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  • Not as bad as one has been led to believe. The strengths and weaknesses of this production are exactly those of the studio system. No expense or effort has been spared to make this film, yet it never really `sings'. The cast is one of the most spectacular rounded up for an 84 minute film. The photography has a black and white sheen, a luminosity, which must have been unspeakably spectacular in the original nitrate print projected on a silver screen. The sets, a rare non- Cedric Gibbons design at MGM (credited to Alexander Toluboff) are suitably jazzy. The first five minutes are a set-up for audience sympathy dealing with an emergency delivery of Polio serum. Corny but well done. The worst parts of the film are exactly where it cleaves closest to St. Expury's original. Characters stop and begin to expostulate with a touch of the Eugene O'Neill's. In this case poetry is better shown than expressed. One of the strangest phenomena of Night Flight is the fact that the legion of stars in the cast rarely, if ever, play a scene with one another. Helen Hayes is married to Clark Gable yet they never share the screen together.

    The film is strangely like a series of monologues or at best two shots. All of the characters and the drama are supposed to be tied together by John Barrymore, the hard driving managing director of the Trans Andean European AirMail. The original novel was based on St. Expury's experiences as a flyer, and later, a manager, with Aeropostale, the pioneering French Air Mail line later merged into Air France. Using Buenos Aries as a center, Aeropostale developed South American airoutes south to Patagonia, to the oil fields near Tierra del Fuego. The chief of station and one of Aeropostale's founders, Didier Daurat, (Riviere in the film) became legendary for his single minded drive to get the mail through, an early example of existential ethics. Another route was forged north across the River Plate and Uruguay to and through Paraguay to Bolivia and another, most spectacularly, across the Andes to Santiago, Chile.

    Heros were produced which electrified France and the world. Mermoz pioneered the Dakar - Natal route across the South Atlantic as well as the Buenos Aries to Natal route. Henri Guillaumet flew across the Andes 396 times. The Andes were too high to be overflown even by the latest improved models used by Aeropostale and pilots had to fly their way around and through the mountains rather than over them, something which is shown in the film. For enthusiasts of vintage aviation the film is priceless with maybe three quarters of the flying done for real. John Barrymore unfortunately has begun his decline by the time this film was made and does his `eyebrow' thing to excess, signalling that he was either unhappy with his role or his domestic arrangements or both. Gable, just beginning his reign as the King of Hollywood, is almost unrecognizable in his pilot's outfit. Robert Montgomery manages to have scenes with the most co-stars in the picture, except for maybe John Barrymore. Helen Hayes is effective as the wife as far as that goes. Myrna Loy has a role usually described as `thankless'. Produced by David Selznick, it never appeared on his extensive resume and now can be seen as a very atypical Selznick project, beyond the accumulation of the talent. Undoubtedly the literary inclined Selznick was attracted to the book's having won the prestigious Prix Femina in 1931, though he was more sympathetic to period pieces (Dickens, GWTW) then contemporary drama. Perhaps he had been thinking of his associate at RKO (King Kong) , Air Corps pilot and airline executive Merian C. Cooper. Clarence Brown, who directed Garbo, was one of MGM's most romantic directors, always setting an atmosphere where love either triumphed or ended tragically. One wonders what would have happened if a more consciously `machine age' director like William Wellman or Howard Hawks had shaped the material.

    The worst that might be said about NIGHT FLIGHT is to lament what might have been. Narrative techniques common today (and, ironically, during the silent era) would have rendered a more interesting film, though not one suitable for audiences of the time. In other words, a disappointment but not a terrible film by any means. The real curiosity is why it's never revived on Turner Classics which presumably owns both a print and the rights. I suspect that there may be a question as to the underlying rights to St. Expury's Vol de Nuit that might be responsible.
  • Night Flight which for so long was unseen due to copyright complications is finally out on DVD. It's considered an 'all star' picture, but in plain fact the brothers Barrymore do the heavy lifting in this film.

    The story is based on a novel written by Antoine St. Exupery and the plot is similar to what American aviator and writer Frank Wead wrote in Ceiling Zero. The location in Wead's play is strictly American whereas this film has a French aviation company located in South America.

    If you read what I wrote about Ceiling Zero it did not transfer well to the screen. But having not been a play on Broadway Night Flight did not have that burden to overcome. The air scenes are much better done here and filled with romance. There is also a paucity of dialog in those air scenes, it was almost like a return to the silent screen.

    Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery's roles for the big name stars they were at the time, are rather small. Gable barely speaks at all. Montgomery only has a couple of scenes, including one with Lionel Barrymore after a tough flight where they're partying. William Gargan has a bit more dialog with wife Myrna Loy. Helen Hayes is married to Gable, both women sit on pins and needles waiting for their men to come home.

