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  • Frank Capra made a trilogy of action dramas starring Ralph Graves and Jack Holt (Tim Holt's father) as rivals in some branch of the military service. Holt always played the cautious older man who followed regulations, Graves his impetuous younger rival. A woman always came between them. "Dirigible" is probably the best of the three, although "Submarine" (a silent film) and "Flight" are excellent too.

    The only flaw in "Flight" is that it's a little too similar to the better-known "Wings" and "Tell It to the Marines", both of which were bigger box-office hits.

    The opening scene in 'Flight' is based on a real-life event that had made headlines a few months earlier. In the Rose Bowl football match on New Year's Day, 1929, a college football player named Roy Riegels carried the ball 64-1/2 yards the wrong way, very nearly scoring an own goal when a teammate finally stopped him on the one-yard line. (The rival team ran interference for him against his own side!) A news photo of this event received nationwide distribution, and Riegels became a laughingstock. (Actually, when I saw 'Flight', all I knew about the Riegels incident was the famous Rose Bowl photograph. I looked up all the specifics before I posted this review. Did you really think I've got all this information memorised?)

    "Flight" uses this true incident to begin its fictional story. Lefty Phelps (Ralph Graves) isn't noticeably left-handed, but he's a promising college athlete who's all set to triumph in the big game. Phelps runs the wrong way, scoring the winning touchdown for the wrong team. A photo of Phelps achieving this error gets national distribution, and Phelps becomes the butt of jokes. (We see a close-up of the Riegels photo - a well-known image in 1929 - substituting as a photo of Ralph Graves.) Phelps decides that he's ruined for life, but a friendly recruiting agent suggests that he can make a clean start by enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. Phelps decides to become a pilot, as that's the most glamorous job in the military.

    There's a very funny scene when Phelps completes his first training flight. I'm really surprised that this gag sequence (dealing with nausea and vomiting) made it into the movie. Ralph Graves steps out of the plane with one hand over his mouth, and we can tell by the look on his face that he's going to be sick. Graves looks round desperately, and then we see an immense close-up of a bucket at the far end of the runway. Graves runs all the way to the bucket with one hand over his mouth and the other hand over his gut. Will he make it in time? The pay-off is hilarious.

    During his training, Phelps becomes attracted to an Army nurse (played by Lila Lee) and he runs afoul of topkick Sergeant Williams (Jack Holt). Williams thinks Phelps is paying too much attention to girls, and not enough attention to his flight training. As soon as Phelps completes his pilot training, the United States Marines invade Nicaragua (wot, again?), and off we go to Central America. There's a slam-bang action climax. Lila Lee was a very pretty actress, unfairly forgotten today. (She was also the mother of James Kirkwood Junior, who wrote "A Chorus Line".) "Flight" and "The Unholy Three" are the best examples of her talents and beauty. I'll rate 'Flight' 10 out of 10; a splendid example of early Capra.
  • johno-2118 July 2007
    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.
  • The film is about two pilots--one who is the veteran flight instructor at Pensacola Naval Air Station (Tim Holt) and the other is a man who desperately wants to earn his wings, but he's terribly unsure of himself (Ralph Graves). Over time, a friendship develops between them that is challenged when both men fall for the same Navy nurse.

    While all this might seem a bit predictable and clichéd, for 1929 it was pretty good stuff. Plus, all the familiar story elements contained in the film were NOT clichés, as this film introduced many of these items that would later become standard plot lines. Plus, the film is aided by excellent flying scenes and some amazingly fun and witty dialog every now and again. Graves made several comments that had me laughing. Because of this and the easy-going banter between them, this was a very likable film--particularly for nuts like me that adore early aviation films. The film abounds with great footage of aircraft and is a must-see for aviation fans.

    By the way, the team of Graves and Holt made quite a few early military-inspired films for Columbia--making them the first stars for this fledgling studio. In addition to Marine pilots like they were in this film, they also starred in other films about US military (such as DIRIGIBLE, A DANGEROUS AFFAIR, FLYING FLEET and SUBMARINE). Oddly, despite their success, by 1931-1932, their careers as leading men were pretty much over.

