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William C. McGann
Matt Brennan runs into Jo Holloway, the Red Cross girl he romanced in Europe when he was a flyer in World War II, when he is offered a job by jet manufacturer Leland Willis as a test pilot. Carl Troxell, wants to sell an escape cockpit to the Air Force. He wants Matt to stall the presentation of JA-3 the prototype that doesn't include the ejection seat, to give him more time for the experimental JA-4. But Matt doesn't believe it is yet safe enough to try. Written by
There's one thing you have to remember about Bogie...
Humphrey Bogart NEVER took himself too seriously, and LOVED poking fun at any Hollywood types who DID. Mentioning Errol Flynn in Bogie's presence would usually evoke a sneer.
Bogie often said of himself "You're looking at a guy who's made MORE bad movies than anyone else in Hollywood"!
Yeah, along with the great ones, Bogie made his share of howlers. Which brings us to CHAIN LIGHTNING!
In a lot of ways, this film's a REAL stinker, but it's a ton of fun just the same.
From an aviation technology standpoint, the film was 10 years ahead of it's time; the mythical JA-3 that Bogie flew had a level of performance that was totally unheard of at the time of the film's release... Alaska to Washington DC nonstop via the North Pole, at almost Mach 2.
At the same time, the film gives us an interesting glimpse into some of the engineering problems attendant to supersonic flight that were just being addressed in the period... like the JA-4's escape pod.
Some of the stuff presented was just plain WRONG, and the film makers KNEW it. Like Bogie flying thru clouds of meteor dust at 70,000 feet. And like the instrument we catch a quick glimpse of in his cockpit, reading GROUND SPEED... a value which was strictly a mathmatical concept which COULDN'T be directly read at that time.
Don't look too closely at ground shots of the JA-3... you might notice the thin steel cable that's connected to the nose wheel. The JA-3 couldn't move on it's own, and to set it in motion that cable had to be pulled by an off camera truck!
Just the same... the performances here are just plain FUN!
Bogie LOVED playing parodies of "tough guys", and those that he viewed as phony heros, and his character Matt Brennan was a broad, overblown sendup of these guys. "How do you want it Willis... the EASY way, or the HARD way?" Bogie growls at his boss, Raymond Massey, over a radio circuit. Typically laconic phony heroics; I don't see how Bogie managed to keep a straight face delivering that line. I suspect that the oxygen mask he was wearing at the time was hiding a mile wide GRIN as he said it! Bogie's just BEAUTIFUL to watch with his delivery of a dozen trite clichés all through the film!
As Bogie's buddy (and fellow scenery chewer) is James Brown, one of Hollywood's unsung hero character actors. Brown was apparently a Warner's contract player who, along with another Bogie movie "Tough Guy" staple, Joe Sawyer, would later make their marks on television in in THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN; Brown playing Lt. "Rip" Masters, and Sawyer playing Sgt. O'Hara.
Contrasting Bogie's private little joke of a performance was Richard Whorf's role as Carl Troxel, the earnest aeronautical engineer. Intense and serious, he's a perfect counterpoint to the laid back, world weary Matt Brennan.
One thing that I noticed... to save money on the production, the producer pulled a slick trick with the sets.
If you'll notice, the radio shack / operations room in Alaska is the SAME set later used for the radio room at Washington National Airport; they just shot the same set from two different angles!
In any case... Bogie flies the airplanes, and gets the girl by the last scene. A bit corny and old fashioned, but what's not to like?
I give it a thumbs up all the way.
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