    John Barrymore is the martinet general manager of the air company who I think goes overboard. I do not believe an American company would for one minute tolerate his methods. Brother Lionel with qualms is the man in charge with enforcing John's strict edicts. The film is mostly carried by the brothers.

    Night Flight wears better than Ceiling Zero, but not nearly as good as Only Angels Have Wings which has a similar location and plot. Night Flight goes overboard into the melodramatic, but still holds the interest. And the special effects with the air scenes are still breathtaking. The highlight of the film shows the tragedy that unfolds for one of the fliers and is done without words, but with a great music score by Herbert Stothart, MGM's house composer.

    Delivery of mail for those of us who use it in these days of the personal computer is taken for granted. Back in the days before advances in navigation and safety, before instrument flying, taking to the skies could be dangerous, but it was romantic in those days. An American pilot named Charles Lindbergh got his start flying in planes just like the ones seen here delivering mail. This review is dedicated to all those brave pioneers of aviation that you see depicted here in a story written by one of them.
  • Clarence Brown is the director of the 1933 film, "Night Flight," featuring an impressive cast, including John and Lionel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, and Robert Montgomery.

    The story concerns mail flights at night, an innovative thing at that time. Both the Barrymore men are quite robust here and delivered strong acting. John is the tough, hard-nosed head of the service, and Lionel (sans wheelchair which his arthritis would send him to later on) plays an assistant. I would have rather seen them together in something else, though they were both very good.

    In the beginning, we're shown a little boy in South America with infantile paralysis waiting for a serum that will be rushed to the doctor from Chile via the new night mail service.

    There's not a tremendous amount of dialogue in "Night Flight," but there is a lot of very powerful music by Herbert Stothart and some magnificent footage of planes going through the clouds. It's very atmospheric. What dialogue there is today seems very melodramatic but is handled well by John Barrymore and Helen Hayes. Hayes in the film is married to a pilot played by Clark Gable. Gable is very handsome with such a warm smile, and he shows his character's real love of flying. Montgomery plays a playboy pilot who likes a good time as well as flying.

    It's amazing how with a film so old, with those archaic planes, how one can get drawn into a story, yet somehow I did. I had a few problems - first of all, I couldn't figure out the countries and the different plane connections. It seemed like the service originated in France - I kind of had to let that go.

    During a storm, Gable sends down flares that ride on little parachutes - it was early days for special effects. These looked a little cartoonish but were interesting nonetheless as they floated down to the water.

    Some people don't care for Clarence Brown, but I think he was able to really set a mood in his films, this and The Rains Came being good examples.

    "Night Flight" is one reason why I love classic films. We've come so far in aviation; eighty-plus years ago, it was unheard of to fly at night. And when you look at the planes, it's a wonder they got off the ground day or night. Maybe it was my mood or the Stothart music, but it was something to think about.
  • jhkp22 September 2011
    Warning: Spoilers
    I remembered the title of this film, having read and re-read Bob Thomas's biography of David O. Selznick when I was a kid, and I was interested to see it, at last.

    Unlike other M-G-M all-star pictures such as China Seas, Dinner At Eight, or Grand Hotel, it's somewhat hard to become involved with the characters, here, and they aren't too involved with each other. In Night Flight they tend to be less fleshed out. Most of the parts are cast with stars, but they needn't have been. It really could have been the story of one man - the John Barrymore character - and an airline.

    Dinner At Eight (another Selznick production), beautifully directed by George Cukor, makes us care about all the characters played by the stars in the story. It doesn't even seem like an all-star film, just a wonderful comedy-drama with a perfect cast. Selznick's Night Flight, on the other hand, seems to be a film where a group of stars are stuck into a story to make it an all-star film. In some cases, they're even wasted (Myrna Loy).

    But I still found a lot to enjoy.

    Robert Montgomery made his presence felt strongly, as did the charming, naturalistic Helen Hayes (though here she is asked to make a pretty sudden dramatic transition which is slightly jarring). Clark Gable dominates the screen whenever he appears, almost unbalancing the film. He has such a strong presence that a supporting role in an all-star film seems wrong for him. One can easily picture him in the John Barrymore role. Though that would have deprived us of a great performance.

    John Barrymore was terrific as the hard-nosed manager, essentially playing his entire role in one room with a spectacular, light-up map of the continent of South America. It's Barrymore who holds the story together and he makes the somewhat clichéd character dynamic and, ultimately, sympathetic. It was interesting to see Barrymore and Hayes, two giants of the Broadway stage, in a rare scene together. As well as the Barrymore brothers in their final appearance together.

