11 August 2012 | Doylenf
Noteworthy only for a couple of technical reasons...
First of all, this is no "Grand Hotel" in the skies, as MGM liked to tout it. Skimpy use of some members of the star cast has to be noted. Take Clark Gable, for instance, with barely a few lines of dialog and no character established except that he's a brave pilot daring to fly at night over the Andes to deliver mail. Even Robert Montgomery's character is only given an occasional "big" moment. And Helen Hayes as a fearful wife who pretends her husband will soon join her for dinner (until she faces the truth with hysteria), has only a cardboard character to play.
So as far as the cast is concerned, it's John and Lionel Barrymore who carry most of the scenes. John Barrymore is the harsh, quick-tempered man who assigns the flight crew and keeps everyone towing a tight line of discipline and Lionel Barrymore is one of his underlings whom he keeps reprimanding for constantly scratching himself ("You have an eczema problem!"). John is quite impressive in the role, obviously long before he started using cue cards for his lines.
But technically, the film has some interesting way ahead of the time values. The busy background score by Herbert Stothart is a surprise, considering that most films in 1933 barely used any soundtrack music at all unless a radio was playing. The heavy use of music here is astonishing. The cloudy and moonlit skies during the aerial photography scenes is also highly spectacular and gives realism to the many scenes of fliers over the Andes.
But the story is poorly paced and lacks the sort of tension that other such stories ("The Dawn Patrol," "Only Angels Have Wings") gave us over the years.
It makes an interesting curio of early aviation but dramatically it never quite makes the impact intended.