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Christopher Strong (1933)
Rare Newsreel Footage-
Aviation is my hobby, and I DVRed this to see if it had any worthwhile aviation footage. The scene with the takeoffs for the around the world race is actually the beginning of the Dole Air Race (financed by the pineapple magnate), a tragic fiasco that lead to a number of deaths, two aircraft never found, and only a few of the contestants actually making it from Oakland to Honolulu. Hepburn's plane (G-FERN) might be the famous Winnie Mae, a Lockheed Vega, that was the first plane flown solo around the world by Wiley Post, the pilot that was killed with Will Rogers in Alaska. I must admit, I really did not pay much attention to the plot after listening to some English drawing room dialogue at the beginning.
Hell Divers (1931)
Good for historical record-
Just saw this for the first time on TV- lots of Navy history mixed in with a pretty decent plot. Seems unbelievable that Clark Gable was ever that young, but this is from 1931! The carrier that this was filmed aboard was the Navy's second real aircraft carrier, the Saratoga, and seeing her in original, unaltered condition is fascinating. Slight correction to one of the previous reviewers- the planes are Curtiss F8C-4 Helldivers, the first Navy plane to bear that name. One of the pilots that flew in the film from NAS North Island, was the very young John Thach, later to be the air tactician that figured out how to defend against the Mitsubishi Zero in World War II. All in all, an important historical record that should be on DVD!
The Arrow (1997)
Flawed, but basically good
This is a laudable attempt to portray the destruction of the Canadian aerospace industry by a scheming President Eisenhower and a clueless Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Unfortunately, that part isn't at all true. The Arrow was killed by cost overruns and the near-impossibility of developing a new plane, a new engine and a new radar system all at the same time. The geeky engineer character kind of annoyed me, too. The writers had him inventing about three things that were utterly crucial engineering and aerodynamics breakthroughs all by himself. Sorry, nobody's that good, not even the people who did that work in the first place. A lot of the people in the film are historical characters, some are composites. All in all, I really enjoyed this film, but the aviation geek in me gets irritated by factual errors.
Toward the Unknown (1956)
Pretty good with a grain of truth-
The basis of this film is the true story of Walker "Bud" Mahurin, an Air Force double ace (WW II and Korea) who was shot down in Korea and while in a POW camp, was tortured into signing bogus confessions of war crimes. When he was released, he was instrumental in changing content of AF survival courses to reflect this mistreatment.
This movie has some beautiful flying scenes, but it is more than just another flying movie. William Holden is excellent as the emotionally shattered pilot attempting a comeback from disgrace. The supporting cast is pretty fair, with the exception of L.Q. Jones in a thankless comic relief part (not to cast aspersions on him as an actor, the part really bites). The aviation content is generally accurate, with some rare footage of the Bell X-2 and a failed bomber, the Martin B-51, marked in the movie as the Gilbert XF-120. If this came out on DVD, I'd sure buy it in a hot second!
Regarding Txgmajor's comment below on the XB-51- one of the main reasons this plane wasn't built was the fact that Glenn Martin, owner of Martin Aircraft and maker of the B-51, sided with the Navy regarding the political dogfight over control of Naval aviation and the merits of the Air Force's pet bomber project at the time, the B-36, featured in Jimmy Stewart's "Strategic Air Command". Martin did build the Canberra bomber for the USAF under license, but never again was able to sell an original design to the Air Force. Old grudges die hard.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Good compression of a complex plot
I was prepared to not like this film. I wasn't sure Elliott Gould could pull off the restrained complexity necessary to portray a man like Marlowe, but he is excellent at balancing smart-ass sardonicism with Marlowe's need to see the job through- a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. I do like the song by John Williams that keeps showing up all through the film as a constant theme. The casting is very interesting, too- lots of unusual actors in supporting roles. One hole in the plot is just how the suitcase full of money shows up, but that's no real shame in a Chandler plot. Convoluted is putting it mildly. All in all, a very good film, but I would still like to see a faithful version of the book.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Sinister and terrifying
After reading Neal Gabler's biography of columnnist Walter Winchell, I watched this again with new eyes. Lancaster captures not the mannerisms or speech patterns of Winchell, but the sense of menace and terror the man held over anybody who wanted to be somebody in New York or the entertainment business. J.J. Hunsecker reminds me of a glowing radioactive ball of plutonium, terrible in its simple existence. He can make or break you with a single word, and everyone knows he can and will without a single look back. The film captures perfectly the smoky nightclub world of 21 and the Stork Club along with the grubby little burrow belonging to Sidney Falco, press agent and repellent social climber. Great movie and by far, Curtis's best performance.
Strategic Air Command (1955)
Bad movie, but fast forward to the aerial shots-
This is really a dog. Jimmy Stewart is wasted, Beirne Lay evidently was out of dialog after Twelve O'Clock High, and June Allyson spends most of the movie whining. Fast forward to the aerial shots of the B-36 and the movie is really worth watching. That thing is so huge but so strangely graceful. Most of the shots look like slow motion, but that's only because the plane is so gigantic. Beautifully composed aerial photography is the only reason to watch this film, but it is worth it just to see a 10 engined airplane banking into the sunset.
The Sound Barrier (1952)
Excellent film, technically ludicrous
This is an outstanding film about the human cost of progress and obsession. Richardson is great as the aviation mogul willing to pay the necessary price for reaching new realms and new worlds. Historically and technically, the film is so out in left field as to be almost laughable (the plot point about control reversal is apparently the result of a writer hearing a valid aeronautical term and misunderstanding it completely) but in the end, the issues raised and the fine performances make Sound Barrier a winner. The aerial photography is outstanding, and there is one beautifully composed shot from below the nose of the Comet airliner that perfectly emphasizes the sleek lines of that most beautiful jet.
Vile, but needs to be seen
This program is so unfathomably bad that it makes my previous benchmarks like Attack of the Mushroom People and Death Curse of Tartu look like Merchant-Ivory productions. Hideous sets, draggy inserted skits, ridiculous plot line, and Mark Hamill covered in Glidden Kem-Tone interior latex. The real kicker for me was seeing the name of Whoopi Goldberg's pet writer, the former Hollywood Squares denizen Bruce Vilanch, on the credits. Great job, guys. I guess there were a large number of persons associated with the original film that were photographed through one-way mirrors doing unspeakable things to members of church youth groups in order to insure their participation in this project. My personal favorite touch is that approximately half of the dialogue is in Wookiee, making it sound like the cat has knocked the contents of a flower vase into your home theater receiver. Chewbacca's father licking his fur-covered lips at Diahann Carroll was more than a little disturbing and the presence of an actually talented Harvey Korman in this abortion was deeply disappointing. What tripe. I don't think I'll be watching this one again, but it was worth the time to know what the bottom of the snake pit actually looks like.
A Gathering of Eagles (1963)
Flawed but impressive
This film has a hackneyed plot about the strains put on a marriage by nuclear weapons, but some of the scenes are little short of spectacular. The sequence where Hudson and Taylor are timing a mass takeoff of bombers and discussing the job performance of the base commander is truly awe-inspiring. The wind from the engine blast whips at their clothes and the noise is ear-shattering. Most of the film seems like it was written by complete hacks but there is a story buried under all the maudlin touches.