    One negative about the film is the sound quality. Though it does improve later in the film, FLIGHT is terribly in need of restoration as some of the dialog is very, very difficult to understand--a rather common problem with films from the early sound era. Closed captioning would have been nice, but was not included.
  • One of several attempts to talk-up William A. Wellman's high flying "Wings" (1927) **********. This time, the leading threesome form the more traditional triangle of love -- younger Marine pilot Ralph Graves (as Lefty Phelps) and his mentor/Sergeant Jack Holt as (Panama Williams) are in both love with lovely nurse Lila Lee (as Elinor Murray). Ms. Lee loves Mr. Graves (in a romantic way). Mr. Graves loves Lee (in a romantic way) and Mr. Holt (in a fatherly way). Circumstances put the characters' relationships in turmoil, and danger…

    An interesting early effort by director Frank Capra; but, of course, it is nowhere near his best. Harold Goodwin has a great supporting role (as Steve Roberts). Graves and Holt are a reliable team. Graves seems a little younger and Holt a little older than they appear; the actors are about the same age, however; and, they have a nice rapport.

    Watch for a scene right after the "stuck in the mud" segment concludes -- in their tent, Holt scolds Graves for wanting to go out and get "tight"; he tries to pull his pal's shirt off, but Graves resists. Then, the men wrestle, which ends up with Holt pulling Graves' legs up to give him a spanking! As a bonus, Graves' hairpiece almost flips off his head!
  • Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 catapulted him into celebrity, and made aviators the ultimate American heroes of the late 1920s. Hollywood reflected this in a series of aviation-themed movies, most notably the first Best Picture Academy Award winner Wings, but also in the Howard Hughes extravaganza Hell's Angels and the Howard Hawks-directed Dawn Patrol. A lesser-known entry is this early talkie, simply titled "Flight".

    Being of the first wave of sound pictures, Flight is a somewhat awkward production. The sound is of rather fuzzy quality, and the dialogue a little stilted. The three lead actors however, all veterans of the silent era, make the transition fairly well. They had worked together before and the rapport between them is believably strong. Ralph Graves (who also wrote the screenplay) is easily the least interesting of them, but he still has an easygoing charm and realism to him, and reminds me a little of Fred MacMurray. I particularly like his sarcastic "hooray" when he is assigned as a mechanic. Jack Holt makes a loveably gruff sergeant and fatherly mentor to Graves, and he is responsible for building up the movie's atmosphere of rough-edged friendliness. Lila Lee was a popular star in the silents, and her voice and manner adapt well to the new format. Like many leading ladies of this period however she would not maintain her success past a certain age and would soon be retiring to private life.

    The director is a youthful Frank Capra, making his talkie debut. Capra's silents were typically marked with an obvious desire to make his mark with lots of attention-grabbing set-ups. By this point he is starting to settle down a bit and a more serious style is beginning to emerge. The opening shot, where the commentator's head looms over half the screen and the later cantina scene where various faces mill about in the foreground betray a love of a certain look, but also point towards a technique Capra would later perfect, that is of having the camera amid the action as if it was a person on the set. Capra also uses appropriate distances for dialogue scenes, as oppose to many early sound features where the actors were placed too far back while they were talking, giving an unnatural effect. There are however a few clunky moments; a quick dolly-in on a bucket is reminiscent of Capra's overdone slapstick comedies. His biggest weak point however seems to be action, and it appears that the fighting scenes in Flight were largely rescued in the editing suite.

    And it appears that, in spite of the title, the emphasis on flying in this movie isn't as pronounced as it could be. Wings, Hell's Angels and Dawn Patrol all strove to give us viewers a taste of the thrill of being airborne. Here however Capra alternates between rather bland stock-footage like shots of planes in flight and reaction shots of the men on board. But you see Flight is more about the camaraderie and self-sacrifice of military life. The plot may be a rather predictable love triangle between friends affair, and a little more pizazz in the action scenes might have given more of a sense of danger to their circumstances, but as it is this is a worthy attempt which points towards the more technically modest yet dramatically powerful movies of 1930s Hollywood.
  • Frank Capra made three films with the same two actors, Jack Holt and Ralph Graves, probably in an effort to establish the male buddy film. It would take James Cagney and Pat O'Brien to get that genre off the ground. Flight is the second of those three Graves/Holt films and the first one in sound.