    I enjoyed the fatalistic tone of the picture, as well as the humanity of the characters in extraordinary situations. The stars were all good, as was William Gargan as another pilot, and Frank Conroy as the radio man on the ground.

    It's a beauty to look at, too.
  • ... but interesting and worthwhile just the same. MGM gives this story of early forays into night flight in South America the star treatment, but unfortunately we don't get to see most of these stars do what they do best - interact with one another. John Barrymore, as head of the night flight operation, spends most of his time robotically barking out orders or reproaches. Lionel Barrymore, as the inspector who gets no respect, is very good here, gets quite a bit of screen time, and winds up having a prolonged and interesting scene with Robert Montgomery who plays a young pilot displaying that devil-may-care attitude he was so good at in his early 30's films at MGM.

    Helen Hayes, whose most famous film role as Madelon Claudet is no doubt destined to be ignominiously dumped onto DVD-R via the Warner Archive, has lots of screen time here as the wife of a pilot (Jules - played by Clark Gable) who is waiting on her husband to return from his first night flight for a late night celebration supper. As his arrival is delayed more and more throughout the night, so grows her panic.

    The oddest thing here is the misuse - or should I say lack of use - of Clark Gable. Throughout the film he is stuck in a plane, mute and motionless. Except for a few log entries that he makes and some of his facial expressions we are really denied a performance here or for that matter, an idea of what is going through his mind.

    I'd say it's worthwhile just because it's such an odd departure from what MGM generally did in the 1930's plus it's been locked in the vaults for 75 years due to rights problems. It's interesting to see how Warner Home Video has taken almost a film school approach to what they put out on DVD in the last couple of years. Practically all of their documentaries on film history wind up on pressed DVD, but some pretty entertaining precodes, noirs, and even more modern films such as "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" wind up in the Warner Archive on DVD-R, a medium that doesn't usually have a life span greater than a couple of years.
  • If you don't like this film you just don't like or understand early 1930s films! This is big budget, state-of-the-art, film making in EVERY department. The aviation footage is stunning. Unfortunately some miniatures were required and are more obvious today than then. But even these are about the best for their time.

    What may seem conventional today, these elements were new in 1933. The use of silence - a ticking clock at a dramatic moment. A wonderful score, exceptional photography in the air and on the ground. The texture of rich background characters and extras. Exceptional editing! Death in the air is made so beautiful, romantic and horrifying all at the same time!

    It's easy to laugh, but these were the days pilots were ALLOWED to bring alcohol along in the cockpit! This was little understood risky and dangerous work. And not only shown from one perspective. Each character has his own.

    Reviews at the time noted all I've said and the public appreciated this and ate it up!

    So if you can rise above your modern day aesthetics, I think you'll discover and amazing 1930s film! You know, they ain't making them anymore!
  • Night Flight (1933)

