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Bogart temporarily left the field of crime to portray a more
respectable type in his subsequent effort, "China Clipper." On its
simplest level "China Clipper" relates a routine story of an airline
owner's (Pat O'Brien) desire to put into operation a trans-Pacific
Soap-opera dramatics take over quickly as O'Brien's dedication
to his project costs him his wife, his friends, and the clichéd
obligatory, for this genre, death of an elderly associate designer...
Bogart's undistinguished role was that of a wise-cracking pilot, frequently engaging in verbal sparring with O'Brien and fellow pilot Ross Alexander, who eventually makes the record-breaking flight across the Pacific in the film's finale...
"China Clipper" is merely artificial drama, but it has a certain value for its generally well-integrated use of newsreel and stock shots of the actual "China Clippers" in operation... One particularly exciting shot is of the mammoth plane flying over an as-yet-uncompleted Golden Gate Bridge with its gigantic opposing spans reaching out into empty air, waiting patiently for its final connecting links
A no-nonsense dreamer drives his men & machines to the
breaking point in an attempt to establish a transpacific
for his flying CHINA CLIPPERS.
Warner Brothers gives a rousing production to a story that is essentially, on analysis, a soap opera with wings. Based on the history of Pan American Airlines, the film is at its very best when it takes to the air, especially during the exciting prolonged climax with its race to beat the clock in the initial flight from California to Macao.
Pat O'Brien gives a typically earnest, energetic performance as the tireless & tyrannical protagonist - a man who becomes increasingly obsessed with his lofty aviation goals, no matter what the cost in personal relationships. It's difficult to like the character, but O'Brien also makes it hard not to respect him.
What is especially enjoyable in CHINA CLIPPER is to appreciate the performances of three members of the supporting cast. Henry B. Walthall, the pivotal star of silent cinema, the hero of D. W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), plays the gentle engineer who designs the great flying ship. His haggard appearance is not a result of makeup. He was genuinely ill with influenza and he would die two months before the release of the film. He was only 58, although he looked far older. Warners rewarded him by ratcheting him down to 10th place billing.
Ross Alexander & Humphrey Bogart play two friendly, dedicated pilots who chafe under O'Brien's dictates. These young actors had very similar acting styles & screen personas and it is quite interesting to see them perform together. Their fates, however, would be very different. Alexander had the necessary talent to become a major star, but the breaks simply didn't come his way, and, his private life spiraling out of control, he would be dead less than five months after the release of CHINA CLIPPER, a suicide at 29. Bogart got the lucky breaks, and, with some good roles in the next five years, was on his way to eventually becoming a screen legend.
Pretty Marie Wilson has a comical recurring role as a ditsy blonde enamored with Alexander. Movie mavens should spot Frank Faylen in an uncredited bit part as the company's weatherman in Columbia.
This film is about Pat O'Brien's insanely driven goal of creating an
international airline service in the very early days of commercial
aviation. No matter how successful his new airline becomes, Pat pushes
his men harder to be even bigger and better. Unfortunately, he has a
heart of stone and is so doggedly fixed on his goals that he treat
everyone around him like dirt--never thanking people and ignoring his
insanely patient wife. At times, he truly seems disturbed, as he shows
signs of Paranoid Personality Disorder--lashing out at even the
simplest requests from loyal employees. In so many ways, the film seems
like an airplane version of MOBY DICK, as Ahab-like O'Brien is barely
human! Despite this and the way O'Brien barks out his lines (this was
his style in many films, by the way), the airline works--even though
again and again they seem on the verge of failure. The biggest and most
daunting goal, though, is not his air conquest of South America but the
creation of the first clipper service to China.
Despite sounding rather dull, I did enjoy the film a lot--and much of this is that I am a huge fan of early aviation films. You actually learned a lot AND enjoyed a typically breezy 1930s-era Warner Brothers programmer. By the way, if you like this, O'Brien played nearly the same earnest-style person in many other films of the 30s--though I have never seen him as mean and unlikable as he was here! By the way, one of the supporting actors is a younger Humphrey Bogart and a highlight is when he busts O'Brien in the mouth--boy was THAT a great scene!
