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Wings In The Dark

20 Apr

Wings In The Dark — directed by James Flood. Action/Adventure Melodrama. To prove  the efficacy of blind instrument flying, a blind pilot … 75 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★

What made Myna Loy the great star of the 1930s? A melodious speaking voice? Yes. A long-legged slim figure that made her look tall and fabulous in calf-length clothes? Yes. Those restful wide-spaced yes? Yes. A talent for under-playing? Yes. The sweetest mouth in the world? Yes. But I think it was something else. I think it was the alternate sexuality of devotion. It is a sexiness that does not make demands on our endurance. Why? Because it itself endures. It does not flame up and it does not burn out. It is a quality that women in the audience could admire without envy because it represented marriage. It is a quality that men in the audience could admire without fear because it was settled. It led to the domestication of Loy’s talent in wife-roles for the rest of her life. Female transatlantic flyers were much in the news in those days, and this film, one of several aviatrixes Loy played, had Amelia Earhart on set as adviser, and Loy said she was charming, but was not called upon to do much. Loy was taken up for her first flight by famed daredevil pilot, Paul Mantz, who performed the stunts, and she flew upside down in an open cockpit. For Loy plays a barnstorming aviatrix performing trick flight for crowds at fairs – and I was born in 1933, before the days of airlines, and I remember my father taking me to see just such displays. When a plane flew over Queens in those days we all went out of the house to look. Loy marshals her talent to help Cary Grant, a blind-flying pilot-pioneer who actually has gone blind. Loy describes the film, one of 23 she made in three years, as not one of her best, but it has its charms and excitements. One of the charms is Grant who of course is interesting to watch and to hear. But he does have the tendency of the style of the period, to monotonize certain speeches. That’s to say, he will choose a basic emotion, and play it under everything he says, so that it loses variety and inflection and becomes a recitation. Actors don’t seem to do that much any more, but it was one of the riffs of the ‘30s. You can hear it in his high-minded offer to commit suicide. He pitches his voice up an octave and keeps it in that noble, fake-ingenuous realm from beginning to end. It was the sort of stroke that the journalists of the period would call hokum, the journalists of the period being much more satirical and sharp-tongued than those of today. (Rosco Karns is brilliant as an example of it here.) But that high-mindedness was a notion of the age nobly to stalk above fate. It’s also interesting to note how action/adventure works. In the first part of the film, you have wonderful character exchanges, talk, revelation, humor, but when the action/adventure takes over in such a movie, character, dialogue, everything, is swallowed up by the action and the excitement of the action. We know it’s going to turn out well, that’s doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the danger at the time, the thrill and suspense of that. Improbability doesn’t even factor into it. Only the peril. And in this case it’s very well handled by Flood and by cinemaphotographers Oscar-winning William Mellor on the ground, and in the air Dewey Wrigley. An action/adventure film is a story in the finale of which all humans are devoured. Except, of course, at the end when they are regurgitated for the fadeout.

 
 
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