EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|LAST FLIGHT, THE (director: William Dieterle; screenwriter: from the novel Single Lady by John Monk Saunders/John Monk Saunders; cinematographer: Sid Hickox; editor: Al Hall; music: Leo F. Forbstein; cast: Richard Barthelmess (Cary Lockwood), Helen Chandler (Nikki ), John Mack Brown (Bill Talbot), David Manners (Shep Lambert), Elliott Nugent (Francis), Walter Byron (Frink), Luis Alberni (Spectator at Bullfight); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating:NR; Warner Archive Collection; 1931)|
|"A rarely seen gem."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
When Howard Hawks had a dispute with the studio bosses, he
was replaced as director by William Dieterle ("Fog Over
Jennie"). This was the German born Dieterle's debut in
directing an American film. Dieterle
for Murnau in the 20s. It's a rarely seen gem, one that's
based on the novel Single Lady
by John Monk Saunders. He also
wrote the screenplay. It's a poignant study on the cynicism of the Lost
Generation living as expatriates in the Paris of the 20s, something
Hemingway captured in The Sun Also Rises.
1919, after World War I, four American ace pilots-- Cary Lockwood (Richard Barthelmess),
Lambert (David Manners), Bill Talbot (John Mack Brown) and Francis (Elliott Nugent)--are damaged
goods suffering from battle wounds and shell
shock. Rather than return home as emotional cripples, the foursome
stick together in Paris leading an aimless drunken existence in hopes
of learning how to laugh and play again and to see if they can calm
their shattered nerves before returning home.
night the boys while making the rounds of the usual Paris nightclubs,
meet Nikki (Helen
Chandler). She's a wealthy
aimless neurotic American, who can't help acting daffy and speaking out
of turn. The boys are cheered up by her goofiness and adopt her as
their mascot, and spend the night in her hotel room to laugh and
drink--but are too emotionally spent to think of sex. The next morning
she tags along with Cary, who burned both hands severely when
heroically crash-landing his plane and has become very sensitive about
broaching that subject. Cary takes Nikki to the famous Père
Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
where some of the great figures of history are buried such as Balzac,
and where the famous lovers Heloise and Abelard were buried. Cary is
touched by the romance of the doomed lovers and is taken aback when all
Nikki can say about their tragic love story is she now has found names
for her two turtles.
to stand being near Nikki anymore, the brittle Cary bolts by himself
for Portugal by train. Not wanting Cary to leave them, the boys and
Nikki hop on the same train and join him on his trip to Lisbon. Also
along is a sleazy American foreign correspondent for a New York paper,
Frink (Walter Byron), who looks
down his nose at the emotionally crippled boys and tries to make a play
for the attractive Nikki.
Lisbon, things unravel for the boys, who feel unwanted because they are
no longer needed in peacetime and have a hard time adjusting to being
disposable goods. First a drunken Bill gets gored to death after
impulsively jumping into the bullring to confront a raging bull; then
at a carnival shooting gallery tempers flare out of hand as a flustered
Frink threatens to shoot Cary because he was stopped by him of making
an unwelcome pass at Nikki. But Frink fatally wounds Shep by accident,
and in turn is shot dead by Francis. With that Francis disappears, and
Nikki and Cary are left alone. With his supportive comrades all out of
the picture, Nikki asks Cary to stay with her and they both finally
express their love for each other--an emotion they weren't capable of
expressing just a short time ago.
The visuals are excellent, and the film is fast moving and has a great snappy banter. It suffers from none of the awkwardness many of the early talkie films had, and is easily the best pic Dieterle ever shot (he only went on to a so-so career as a studio director). Also, the performance by Helen Chandler was pitch perfect brilliant. It's a film that has flown under the radar, but is worth seeking out.
REVIEWED ON 10/21/2010 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