This is basically a thinly disguised bio of Juan Trippe and his early days after founding Pan American Airways. Yet the credits at the beginning disclaim any attachment to a true life story. Well what can you say? Hollywood's been putting those disclaimers on movies since the beginning of films. But the public can, and always does, figure it out. An aviation buff will have a field day pointing out some of the planes that appear in this movie,... a Fokker Trimotor and much stock newsreel footage of the actual Martin Flying Boat "China Clipper" to name a few. The Martin China Clippers of which there were about 4 or 5 ever built flew those pioneering trips to the Orient and an awful long journey it was. This movie re-creates those pioneering days with some great stock footage & some darn good acting. Warners did a number of these aviation flicks in the 30s, 'Devil Dogs of the Air' starring James Cagney comes to mind. But I enjoyed Pat O'Brien(with his wonderful excellerated speech as usual), Humphrey Bogart(marvelous and before all those classics), Marie Wilson, Ross Alexander, Henry B Walthall and silent star Kenneth Harlan who appears early in the film as an airline inspector.
PanAmerican was asked about participating in the making of the movie
before it was made. Pan American declined. So the movie was made
"fictional." Pat O'Brien of course represents Juan Trippe. Ross
Alexander represents Capt. Hugh Wells. Humphrey Bogart represents Capt.
Ed Musick. Ed Musik Jr. and grandson Chuck Musik both flew later for
Today, Dinner key still exists in Miami. The former PanAmerican terminal is now Miami City Hall. The hangars are still there at Dinner Key and are mostly in disrepair; used for boating interests.
Besides the excellent Golden Gate picture, I believe there is also a shot of the Bay Bridge, but you have to look quickly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The opening credits state that "China Clipper" is a fictional account
of the history of trans-Pacific flight. Pat O'Brien portrays hard
charging Dave Logan, sacrificing comfort and his own marriage to pursue
a dream of developing long distance freight travel via air. Inspired by
Charles Lindbergh's New York to Paris flight, Logan assembles a loyal
team of mechanics and pilots and tests their patience every step of the
way with his hard as nails, ruthless demeanor.
Logan's business partner is Tom Collins (Ross Alexander), while Hap Stuart (Humphrey Bogart) pops up as a former friend of Logan who yearns to get back in the cockpit. The pioneering team is rounded out by Dad Brunn (Henry B. Walthall), a design engineer who's constantly challenged by Logan to come up with larger and faster planes. So one minded is Logan in pursuit of his dream that it costs him his wife Skippy (Beverly Roberts). Though they wind up reconciled by the end of the film, one wonders why she bothered hanging in there when all she ever got was a flag for interference in virtually every scene between the two.
At least Collins and Hap had the spirit to challenge Logan every now and then. Sometimes it worked, most times it didn't. Logan's vision generally achieved success after success and it was uncanny how Bogey's character managed to make the four day flight from California to the China Coast without mishap, flying through a typhoon and beating the clock by a mere five minutes to make a harrowing deadline. The plane making the Pacific flight is a rather gawky looking affair but it holds up under the stress of hurricane force rains and the news of Dad Brunn's death. What was disconcerting though was watching as two mechanics on the ground give the giant plane a push as it was taking off; could that have helped that much?
If you're a Pat O'Brien fan used to his roles like Father Jerry in "Angels With Dirty Faces", you'll be in for a bit of a surprise to see him in as one dimensional a role as his Logan character here. There's not one time you might sympathize with his character as he's always barking orders and being relentless in his quest. That would be OK in it's own right, but he doesn't even waver when Skippy tries to soften him up a bit. As tough as his character is here though, he gets downright nasty as a plantation owner in 1940's "Torrid Zone" opposite James Cagney. Both films are recommended to demonstrate O'Brien's range as an actor.
O'Brien teamed with Humphrey Bogart in four films for Warner Brothers and was top billed over Bogey in each. They include "The Great O'Malley" (1937), "San Quentin" (1937), and "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938). Except for "Angels", the rest are not available commercially to my knowledge, so you'll have to scour the cable channels or get hold of a collector copy. All are worth it for fans of the principal players.
