Friday, June 29, 2007

Captains of the Clouds

It’s interesting to watch two similar-themed movies from the same studio within a short period of time. The similarities become more apparent.

A few days ago I watched “Dive Bomber” (1941) Warner Bros. stirring tribune to aviation medicine. Last night I watched Warners’ tribute to the Royal Canadian Air Force, “Captains of the Clouds” (1942) starring James Cagney, Brenda Marshall, Dennis Morgan and the Warner Bros. stock company.

Both were directed by Michael Curtiz, and both were filmed in gorgeous three-strip Technicolor. Curtiz loves his aerial formations…if Busby Berkeley directed airplanes in a war movie, they would look something like this. Perfect formations, set in front of gorgeous sunsets or awesome mountain vistas - I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if enrollment in air forces around the world rose after people saw these movies.

Curtiz is well thought of as a director of action, and speed and pacing, but I think he needs to be placed higher in the pantheon of cinema visualists. The fact that both movies feature similar stunning aerial photography - yet different cinematographers - tips the hat to Curtiz.

The plot of “Captains” is formula, to be sure. No one ever played a scoundrel who sees the error of his way and redeems himself in the end quite like Cagney. Brenda Marshall, best known as Errol Flynn’s co-star in “The Sea Hawk” (1940), has some heart-stopping close-ups. She’s absolutely gorgeous.

I was also amused by each movie’s nightclub scenes, with the same version of “What’s New” being played by a dance orchestra. I don’t think I would have picked up on that had I not seen both movies so closely together.

There’s also a nice scene where Canada’s real life WWI air ace, General Billy Bishop, presents medals to the airmen.

“Captains of the Clouds” is formula entertainment, but when it’s this enjoyable, there’s no cause for complaint.

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