Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Dawn Patrol (1930)

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. Mechanical engineer and aviation technician: Harry Reynolds. 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), Ira Reed (pilot actor).
    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 tried to buy up all vintage WWI aircraft such as Spads and Camels to fight competition to 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), Journey's End (9 April 1930), and The Last Flight (29 Aug 1931).

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 equally talented brother Kenneth 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.

P.S. 1 April 2017, re-reading Todd McCarthy's Howard Hawks biography:
    1. "Always closer to Kenneth than to anyone else, Howard was unquestionably as affected by his brother's death as by any other event in his life. Already prematurely graying at thirty-three, his hair turned entirely gray thereafter".
    2. "Officially produced by the cultivated Robert North, the film was overseen by Hal Wallis, then just a year into his job as general manager of First National under the overall stewardship of Jack Warner. Wallis and Hawks took an immediate dislike to each other, and the mutual antagonism grew into a barely manageable stormy relationship that nevertheless produced eight mostly outstanding films over a period of seventeen years."
    3. McCarthy claims that the German pilot who has been shot down and who joins the party is played by Hawks himself but I find this impossible to believe.
    4. "Even though Hawks never fought in the European war, his film caught the fatalism and waste of a generation as strongly as did Journey's End, The Last Flight, or any other film on the subject. Although no one mentioned it at the time, it also positioned him as the closest thing to a Hemingway of the cinema, in the way he eloquently and poetically defined his characters through their attitude toward what they did. Instinctively, Hawks expressed the novelist's famous maxim of grace under pressure; he would continue to do so, with increasing skill and complexity, for several decades."


The Dawn Patrol, Howard Hawksin ensimmäinen varsinainen äänielokuva, sai ensi-iltansa aikana, jolloin tarjolla oli joukottain muunnelmia menestysteoksista Länsirintamalta ei mitään uutta ja Journey's End. Siksi suuntaukseen kyllästyneet kriitikot olivat taipuvaisia hyljeksimään Hawksin teosta, vaikka he näkivätkin siinä ansioita. Silti teos sai hyvän vastaanoton ja muistikuvat siitä ovat säilyneet myönteisinä vaikka siitä tehtiinkin erittäin hyvä uusintaversio vuonna 1938. Hawks keskittyy tässä kysymykseen moraalisesta vastuusta keskellä toiminnan pyörrettä. Tämä on teema, jota Hawksin myöhemmät elokuvat syventävät.

Öisen eskadeerin alkukehittelyssä Neil Hamilton joutuu komentajaksi etulinjoille, jossa heikkotasoisia brittikoneita lähetetään päivittäin vajaalla miehityksellä ylivoimaista vihollista vastaan. On edeltä käsin selvää, että vain harvat niistä pääsevät palaamaan. Komentoportaan kakkosmies Richard Barthelmess ja hänen paras ystävänsä Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., vapautuvat suuressa määrin moraalisesta vastuusta osallistumalla itse taisteluihin. Kiinnostavaa kyllä Hamiltonin ja Barthelmessin välejä kylmentää entisestään sellainen heidän yksityiselämäänsä liittyvä tausta, että he ovat aikoinaan kiistelleet samasta naisesta. Tämä asetelma, jossa naisesta tulee ristiriitojen, kilpailun ja moraalisen katharsiksen aiheuttaja, kehittyy ohjaajan myöhemmässä tuotannossa, jossa varsinainen hawksilainen nainen ilmestyy valkokankaalle.

Kun Hamilton saa ylennyksen, Barthelmess joutuu puolestaan ottamaan vastuun miesten lähettämisestä kuolemaan. Hänen ystävyyssuhteensa Fairbanksiin rikkoutuu hänen lähettäessään tämän pikkuveljen kohtalokkaalle lennolle. Sovittaakseen syyllisyytensä Barthelmess juottaa Fairbanksin juovuksiin ja lähtee tämän sijasta itse itsemurhalennolle. Komentajan paikka vapautuu jälleen... nyt on Fairbanksin vuoro ottaa vastuu.

Aineiston käsittelyssä paljastuvat Hawksin tunnusomaiset hyveet: paljas, puhdas, koruton tekniikka; vahva juoni; tilanteen määrittely lakonisesti dialogissa, joka hiljenee moraalisen konfliktin sisäistyessä toiminnaksi; ja ennen muuta läpitunkeva epätoivon ilmapiiri, joka on vangittu leikkaavan tiiviisti.

– Andrew Sarris ("The World of Howard Hawks", Part 1, Films and Filming, July 1962)

The Dawn Patrol on toteutettu varhaisen äänielokuvan verrattain primitiivisellä tekniikalla. Sisäkohtaukset ovat staattisia, koska ne jouduttiin kuvaamaan äänieristettyyn koppiin sijoitetulla kameralla. Toisaalta taistelukohtauksissa lentokoneiden moottoreiden pauhu peitti alleen kameran surinan ja mahdollisti siten kameran liikuttelun yhtä vauhdikkaasti kuin mykkäelokuvien toimintakohtauksissa.

–  UCLA Newsletter, February-March 1990

– AA 1991

Reportedly based on the poem "The Revel" (1850) by Bartholomew Dowling.
Actually based on the poem "Indian Revelry" (1835) by William Francis Thompson.

We meet ‘neath the sounding rafters
And the walls around are bare
As they echo to our laughter
T’would seem that the dead were there.

So stand to your glasses steady
‘Tis all we have left to prize
Quaff a cup to the dead already
And one to the next man who dies.

Time was when we frowned on others
We thought we were wiser then
But now let us all be brothers
For we never may meet again

Cut off from the land that bore us
Betrayed by the land we find
The good men have gone before us
And only the dull left behind.

So stand to your glasses steady
This world is a web of lies
Then here’s to the dead already
And hurrah for the next man who dies.

Here’s an end to this mournful story
For death is a distant friend
So here’s to a life of glory
And a laurel to crown each end

There are many versions of this song. This is close to the one heard in The Dawn Patrol (both film adaptations).


During World War I, the pilots of an RFC (Royal Flying Corps) squadron deal with the stress of combat primarily through nightly bouts of heavy drinking. The two aces of the squadron's "A Flight", Courtney (Richard Barthelmess) and Scott (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), have come to hate the commanding officer, Brand (Neil Hamilton), blaming him for sending new recruits directly into combat in inferior aircraft.

Unknown to them, Brand has been arguing continually with higher command to allow practice time for the new pilots, but command is desperate to maintain air superiority and orders them into combat as soon as they arrive. Brand is so disliked by the two he cannot even easily join the men for the nightly partying, drinking alone and clearly breaking under the strain. The tension grows worse when an elite German squadron led by "von Richter" takes up position just across the front lines from them.

After losing several of the squadron's veteran pilots, the ranks become increasingly made up of new recruits, who have absolutely no chance against the German veterans. Von Richter issues a taunt that Courtney and Scott answer by attacking the Germans' airdrome in defiance of orders from Brand not to go up against them. Brand gets revenge when he is recalled to headquarters and Courtney is made squadron commander. Courtney quickly learns the misery that Brand endured when four patrols a day are ordered and his pleas not to send green men ignored.

Scott and Courtney have a falling out when Scott's younger brother is one of the new replacements and is immediately ordered on a mission. He is killed flying the Dawn Patrol. Brand returns with orders for what amounts to a suicide mission far behind enemy lines. Courtney is forbidden to fly the mission, so Scott angrily volunteers. Courtney gets him drunk and flies off in his stead. He shoots down von Richter returning from the successful mission but is killed by another German pilot. Scott becomes squadron commander and reads orders to his new replacements.

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