Review

  • I recently saw this on Turner Classics. I had never seen this film from the early days of talking pictures before. Adding to its historic value is that it's directed by legendary Frank Capra from early in his career. Actor Ralph Graves who plays Lefty Phillips wrote the story, using two unrelated actual current events of the day to bookend his story; a wrong-way run in the Rose Bowl and a rogue general in Nicaragua. The Phillips character is based on Roy 'Wrong Way' Riegels who played for Cal-Berkeley against Georgia Tech in the 1929 Rose Bowl. He picked up a fumble, was spun around and ran 65 yards the wrong way before being stopped short of the opponent's goal. Lefty is distraught by the humiliation and goes on to join the Marines Navy Air Corps. Riegels would later join the Army Air Corps in WWII so it's kind of like art imitating life and then life imitating art. Jack Holt is Sgt. Panama Williams who trains the pilots. Lila Lee is nurse Elinor Murray, the love interest of both Panama and Lefty. Panama, Lefty and Elinor are all sent to Nicaragua where a rogue general and his guerrilla army have killed US Marines stationed there. In reality US Marines were in Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933. Small individual armies roamed the country and the US government was instituting a unified national guard and set up Anastasio Somoza Garcia to run it. General Augusto César Sandino was a guerrilla leader who's forces fought against the US Marines for five years. In this ficitonalized account of that conflict, Sandino is a character named Lobo played by Jimmy de la Cruze. Elmer Dyer who shot the aerial scenes for such Films as Hell's Angels, Lost Horizon, The Dawn Patrol and Air Force is the principal Ariel photographer on this film and Joe Novak and Joseph Walker are cinematographers. Howard J. Green wrote the screenplay from Graves' original story with additional dialogue from director Capra. Holt had the most successful and long- lived film career of the three lead actors. An established silent film star, he smoothly made the transition to sound films and had a long career in b-westerns and crime movies. Graves was a silent film actor who's continued success was limited to the 1930's. He made a couple films in the 40's in minor roles and then his career was over. Lee was at the peak of her career here having made 11 films in 1928, 9 in 1929 and 6 in 1930 before her career began to taper off. She was a promising silent film actor who never lived up to the expectations the studio had for her after making the transition from silents to sound. This isn't a great film. It's kind of silly and awkward at times but it's well done and fun to see a Capra film just seven years into his directorial career and the film has it's early sound and early aviation historic value. It's worth a look. I would give it a 6.5 out of 10.