    *** (out of 4)

    This MGM film features an all-star cast that includes John Barrymore, Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy and it's these stars that make the film worth viewing. The story centers on the true story of the Trans-Andean European Air Mail service, which broke grounds by doing the dangerous practice of running flights at night. The story centers on a demanding boss (J. Barrymore) who will stop at nothing to have his men in the air and this here leads to a pilot (Gable) getting caught out in a dangerous storm and not being able to land while his wife (Hayes) waits for his return. NIGHT FLIGHT was unavailable for viewing until recently when the rights were finally cleared and Warner was able to issue it on DVD. Many of the people who had gotten a chance to view the movie over the past several decades called it a major disappointment and this is true to a point but at the same time it's still a lot of fun seeing this great cast in one picture. I think the biggest problem is that the screenplay really isn't all that impressive and most of the drama never comes because the story never builds up any emotional connection to any of the people we meet. The Gable character is meant to be the backbone of the drama yet we never get to really meet him and we certainly never get to know him as all of his scenes are in the air and he's given very little dialogue. We view the wife as she worries about him but most of her dialogue is so poorly written that again you really get no connection. Another problem is that the story is all over the place in terms of what it's trying to do. On one hand it's a character drama but we don't get to know the characters. The next minute it's an aerial picture and this is where the movie really takes off but there's not nearly enough scenes of the men actually dealing with the dangers of flying at night. The best moment in the film happens early on when a pilot gets lost in some fog and ends up having to fly through some mountains to reach safety. There's plenty of drama in this short sequence and there's some minor drama at the end but not enough to really carry the picture. As I said, the main reason to watch NIGHT FLIGHT is for the all-star cast even though many of them are wasted. I found Hayes to be pretty bland in the picture and Montgomery really doesn't get much to work with either. Gable is good in his part but he really doesn't get much to do either except look brave while flying. John Barrymore chews up the scenery as only he can while brother Lionel has a few funny bits in his part. Still, it's fun getting to see the two of them act together. The rest of the stars never share any scenes together, which will come as a disappointment to many. NIGHT FLIGHT pretty much disappeared for seventy-years but thankfully it's gotten a wide release so more people can check it out but it's best not to expect a masterpiece.
  • The first time I watched this I remember admiring the craftsmanship of it while disliking the overall movie, mainly due to the big stars mostly not appearing together plus the somewhat downbeat tone of it all. I just rewatched it today and I have to say my opinion has greatly changed. It's beautifully photographed with exceptional aerial scenes. That's the highlight of the film for me. But the performances from the cast are also good. A lot of the negatives this film receives seem to come from disappointed fans of Gable and Montgomery, both of whom have supporting parts. I actually thought Gable's scenes were some of the best in the film, even if he rarely speaks. Montgomery is good, too, and gets one scene with an especially nice monologue. The Barrymores are great. Yes, most of John's dialogue is a series of speeches but that bothered me far less on the second viewing. There's something haunting about the film, particularly in the scenes with the pilots. Temper your expectations somewhat about the cast and try to enjoy the movie for what it is, not what you hoped it would be. I think if I had done that the first time I watched it, I would have enjoyed it as much as this time.
  • David_Brown11 August 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    I just watched this on TCM, and I am glad I did. Almost anything with John Barrymore at his peak is worth watching and this is no exception. Spoilers: The best scene in the film involved Auguste Pellerin (Robert Montgomery) flying thru the Andes and barely making it. I think the aviation sequence is outstanding. The worst things were Helen Hayes's Madame Fabian, she was cringe worthy, as was Robineau (Lionel Barrymore), always scratching himself, that was unneeded to say the least. Finally, there was not enough Clark Gable. With the exception of the scene with Montgomery, and a tiny bit by Myrna Loy as the wife of a Brazilian pilot (William Gargan), the whole film was Barrymore. Spoilers: Barrymore's Riviere was a character who was extremely tough because he had to be, and as he pointed out, "Lives Depend on it" (Which is true because one piece of mail that had to get through was a package that included medicine for a sick child in Rio). He also had to deal with owners who were reluctant to fly at night, because of a fear of failure. Riviere was very much like a football coach knowing what buttons to push (Like with Gargan who got through and delivered the needed package). Riviere was a person who knew what the future was and did the tough things necessary to do it. Interestingly enough, Gable, Loy & Lionel would be back in another aviation film called "Test Pilot" which is a much better film, and the obvious inspiration for "Top Gun". To a large extent, Lionel plays a version of Riviere in "Test Pilot" (Although he is MUCH better in that film, he cannot top John here). But "Night Flight" is John's film and he is the reason to watch.
  • This is quite possibly the least known and seen all-star cast film in film history. But deservedly so. At the time it was made, films about airplanes and pilots were all the rage. Unfortunately, the source material (the Saint-Exupery 1931 novel of the same title) has been closely adapted; a rare thing for Hollywood, but not a good one in this case. As in the novel, much is made of the sensual thrill of being up there in the clouds, so we get lots of awestruck words and reactions from the Barrymores, Gargan and Montgomery. It's all very dated now, with a simple story of flyers delivering mail across South America at top speed, through treacherous conditions, whipped onward by company boss John Barrymore. Barrymore is strong, as usual, but his older brother Lionel, as a foreman, is so hunched-over and drab that he brings the picture down in every scene he's in. And the disconnectedness of the characters is noticeably bad for a major studio film. Gable and Loy are husband and wife, but they never have a scene together. In fact, Gable is never seen outside of his airplane's cockpit! Montgomery's part is even smaller. A shocking waste of talent. The only element not in the novel but added to the film is actually the best thing in it: A sick child's need for medicine that only the speed of an aircraft can bring in time.
  • Other than a couple of tense flying sequences, it's pretty much a wasted 84 minutes of your life. John Barrymore has some fun chewing up the scenery, but the rest of the cast is wasted in clichéd melodrama. Lionel Barrymore scratches himself constantly in a vain attempt to give his character some defining quality. Helen Hayes plays a typical wire waiting for her man. Myrna Loy has basically one scene, playing the wife sending her man off. Clark Gable appears only in the cockpit and has about five lines, I think. Robert Montgomery probably has the most fleshed-out character, but in the end even he remains a cypher. Not all lost films are great...
  • Have you ever wondered who flies the mail from place to place? Or, how it actually gets to its destination? Did you ever think that the transport of mail would be the driving plot of a movie, and would actually be exciting? Well, this film answers all of your questions in a first-rate production with excellent actors. John Barrymore is the supervisor who pushes everyone to get it there quick, no matter the cost. But then there's fliers who risk their lives over treacherous mountains and through bad weather conditions. What makes this film and story different and compelling is that it shows us the first night flight. Fliers Robert Montgomery and Clark Gable are great in their roles, as the mail goes from place to place. And, the black and white cinematography was outstanding. The flying scenes were thrilling and at times were quite beautiful. It was amazing to me just how much I enjoyed this film. The viewer is completely there and involved, with the fliers as they risk life and limb. The cast also includes John Barrymore's brother Lionel, Helen Hayes, and Myrna Loy. And while they all shine, it's really John Barrymore's film. I would go so far to say it could be one of his best forgotten performances; his passion and conviction of his role were spot on and absolute. You really felt he was the character. The film may appear to be dated compared to today's technology, but the production and performances are so first rate that I would say this has to be one of the best of the forgotten films of the 1930s ever. It comes on TCM. Find it and watch Night Flight. That's an order straight from John Barrymore.
  • The final part of the prologue describes the basic plot: "This picture is based on an incident from the archives of South American aviation. It took place on the eve of fulfillment of that long-cherished dream by the pioneers - regular flight by night. The entire action takes place in twenty four hours…"