    It also has the same kind of roughhouse humor that would characterize the work of John Ford. In fact if you didn't know this was an early Capra film, you'd swear Ford did it.

    Flight is certainly a film from the headlines of the day. It begins with college football hero Ralph Graves making a spectacular run in the Rose Bowl, the wrong way. Capra made no secret of it, he was at the Rose Bowl that year with Harry Cohn and saw Roy Rieggles playing for USC get turned around in eluding tacklers and made a spectacular run the wrong way and scored the margin of victory for Georgia Tech. The poor man never lived it down.

    In fact Graves decides the Marine Corps is the place for blessed anonymity and he gets involved with aviation under the tutelage of Jack Holt. But the two of them have a falling out over nurse Lila Lees. Later on they see action in Nicaragua where the USA was maintaining a presence in hunting down those original Sandinistas.

    The Marine aviators rescue a company of Marines in a Dienbienphu like situation with the Sandinistas. The battle scenes were very well staged.

    Flight is not a typical Frank Capra film because Frank Capra had not found his style and type of story. Still it's a well made action film for the time.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    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.
  • The plot is certainly familiar from many other movies, notably "Tell it to the Marines". The old timer versus the cheeky new recruit. And of course the girl that the sergeant wants is actually in love with the recruit, who feels rotten about it because the sergeant has been so nice to him. But the characters are interesting, particularly Jack Holt's,the camaraderie is nice to watch and there is plenty of action, flying scenes and battle scenes,fascinating shots of old time airplanes, all of which make this a fun movie to watch, which after all is the important thing in a movie of this type.Very pleasant entertainment in spite of the sound problems.
  • It's the big New Years Day football game and they bring on Lefty Phelps to stir everything up. He does so by running the wrong way and scoring a winning touchdown for the other team, which means that everywhere he goes everyone laughs at him. The first person he meets that doesn't (or rather does, but takes it back) is a marine corps flight instructor, Panama Williams, and so Lefty signs up for the marines. From then on, we get the same old marine story that we've seen many times before, with most of the same twists and very few differences. There's hope, there's failure, there's adventure, there's redemption, there's a love triangle. What there isn't is anything new.

    The last one of these I saw was The Flying Fleet, also from 1929, which is an obvious comparison as it isn't far off being exactly the same film. The chief difference is that The Flying Fleet was made with the sanction of the US Navy, making it a lot more authentic if a little more like a hiring commercial. It also provided a lot more planes and a lot more aviation sequences, which can hardly hurt a film like this. There was also a major star, Ramon Novarro, along with Anita Page as the love interest and a young man called Ralph Graves.

    In Flight we have Ralph Graves too, as the main character Lefty Phelps, and he co-wrote the story too. Given that The Flying Fleet came out in January and Flight in December, it would appear that Graves merely rewrote the script from the earlier film to make his own, the only real addition being the whole Wrong Way Corrigan bit. This was actually inspired by a college football player Roy Riegels, whose own famous wrong way run was in the 1929 Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, meaning that Graves wasn't even subtle enough to vary the details. Given that Corrigan's famous flight was in 1938, when he flew from New York to Ireland instead of Long Beach, maybe he took inspiration from this film! Certainly it would appear that his wrong way flight was deliberate, whatever he might have said officially.

    The most obvious thing about this film is that it would have made a much better silent film than a sound film, hardly something unusual in 1929 when the studios were getting used to the new technology. Both the leads had long careers in the silents (Holt was even one of the founders of the Academy), but those careers foundered in the sound era because neither of them were any good with their voices. They looked the part all right but sounded all wrong: not just their tones but their inflections and everything else. They would have sucked royally on radio and they couldn't survive long in sound film. Both of them would be back in planes again, and zeppelins too, for Capra's Dirigible in 1931, but that had a different plot at least and is far superior. I haven't yet caught Submarine, the first of the three films they all made together (Graves, Holt and Capra) but it would be interesting at least as it's a silent.

