There's nothing much about this film that isn't familiar, yet the plot is exciting enough to carry a viewer along.
Panama, Jack Holt, is a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps, a flier. He shepherds his friend Lefty, Ralph Graves, through flight school but Graves is undone by inner demons and gets bilged. No matter. Holt manages to acquire Graves as his mechanic, and the two are still friends.
But -- cherchez la femme. They find themselves involved in a romantic triangle that, though it alienates them, isn't worth describing.
Then, Nicaragua, where a kind of revolution is in progress. The rebels are led by Lobo, who mutilates any Marines he captures. The Commanding Officer describes them as "ants." There is a final confrontation with the rebels. The Marine squadron flies to the rescue of an isolated Marine outpost and arrives just in time to bomb and machine-gun the swarthy rebels who wave their pirate flag as they attack. Lefty is a gunner on the mission. His airplane crashes (at speed, head first) but Lefty survives, so that he can be rescued by Panama and reunited with the girl who loves him.
Well, as Lefty, Graves is younger and handsomer than Holt, so it's de rigueur that he wins the girl, but the truth is that the poor man is not an actor. Holt himself is barely passable but I don't think Graves utters a single believable word.
Not that it matters too much. The flying scenes are exciting in a headlong way. You don't learn anything much about flying but it's fun watching these ancient biplanes career around the sky. Even the model work is pretty good for the period.
It's rather a slow slog through the romance, but the lack of pretension and the simple-minded action sequences, in which the Nicaraguan rebels are called "gooks", are fascinating in themselves. The aerial photography is pretty good. Overall, it's fun. No more than that, Capra or not.
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