    In Rio de Janeiro, bedridden Buster Phelps may die because his hospital has run out of the serum needed to keep the little boy alive. The desperately needed medicine is to be flown in from a hospital in Santiago, Chile. The first leg of the trip is given to pilot Robert Montgomery (as Auguste Pellerin), who encounters dangerous flying conditions. Rookie pilot Clark Gable (as Jules Fabian) also treads dangerous airwaves, while wife Helen Hayes frets over dinner. Another wife, Myrna Loy, worries the last leg of the trip could kill husband William Gargan. On the ground, the mission is controlled by hard-nosed Trans-Andean Airlines director John Barrymore (as Riviere), who must also keep itchy airline inspector Lionel Barrymore (as Robineau) at bay...

    This star-studded offering from MGM, David O. Selznick and Clarence Brown must have disappointed many contemporary viewers. There are some exciting sequences, but narrative and characterizations are weak...

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote the original 1931 book, disliked this adaptation enough to prevent its distribution until Turner Classic Movies (TCM) obtained permission to screen "Night Flight" during their 2011 "TCM Classic Film Festival". It was also released on home video and had a world premiere showing on the TCM TV channel August 10, 2012. While not a great film, banishing "Night Flight" for this length of time was far too harsh.

    ****** Night Flight (10/6/33) Clarence Brown ~ John Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable
  • St. Exupery was a fantastic wordsmith in love with flying and it shows. Early flying was fraught with magnificent efforts and sacrifices, and not only did the pilots suffer; their friends, employers and most of all their families shared their danger. South America was a forbidding environment, but the boldest challenges drew the boldest people. Fantastic cast for a little known movie today.
  • I just saw Night Flight via Classic Films rental. I have lived, traveled and worked in South America for years and the writers, producers and directors certainly did their S. American homework. Veddy veddy well done..

    I noticed at beginning third of film. It was all very American English but then at least they made sequences and scenes with inserted actual S. American locations and people speaking Spanish.

    Did you know Antoine St Auxpery was one of those brave Mail Pilots and he lived in Buenas Aires Argentina. I once made a planetarium show of his Le Petit Prince. Wonderful social commentator and writer. Too bad he died in air battle in WWII...
  • Most people watching "Night Flight" today most likely take air travel for granted and don't realize just how dangerous and insane the airmail service was in the early days of aviation. And, in the case of this film, this means travel across the Andes Mountains--something hard to imagine in a tiny biplane with an open cockpit. And yet, some crazy people did it! The film is a standout simply because of its amazing cast. It's hard to imagine John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Helen Hayes and Myrna Loy all in the same movie, but here they are! Now this is impressive but is also a bit of a problem. Despite the film being in South America, almost no one in the film and none of the principle characters have a non-American accent! This isn't all that unusual for the time, but it is silly. What isn't silly is the plot. It's tense, non-sentimental and gripping throughout. And, it's well worth your time and an excellent tribute to these brave folks.

