The Flight Commander (re-release title) (the title on the print viewed) / Öinen eskaaderi / Nattens eskader. US © 1930 First National Pictures. P: Robert North. D: Howard Hawks. SC: Dan Totheroh, Howard Hawks, Seton I. Miller ‒ based on the story "The Flight Commander" by John Monk Saunders. CIN: Ernest Haller. Aerial photography: Elmer Dyer. SFX: Fred Jackman, Harry Redmond, Sr. M: Rex Dunn. Theme song: "Stand To Your Glasses! (Hurrah For The Next Man To Die)" (music trad., lyrics from the poem "Indian Revelry" by William Francis Thompson, 1835). Other songs: "Plum and Apple" (comp. unknown). "Poor Butterfly" (M. Raymond Hubbell, John Golden). Conductor (Vitaphone Orchestra): Leo F. Forbstein. AD: Jack Okey. ED: Ray Curtiss. Aerial stunts supervisor: Sterling Campbell. Aeronautic supervisor: Leo Nomis. S: Vitaphone (mono).
C: Richard Barthelmess (Dick Courtney), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Douglas Scott), Neil Hamilton (Major Brand), Frank McHugh (Flaherty), Clyde Cook (Bott), James Finlayson (field sergeant), Gardner James (Ralph Hollister), William Janney (Gordon Scott), Edmund Breon (Lieut. Phipps), Jack Ackroyd, Harry Allen (mechanics), Howard Hawks (German pilot), Jack Jordan (German soldier).
Aircraft: Nieuport 28 (British squadron), Travel Air 4000 (German fighters). Standard J-1. Waterman-Boeing C biplanes. Travel Air 4U Speedwing. Thomas-Morse S-4. (Howard Hughes had bought all vintage WWI aircraft to fight competition to his Hell's Angels).
Premiere 10.7.1930. Helsinki premiere: 16.4.1933 Astoria and Arena, released by Warner Bros. Finland ‒ duration registered at the Finnish film control as 112 min [info unreliable] ‒ 2896 m / 105 min ‒ duration according to different sources: 82, 95, 106 min (copyright length)
Retitled The Flight Commander in 1956 to avoid confusion with the Warner Bros. remake, The Dawn Patrol / Lentoeskaaderin hyökkäys (1938), D: Edmund Goulding, C: Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and David Niven. Hawks's aerial combat scenes were reused in the remake.
The original title cards of The Dawn Patrol (1930) were discarded, and redrawn titles are on all known prints of the film.
The Library of Congress print (108 min) screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Howard Hawks), 15 March 2017
Revisited Howard Hawks's first masterpiece, his first true sound film, and his first great film about flying (they include The Air Circus, The Dawn Patrol, Ceiling Zero, Only Angels Have Wings, and Air Force).
A serious wave of WWI films had started five years ago, including The Big Parade (premiere 5 Nov 1925), What Price Glory (23 Nov 1926), Wings (19 May 1927), Four Sons (13 Feb 1928), Verdun, visions d'histoire (23 Nov 1928), and Journey's End (9 April 1930).
The most devastating trio of WWI films was being produced and released at the same time: All Quiet on the Western Front (21 April 1930), Westfront 1918 (23 May 1930), and Les Croix de bois (17 March 1932). The Dawn Patrol is a noble entry in this wave of WWI movies.
Hawks had been a flight instructor for the US Army Air Service in WWI. He can be considered a member of the "lost generation" like his friends Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner and like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Dawn Patrol is Hawks's "lost generation" movie. Most of his friends of youth had died in the war or in flying accidents. On 2 January 1930 his brother Kenneth (equally talented as Howard) died in a flying accident. There is a sense of personal urgency in the pervasive atmosphere of death in The Dawn Patrol.
The Dawn Patrol is an early sound film but Hawks is less hampered by the cumbersome early sound camera technology than in his other film of the same year, The Criminal Code. The aerial combat scenes still look terrific. Although the flying machines are not fully authentic, they are close to the real thing.
The death toll is high. The flight commanders get to face the appalling task of sending novices to almost certain death on inadequate aircraft. A recurrent scene is of a flight commander listening to the sounds of the returning airplanes. There are seven airplanes in the squadron. When they return, they hear the sounds of only six, five, four...
The Dawn Patrol is laconic but not hard-boiled or callous. The men are shattered. They cry. Even flight commanders cry. They suffer mental breakdowns. They drink too much. Mostly they seem to be drinking when they are not flying. The flight commander who does not get to fly is always drunk.
Many essential Howard Hawks features already fall into place in The Dawn Patrol. One of them is professionalism. These men, young as they are, share a professional approach in fighting. There is nothing personal in it. When a German pilot is captured, he is welcome to a drink at the canteen. And when the American pilot whom he shot down also appears, both join.
Another feature is a matter-of-fact approach to courage. Danger and courage are understated. Fear is normal and undeniable. The way the soldiers face danger and death belongs to the noble tradition of the classical Athenians. Not Spartans: Hawks is not a militarist. Military formalities are reduced to the utmost. These men are born fighters. No drill exercises are needed. This feature is familiar to Finns, to our warfare reality in WWII, as opposed to the Prussian drill mentality of the Germans.
Camaraderie, solidarity, and mutual respect are key values. The communal sing-song makes a prominent appearance already in Hawks's first sound film. Lafayette Escadrille's favourite song "Stand To Your Glasses" becomes the theme song of the film. Its lyrics (see beyond the jump break) are still surprising and shocking and crystallize the anti-war message of The Dawn Patrol.
The air combat sequences are terrific. In one of them two maverick pilots defy orders and conduct a surprise commando attack. In the final one Dick Courtney (Richard Barthelmess) again defies orders but now in the position of the flight commander himself and conducts a solo suicide mission, bringing disaster to German bridges, railways and factories. The attack culminates in a dogfight with the German ace pilot von Richter.
The Dawn Patrol is still a film about men without women. A woman figures only as a memory from a recent rivalry in Paris between Major Brand and Dick Courtney. There had been a glimpse of the Hawksian woman in the Louise Brooks character in A Girl in Every Port but soon enough she would emerge definitively.
The Library of Congress print is clean and complete, more complete than the copyright version. It has also a somewhat duped look.
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON ANDREW SARRIS: