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.
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