    It's not too surprising that this story was taken from a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry--the author of "The Little Prince". While "The Little Prince" seemingly has nothing to do with this film, it has a common thread--air travel, as there is a pilot who lands on the Prince's little planet. And, incidentally, the author was a pilot--and this would seem to explain his fascination with planes in these and other stories.

    By the way, in the film you hear the term 'infantile paralysis'. This was another term for polio if you were wondering.
  • One of Clarence Brown's least known films. It may have one of the starriest of all-star casts yet practically no-one has heard of it and it is hardly ever revived. The plot is paper thin while the banal script reads like a pamphlet on aviation and the likes of Robert Montgomery, Clark Gabel, Myrna Loy, Helen Hayes and Barrymores Lionel and John are simply required to go through the motions, (and not very well at that), but it's well photographed and Brown handles the flying scenes with brio, (on the ground, however, it's a very different matter). Of course, Howard Hawks was to cover similiar material to much greater effect several years later in "Only Angels Have Wings" so while this curio can't be totally written off it is certainly no-one's finest hour.
  • lugonian9 June 2019
    NIGHT FLIGHT (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933), directed by Clarence Brown, may have that "B" sounding movie title to it, but was actually another one of the studio's big all-star productions, following the pattern of GRAND HOTEL (1932) and DINNER AT EIGHT (1933), both featuring the Barrymore brothers, John and Lionel. John and Lionel also appear in NIGHT FLIGHT, with the able support of MGM's top performers of the day including Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy in their individual episodes for one solid 85 minute film. Taken from the 1931 novel by Abtoine de Saint-Exupery, there's no lavish scale MGM production, except for its simple story based on actual occurrence that takes place in a 24-hour time-frame around and outside the airport.

    Following a lengthy forward passage which tells that "This picture is based on an incident from the archives of South American aviation," the story opens in Rio De Janiero where a sign is placed on home doors reading "Infantile Paralysis, Keep Out." A worried mother (Helen Jerome-Eddy) comforts her desperately ill son (Buster Phelps) resting in bed, with the possibily her little boy will become another fatality. Doctor DeCosta (Irving Pichel), in need of a serum that will help save the boy, telephones to learn the nearest place to obtain it is from a hospital in Santiago, Chile. Desperately needing the serum to arrive by noon the next day, the hospital notifies the Trans-Andean European Air Mail to have the packaged and addressed serum flown directly to the City Hospital in Brazil. Because the airline having been in business for five years with prompt accuracy in arrivals and no known mishaps, its stern airline director, Riviere (John Barrymore) assures the serum will arrive on time without fail. Against the objections of Daudet (C. Henry Gordon), the company president, Riviere is determined to succeed, even if it means heavy fines for his pilots, with no excuses accepted. With dense fog where visibility is impossible, Robineau (Lionel Barrymore), airline inspector, finds Riviere to be driving his pilots to a blink of suicide assignments simply to fulfill his position as head man. The first pilot, August Pellerin (Robert Montgomery), a ladies man, leaves both his girlfriend (Dorothy Burgess) and Buenos Aires to deliver the serum to his connection at another airfield. Jules Fabian (Clark Gable), pilot of Plane No. 603, and his wireless operator, Guimet (Leslie Fenton) leave for their destination, flying through dangerous weather patterns of high winds through mountains and dense fog. Before long, they are lost, behind schedule and very low on fuel. Others involved in this high tense melodrama are Madame Simone (Helen Hayes), Fabian's wife, awaiting patiently for her husband's return so they can have dinner together at home; and a Brazilian pilot (William Gargan) who must take his night flight to deliver the serum before heading for Europe, leaving his wife (Myrna Loy) to await home during those long days he'a away, alone, worrying about his safety. The supporting players consist of Ralf Harolde (Pilot No. 5); Frank Conroy (The Radio Operator); and Maurice Black (The Nightclub Manager).

    Though not in the same league as some of the now classic all-star productions, NIGHT FLIGHT is an interesting enough presentation more for its star power than its airbourn story. John Barrymore gives a good account of a forceful cigarette smoking air director who never leaves his office. One scene has him firing a long-time employee (Harry Beresford) for one mistake, indicating that the official head must continue to show strength rather than weakness to his staff. Helen Hayes has a few dramatic motions while awaiting for her husband's return while Myrna Loy (coming 49 minutes into the story) has little to do with her few brief scenes opposite William Gargan. Clark Gable, billed third in the credits, in pilot's cap and goggles, does what he could with his role set mostly inside his airplane flying over the clouds and he making reports in his logbook. At least Robert Montgomery, who also has little to do, breaks away from piloting for a dining scene opposite the nervous body-scratching inspector (Lionel Barrymore) inside a cabaret.

