Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Overlooked Films: Flynn, Rathbone & Niven in THE DAWN PATROL (1938)

How’s this sound?  A movie starring Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and David Niven - and all of them are good guys. A movie that’s all action and drama - wasting not a single second on romance. A movie that’s funny, sad and heroic - all at the same time.

If that sounds like your kind of film, you need look no further than The Dawn Patrol (1938, and not to be confused with the original 1930 version starring Richard Barthelmess). 

It all happens in WWI France, where a squadron of (mostly) happy-go-lucky British pilots are doing their best to support their troops. Opposing them is a German named Von Richter (though the name is often slurred enough that you can hear Richthofen if you want to) and his (mostly) more experienced fliers.

Rathbone, a former pilot, is commander of the unit, and chafes under the ever more outrageous demands of the brass. They send him raw replacements with only a few hours of flying time - and zero combat experience. Naturally Von Richter’s fighters shoot them down as fast as they go up.

Flynn and Niven, best of friends and the only two pilots with enough experience to survive, deal with the death by staying drunk as lords, carousing at every opportunity and disobeying orders with impunity. And naturally, they blame Rathbone for following orders and sending inept pilots out to the slaughter.

Things change dramatically when Rathbone is promoted, naming Flynn as his replacement. Now it’s Flynn who chafes under the whip of the brass-hats, and is forced to send out raw recruits. And that’s when Niven’s young brother, wide-eyed and inexperienced as they come, arrives as a new recruit. Suddenly all is very much unwell among the Dawn Patrol.

The acting is just what you’d expect from these guys, there’s nothing wrong with the dialogue, and there are some nice scenes of dogfights and bombing runs. This is top-flight Warner Bros. entertainment.

 More Overlooked Films, as usual, at SWEET FREEDOM.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This is a fine little movie. And I like movies with three good guys.

Rick Robinson said...

It's a swell flick. Haven't seen it in years.

Matthew Clark said...

This is probably Flynn's best film as an actor. Rathbone's character is more layered than in other films he stars against Flynn. Mainly because they aren't crossing swords, and have actual conversations. I'm assuming that most of the exteriors and flying scenes are from the previous version directed by Howard Hawks Richard Barthelmess has the Flynn role, with Doug Fairbanks Jr and Neil Hamilton in the Niven and Rathbone roles. This 1930 version has begin to find it's way to DVD. Would like to see which, if any, is the better version. But, Flynn is certainly at his best in this film. It must have been an easier shoot, with out all the location work of the western's such as 'Dodge City', and he's not directed by Micheal Curtiz. A director who hated even letting the crew have a 15 minute lunch break.