Following the filming of Frank 'spig' Wead's successful Broadway play
Ceiling Zero, Warner Brothers got one of the stars of that film Pat
O'Brien, to star in a Wead screenplay about the creation of the famous
China Clipper, the plane that made the first passenger run from San
Francisco to the Orient. Back in the day it excited the American public
Wead based his lead character on a World War I aviation hero who went into the commercial flying business, Eddie Rickenbacker. But he invested a lot of himself in O'Brien's character as well.
That's what struck me watching China Clipper today. The scenes with O'Brien and his estranged wife Beverly Roberts reminded me a whole lot of the plot for Wings of Eagles which is John Ford's biographical tribute to Spig Wead. It was like Wead himself through O'Brien was trying to justify his single minded attention to aviation to the neglect of wife and family.
Humphrey Bogart, Ross Alexander and Henry B. Walthall are O'Brien's associates. This was Walthall's farewell screen performance. He collapsed on set and died shortly thereafter. I'm not sure if the film was rewritten to accommodate Walthall's demise or his death was originally part of the story. Whatever it is, it is spookily coincidental.
Marie Wilson plays her usual dumb Dora with eyes for Ross Alexander, in this one she got a bit annoying I have to say.
Bogart was not especially fond of this film though it was a change from the gangster thugs he was doing then. He plays another flier at loggerheads with O'Brien.
The scenes involving the flights were well done, much better than in Ceiling Zero, though that had a better story.
China Clipper is a routine action adventure film from Warner Brothers, yet viewed together with Wings of Eagles it does kind of take on a whole new meaning.
This is a great and exciting movie especially if you are a pilot as I am. It reflects a time in aviation that was exciting. Those days are gone forever. I would have enjoyed travel in those flying boats not to mention piloting them. I am from Miami and remember Dinner Key. Those flying boats parked in the bay looked so magnificent with the cumulus nimbus clouds over the Atlantic in the background. I recorded this movie years ago and watch it from time to time and I always enjoy it's vintage scenes. Those great flying boats were magnificent and I can only imagine the joy and sense of adventure flying around the west and south Pacific island hopping! It is true escapism. I highly recommend this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . but in CHINA CLIPPER O'Brien's the Devil on Humphrey Bogart's back. As a boss literally slave-driving his employees to Death, O'Brien personifies the Donald Trump Approach to Management, in yet another Warner Bros. offering providing prophesies for the 2016 Election Cycle. CHINA CLIPPER's most satisfying moment comes when O'Brien tells Bogart that the latter cannot quit because "You're fired!" (anticipating Mr. Trump's signature catch phrase). Bogart immediately responds by breaking O'Brien's nose, as he decks this Meanie with a single punch. O'Brien also fires his wife a couple times (though it's the same woman, as the American Film Censor Board of the 1930s hampered Warner's efforts to fully flesh out Mr. Trump's future shenanigans under the looser Moral Codes of our current 21st Century). However, when the CHINA CLIPPER story requires a Hero with Man-sized hands to save the day, Bogart signs back on to guide this pioneering airliner into its spot in Aviation History. Many Fundamentalist Americans no doubt wish to experience Real Life Israel-under-the-Pharaohs Days, so they're voting for Mr. Trump in droves, despite all of Warner's timeless warnings, such as CHINA CLIPPER.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A real-life long distance flying voyage was the motivation behind this
somewhat disappointing Warner Brothers action flick that seems to have
been meant as one of their 68 minute second features expanded to 90
minutes to repeat the success of some of their recent James Cagney
films. Pat O'Brien, great in Warner's crime, action and comedy films of
the bottom of the bill, plays a perfectly obnoxious character, a pilot
who creates a flying school, neglecting his wife (Beverly Roberts) and
turning his best friend (Humphrey Bogart) against him while driving his
retired pilot father into serious illness and a possibly early grave.
Slow moving and tiresome at times, there are moments of intensity that may aide in the domesticated drama that has Roberts (who seems to dislike her husband's occupation intensely) returning to him after he has abandoned her to volunteer to work as his secretary. Then, there's the unnecessary comic relief of another pilot (the wasted Ross Alexander) being stalked by Marie Wilson. Sorry, Irma, this role could have excised 10 minutes out of the film and sped it up considerably.
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