    For decades, NIGHT FLIGHT had been unavailable for viewing after it was taken out of circulation around 1942. It appeared the movie may never be seen again. In 1981, the Regency Theater in New York City, listed NIGHT FLIGHT as among the movies to be shown during its tribute to the Barrymores (John, Lionel and Ethel). Eagerly awaiting to attend the screening of NIGHT FLIGHT, I was disappointed with its cancellation to have John Barrymore's classic comedy, TWENTIETH CENTURY (Columbia, 1934) shown in its place. It wouldn't be until 2011 when legal claims to NIGHT FLIGHT have finally been cleared and made available for viewing on DVD before NIGHT FLIGHT finally made its cable television premiere on Turner Classic Movies on August 10, 2012. Depending on mixed reviews by today's standards, NIGHT FLIGHT, heavily scored with some "film noir" fashion, remains a long-awaited star attraction aviation movie worth viewing. (***1/2)
  • boblipton1 May 2019
    There's a pomposity to this movie that might be laughable in lesser hands than Clarence Brown's. In his, it seems simply a misfire: John Barrymore standing alone is dramatic side-lighting, his back to the camera, the board of directors shadows to the right; Lionel a clerk trying to act big; Robert Montgomery as the cynical, poetical pilot with his evening clothes beneath his flying suit. They all fall prey to the fact that the Antoine de Sainte-Expury work this is based on tries to be abstract and poetical, exactly the opposite the strengths of movies, and that the writer could not write characters, only types, and everyone in this period was in awe of the man. He was a real aristocrat!

    It's a great cast and the issues it raises are real. Brown, despite some good work, was not the muscular sort of director that this movie calls for. Victor Fleming might have been able to handle it, or John Ford: cut down on Oliver Marsh's shadow-filled portraiture, have John Barrymore ease up on the tough, lecturing mode, or at least modulate it in some parts to show it's a front he's putting on for effect. It's odd that Brown didn't do that.
  • mmallon41 September 2018
    Night Flight is possibly the most forgotten all-star ensemble film ever made, thanks in no small part to the movie being withdrawn from public circulation for 69 years due to a copyright dispute. Although an all-star picture, Night Flight belongs to John Barrymore. The sight of him strutting and giving monologues in front of a giant map of South America is a magnificent sight to behold. He has the Warren William type role as a flight director for a Trans-Andean European airmail company in which he goes to extreme lengths to get the job complete while trying not to let empathy get mixed in. As a viewer I'm left to question are his actions justified or is he taking things too far? Considering the perils of early aviation should he even be sending men out at night and in such terrible conditions to deliver mail? However, he claims if they don't send planes out to fly at night then the train service will overtake them and make the outfit an unviable business. He will even go to unethical measures such as lying to a pilot that there was nothing wrong with his engine after he reported otherwise to remove any fear he had. As seen in the film Command Decision starring Clark Gable, running an outfit like this you will have to make decisions which will make you unpopular. - "Ask the impossible, demand it!"

    Viewers may be disappointed to find out Clark Gable has a mere four lines of dialogue in the entire film. Although this makes sense as the role doesn't lend itself to many speaking opportunities as he is confined to the cockpit of a two-person plane in which communication is best carried out by passing written notes to each other - As a result, Gable's scenes play out like a silent film. That said it wouldn't be fair to say Gable is put to waste as the movie does a good job at increasing the tension of these scenes throughout the course of the film as the plane runs out of gasoline and encounters terrible weather conditions.

    Robert Montgomery has the film's most interesting character arc. It's clearly evident that the guy is into prostitutes and during a particularly impressive sequence in which he comes close to death flying through a canyon in the Andes, he has to come to terms with this experience after landing. Thus he ends up favouring a friendly night with a very itchy Lionel Barrymore over booze and hookers. After he refuses to be called for duty on another flight his character disappears and we never find out what happens to him. Night Flight would also be one of Myrna Loy's earliest ventures into the role of the perfect wife, going from the exotic to another form of typecasting, but there is no denying nobody could do it better than her.

    Night Flight is full of picturesque luminosity in this rare non-Cedric Gibbons design at MGM. The film also stands out for its prevalent use of Star Wars style transitions and even one particular sequence which looks very much like the intro to the TV soap Dallas in this favourable and idealised representation of a much westernised South America in which there is little showcase of poverty.

