in Rio de Janeiro, the serum is in Santiago and there's only one way to get the medicine where it's desperately needed: flown in by daring pilots who risk the treacherous weather and forbidding peaks of the Andes.



(novel), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Simone Fabian
Jules Fabian
Insp. Robineau
Auguste Pellerin
Wife of Brazilian Pilot
William Gargan ...
Brazilian Pilot
C. Henry Gordon ...
Leslie Fenton ...
Jules' Radio Operator / Co-Pilot
Harry Beresford ...
Pierre Roblet
Frank Conroy ...
Radio Operator
Dorothy Burgess ...
Pellerin's Girlfriend
Dr. Decosta
Worried Mother
Buster Phelps ...
Sick Child


Polio breaks out in Rio de Janeiro, the serum is in Santiago and there's only one way to get the medicine where it's desperately needed: flown in by daring pilots who risk the treacherous weather and forbidding peaks of the Andes.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis







Release Date:

6 October 1933 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Nachtflug  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The first MGM film to have a producer credit. See more »

Crazy Credits

During opening credits, the film title is done as "sky writing" by an airplane, and the plane is just finishing the last "T" on "flight". See more »


Featured in Maltin on Movies: Super 8 (2011) See more »


How Dry I Am
Sung by Robert Montgomery and Dorothy Burgess
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User Reviews

"Admire them if you want to. Love them even. Just never let them know it."
5 April 2012 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Billed as the Grand Hotel of the air and out of circulation since 1942, MGM's lavish 1933 production Night Flight oozes prestige but never quite works as either a schlockbuster – too classy and low key – or as a dramatisation of pioneer aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery's now-forgotten bestseller about the early days of airmail flights over the Andes. As a manly adventure it's ground that Howard Hawks would cover much better in Only Angels Have Wings while as a multi-character melodrama uniting an all-star cast through the running thread of a possible air disaster, Airport would use its template much more effectively (and nab one of its female leads, Helen Hayes). Best known today for his semi-autobiographical fantasy The Little Prince, Saint-Exupery's novel was about the curious relationship between pioneer pilots who put up no resistance to the men on the ground who would push them to risk their lives to prove that commercial mail flights were profitable and reward them by fining them for not taking stupid risks. Mixing the reverie of flying with the succeed-at-any-cost commercial realities, its conflict has been watered down and given the MGM treatment while trying to maintain a more sober tone, leading to a strangely undramatic film that's neither entirely serious highbrow drama or all-out entertaining melodrama.

There are hints at what the novel was getting at in Robert Montgomery's playboy pilot, who comes down to Earth after a turbulent flight with something like a glimpse of the infinite, to which his only response is to go out for dinner with a man he doesn't really like (Lionel Barrymore's middle manager) before retiring upstairs with a prostitute. Yet his revelation doesn't carry as much weight as it could because, like so many of the characters, he's barely introduced and then largely forgotten until his big scene, then all-but forgotten again. While there's something intriguing about a big commercial picture from a major studio in the 30s taking a low-key, almost minimalist approach and showing people going about their work – in this case the first dangerous night mail flight – and only gradually revealing hints of character as the situation worsens, it doesn't work very well for the first half hour. Too often it feels like we're expected to care just because they're played by the likes of John Barrymore or Clark Gable, and you can't help feeling that former aviators-turned-filmmakers 'Spig' Wead or William Wellman could have brought them more vividly to life without any special pleading from the script. As it is only Myrna Loy's wife really makes an initial impression with her sad confession that her husband's love of flying and need to risk his life to pursue it is a part of him eternally shut off to her, something she can neither understand nor share.

The lack of someone or something to care about is something you suspect the studio were all too aware of once the film previewed. Whereas in the novel the potentially fatal flight was purely commercial – "Just so someone in Paris can get a letter on Tuesday instead of Thursday" – here it's bookended by Irving Pichel's doctor in Buenos Aires desperately needing a shipment of serum from Chile to save a child's life. It does feel like a post-production addition and doesn't compensate for the lack of drama any more than former pilot Clarence Brown's often striking but only sporadically effective direction does. The special effects are genuinely impressive though not too showy, though curiously the most striking and memorable aspect of the flying scenes are the slow travelling shots of the people along the flightpath below, a unique approach that gives the film a sense of the scale of the unfinished journey, though the final shots of a ghost squadron flying into the sunset seem like a botched attempt to copy the final shots of All Quiet on the Western Front without ever earning the audience's emotional involvement enough to work. It certainly picks up in the second half and there's a lot that's intriguing here, but it never quite makes it to its preferred destination.

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