Monday, March 10, 2008

THE DAWN PATROL (Warner Bros. 1938) Warner Home Video

A remake of the WWI Oscar-winning classic (1930) starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr, all the elements for another winner are in place in Edmund Goulding’s remake of The Dawn Patrol (1938) a harrowing high-flying action/adventure that cast Errol Flynn as Capt. Courtney – one of many British daredevil ace pilots running certain suicide missions in the ‘not-so-friendly’ skies.

In Howard Hawks’ original the largely forgotten Richard Barthelmess is Capt. Courtney – and while Flynn is virtually superior to the charm-free Barthelmess, there is little to suggest as much. Goulding’s retread is not an action movie but an intimate melodrama; its perilous dive bombing sequences mere frosting on a rather wordy cake.

Between Courtney (Flynn) and his second, Lt. Scotty (David Niven) there is a quiet understanding of truths and tragedies that permeate and underscores the action in this remake with a sobering note of reality; reiterating for the audience that while the life of a flyer might sound attractive on the surface, beneath its thin veneer is the marred, fragile fact that most will not live to retire from their chosen profession.

Set in war torn France, circa 1915, stoic Maj. Brand (Basil Rathbone) commands his 39th squadron with a stiff upper lip – sending his men off to die with less than stellar equipment. Brand’s superior officers press on, seemingly impervious to sentiment or even common sense as the list of casualties continues to grow – a frustration in the chain of command that eventually leads to a rift.

Meanwhile, Courtney does his best to make a nuisance of himself. He’s gregarious, opinionated and insubordinate, much to Brand’s chagrin. However, that situation is about to change when Courtney gets his chance to rise through the ranks and take hold of the squadron.

Seton I. Miller and Dan Totheroh’s screenplay manages to extol the tragedy of sending men to their doom without ever allowing the premise to become overwrought or maudlin. As the audience, we fly in the face of danger under sweepingly patriotic strains of Max Steiner’s brilliant score and with Courtney as our co-pilot, feeling the wind at our wing and the zest for danger building to a fevered pitch. Grandly amusing – if slightly tempered in its action sequences – Dawn Patrol is a great film about one war made at the cusp of another.

Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits a solid B&W transfer. The grayscale is not as refined as on other Flynn films of this vintage, but it is still quite acceptable for a film of this vintage. Blacks are mostly solid and deep. Whites are fairly clean. Age related artifacts are present throughout but do not distract. The audio is mono, but adequately presented. Extras include Warner Night at the Movies and vintage short subjects.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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