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Ceiling Zero (1936)

Approved | | Adventure, Drama, Romance | 16 January 1936 (USA)
War veteran pilots Dizzy Davis, Texas Clark and Jake Lee are working in an airline in Newark. Dizzy is flirting with the girlfriend of a younger pilot and, due to this, he feigns illness to... See full summary »


Howard Hawks


Frank Wead (play), Frank Wead (screenplay)
1 win. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
James Cagney ... Dizzy Davis
Pat O'Brien ... Jake L. Lee
June Travis ... Tommy Thomas
Stuart Erwin ... Texas Clarke
Barton MacLane ... Al Stone
Henry Wadsworth ... Tay Lawson
Martha Tibbetts Martha Tibbetts ... Mary Miller Lee
Isabel Jewell ... Lou Clarke
Craig Reynolds ... Joe Allen
Dick Purcell ... Smiley (as Dick Purcell)
Carlyle Moore Jr. ... Eddie Payson
Addison Richards ... Fred Adams
Garry Owen ... Mike Owens
Edward Gargan ... Doc Wilson
Robert Light ... Les Bogan


War veteran pilots Dizzy Davis, Texas Clark and Jake Lee are working in an airline in Newark. Dizzy is flirting with the girlfriend of a younger pilot and, due to this, he feigns illness to get Texas to take his flight assignment to Cleveland. Returning from Cleveland to Newark, Texas' plane crashes attempting to land on the airfield under extremely bad weather circumstances and he dies from this accident. Dizzy feels guilty for his friend's death and takes the next flight to Cleveland under even worse circumstances, testing a new anti-ice device on the plane. Written by Stephan Eichenberg <eichenbe@fak-cbg.tu-muenchen.de>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Thriller that Made Broadway Say Its Prayers! (Print Ad- Buffalo Courier-Express, ((Buffalo NY)) 29 March 1936) See more »


Approved | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


This film's earliest documented telecasts took place in Columbus Thursday 2 August 1956 on WTVN (Channel 6), in Tucson Monday 13 August 1956 on KDWI (Channel 9), in Indianapolis Saturday 18 August 1956 on WISH (Channel 8), and in Cincinnati Wednesday 5 December 1956 on WKRC (Channel 12). See more »


Spoofed in Sailing Zero (1964) See more »


I Can't Give You Anything but Love
Music by Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Sung by James Cagney over the airplane radio
See more »

User Reviews

Not vintage, but still Hawks!
17 November 2005 | by Balthazar-5See all my reviews

'Ceiling Zero' fits quite neatly into the central part of his 'oeuvre'. The classical Hawks' hero is honourable and heroic, but flawed. 'Dizzy' Davis fits firmly and squarely into this archetype. His womanising and recklessness precedes him, and is the cause on one of the film's twin tragedies. But this is offset by daring and bravery that is 'de rigeur' for mail pilots of the era. It is very rarely in films of this era that the 'hero' could still be the villain with just a few minutes to go, but that is effectively the case here. As in many of Hawks' finest films, the opening sequence serves as a contrasting miniature morality play that sets the ensuing drama into focus. Here it is a cowardly pilot who, lost in poor visibility, bails out of his plane without thought for the financial consequences for his employers. It is no accident that the company at the heart of the film is 'Federal Airlines'. Many of Hawks' films make exquisite political allegories, and this is no exception. Read the 'fog' as the Great Depression, Dizzy as the reckless aspect of the American entrepreneurial spirit and Jake as The President…

But there is more… psychologically it works a treat too. Jake and Dizzy share the same heroic wartime background. It emerges that they share the same taste in women too. To some extent, they represent two aspects of the same character – it is significant that during the climactic moments of Texas' final approach to the airfield, they keep switching roles, with first one then the other taking charge of the situation. Both of them also show the same moral flexibility – Dizzy by exchanging places with Tommy's boyfriend, Jake by being willing to distort his professional judgement to save Dizzy's flying career.

In spite of all of this, 'Ceiling Zero' cannot really be placed at the same level as the truly great Hawks masterpieces – El Dorado, To Have & Have Not, Bringing Up Baby and, significantly, Only Angels Have Wings. At the end of the film, one doesn't feel that one has really known the characters. But, considering its vintage, it is an entirely worthy work that gives us clear indications of the wonders to come.

It should be absolutely essential viewing for anyone wishing to acquaint themselves with the an important work of one of America's greatest artists, in any discipline, of the twentieth century. Another interesting parallel is Ford's 'Air Mail'which has a similar story also originating in Frank Wead.

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Release Date:

16 January 1936 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Águilas heroicas See more »

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Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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