    Anyway Lefty fails miserably as a student pilot, but stays in the marines through Panama's influence and becomes his mechanic. They go off to Nicaragua to fight the rebels, and of course Elinor Murray, the girl they both love, finds her way there too as a nurse, meaning that the whole love triangle gets a chance to come to a head. No, this one is not particularly subtle in the slightest, and in fact gets embarrassingly unsubtle more than a few times. You could write the rest of the story yourself. If I hadn't seen The Flying Fleet, I'd have thought a lot more of this one, though a lot more still doesn't mean much in this instance.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Frank Capra co-wrote, co-produced, and directed Flight, a film about two guys (Ralph Graves and Jack Holt) in the military who of course are in love with the same nurse, played by Lila Lee. The film opens with a simulation of a headline event of the time, that of "Wrong Way" Roy Riegels running the wrong way with a football during the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1929. Lefty Phelps, played by Ralph Graves, is Riegels in the film, trying to get away from the public, return to anonymity, and regain his composure after the embarrassment. The film contains footage of the actual event. Enter Jack Holt as Sargeant "Panama" Williams, a military tough guy willing to teach the young Graves the ropes of flying. The two meet up with Lila Lee, a nurse, where they're both stationed and the limp romance takes over. The film is accompanied by another limp sub-plot about a Nicaraguan rebellion (also based on real life events prior to the film), but it really only serves as an excuse to get the three leads to what would be referred to as an exotic location for a 1929 audience. The real star of the film is the fantastic aerial footage reminiscent of Wings from two years before. The roles are all stereotypes today with Graves the new guy trying to prove himself to the tough leader (Holt) taking him under his wing and Lee, the nurse, threatening to come between them. It's all very predictable of course, fast-paced, and corny, but it's old-fashioned entertainment. Sometimes there's nothing better. **1/2 of 4 stars.
  • st-shot25 May 2009
    Frank Capra takes to the air in this rip off of William Wellman's silent Wings (27) but it never gets off the ground. Capra seems ill equipped to deal with aviation the way WW 1 pilot Wellman is and it shows early on.

    Footballer Lefty Phelps makes headlines when he runs the wrong way (ala Roy "Wrong Way" Rigel's Rose Bowl gaffe) in the big game. Shamed beyond belief he joins the Marines after meeting the admirable Panama Williams who offers sympathy and advice. Phelps ends up training to be a pilot under Williams command but he washes out. He stays on in a non-pilot capacity and begins to romance Panama's desire Nurse Murray. Friction ensues between the two but there's a rebellion to fight in Central America and this enables Lefty to redeem himself.

    Flight is at a disadvantage from the start due to progress-sound. 29 was a transitional year in sound and it hampers the action and performances. Because cameras were so noisy they had to be sound proofed, restricting movement. Actors were untested in voice and nuance when it came to sound and Capra regular Ralph Graves as Lefty sulking and lumbering about comes up short in both. Tim Holt's father fares far better and Lilla Lee sporting eye lashes as wide as the wings on Von Richthofen's Fokker is more Boop than Bara.

    Capra's mise en scene and editing are pedestrian with actors poorly posed (once again to accommodate the microphone) and reacting foolishly to off screen action. There are some decent air acrobatics and a striking approach shot to an enemy fortress but special effects are glaringly poor in spots and overall it remains inferior in every aspect to Wings and thus reaffirms that Silents are golden, especially when its accompanied by a rousing pipe organ score.
  • Flight (1929)

    ** (out of 4)

    Frank Capra directed this early talkie about two buddies (Jack Holt, Ralph Graves) in the Navy Air Corps who fall in love with the same woman (Lila Lee). This film runs nearly two hours and one of those hours are brilliant but it's spread across the entire running time. The flight and war sequences are simply brilliant with a lot of realistic action and some breathtaking footage of the planes in the air. Had Capra only shown that stuff then this could have been another masterpiece from the director but sadly we get a stupid love story to drag everything down. Jack Holt is brilliant in his role adding a lot of humor to the part but Graves, who co-wrote the story, doesn't fair as well. Lila Lee is cute in her part but she's certainly not the greatest actress out there.