    The structure in Night Flight is held together by a subplot in which a serum package that has to be delivered across the continent in order to save a child's life (the movie pulls no punches in the opening by showing a child's funeral). No one involved in the flying, however, is aware of this package yet it turns out this was by accident rather than design as the inclusion of the serum package subplot was an afterthought. Producer David O'Selznick thought the film didn't have enough tension and had these additional scenes inserted after the film was shot. However, I found this does succeed in holding the film together more. Likewise original cut of Night Flight ran at over two hours with the release version being 85 minutes - who knows what was left out?
  • "Night Flight" was made to highlight the introduction of night flying, a novelty about the time this was made. I had to cut this picture some slack because nowadays it's a museum piece, but it sports an all-star cast and is in earnest as it points out some of the pitfalls of flying at night. This is still the 'open cockpit' era and without radar, but early on in the picture they mention the introduction of lights on the runways, without which they couldn't attempt night flight.

    Best of the actors is Helen Hayes, followed by Robt. Montgomery and Clark Gable. The Barrymore brothers are on hand - I often feel like John Barrymore isn't trying but here he is adequate as the airport manager. There are several stories woven into the plot, the main thrust is about delivering badly needed serum to an Infantile Paralysis hospital in Rio de Janeiro (The picture takes place in South America).

    So I said, C'mon - give credit where credit is due. The picture is 85 years old, only runs 84 minutes and is interesting and absorbing, keeping in mind this is pretty old stuff. Hence, my rating. Think you'll like it in spite of itself.
  • The perils of flying over the Andes was surprisingly popular screen fare throughout the 1930s. MGM made "Night Flight," RKO turned out "Flight from Glory" and Columbia released "Only Angels Have Wings." Of the trio, "Night Flight" has the most stunning aerial photography; one long sequence is virtually a sky-high ballet. But despite its all star cast -- John Barrymore, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Robert Montgomery, Helen Hayes and Lionel Barrymore -- it comes up dramatically short. John Barrymore is terrific as the ruthless boss of an airmail service inaugurating its first risky night flights. But Brother Lionel has to rely on scratching a skin rash to give his role some substance. Montgomery is wasted as a playboy pilot. Hayes has continual hysterics. And as for Gable, he spends virtually the entire movie aloft wondering where the H he is and whether he'll be able to land before his gas tank runs dry. "Only Angels..." and "Flight From Glory" were better films and despite is comparatively low budget, "Glory" was probably the best with terrific performances by Van Heflin (then a relative newcomer)as an alcoholic pilot and Onslow Stevens as the airline's tough-as-nails boss.
  • "Night Flight" or if you will, "Flight By Night" is another of those all star blockbusters produced by MGM and featuring top notch production values and a cast of taken from their A list of stars.

    Directed by the legendary Clarence Brown (who directed many of Garbo's classics) the film features stunning aerial photography, plenty of tension and excitement and state of the art performances from its stars.

    John Barrymore plays Riviere, the no nonsense General Manager of Andean-European Air Mail who are beginning night flights in the early days of aviation in order to speed up delivery of the mail between South American Countries and Europe. A sub-plot features the attempt to fly life saving serum from Santiago, Chile to Rio De Janiero to save a child's life. Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable and William Gargan are the pilots flying from different parts of the continent in order to get the mail through on time to hook up with a ship bound for France.

    Helen Hayes and Myna Loy play the nervous wives of Gable and Gargan respectfully. Lionel Barrymore is Inspector Robineau second in command to Riviere in charge of the pilots.

    There is some great acting on the part of all of the principals. There is a touching scene between John Barrymore and Helen Hayes over the fate of her husband and also between the Barrymore brothers (in their last film together). Gable spends his entire role at the controls of his plane.

    Though seemingly a little dated, this rarely seen little gem carries an historical significance not only for its depiction of the early hazards of flying at night but also for the opportunity it affords for the viewer to experience the performances of some of the greatest stars in movie history together in one film.
  • 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.
  • rmax30482310 August 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    Aviators like Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote this novel, seem not to just like flying but to love it. The ranks of fliers seem to produce a disproportionate number of writers too, along with sailors and doctors. Some of that "loosing the surly bonds of earth" mysticism seeps through, chiefly in the character of Robert Montgomery's pilot, who has the same sort of unspoken affair with the sky that Chuck Yeager did in "The Right Stuff." I don't know what the novel was like but this adaptation by Oliver Garrett is pretty talky and slow. And confusing too.

    There are some scenes of flight with dramatic moonlit clouds heaped in mountains around a lone black biplane but not many. And, boy, does it need some.

    The characters are cardboard. The most important is John Barrymore who runs the airline and orders its pilots over dangerous routes and through storms and all other kinds of hell. He's the living embodiment of George Lakoff's "stern parent." You can't show any sympathy for these pilots. They're like children, always afraid, and you have to punish them for disobedience. He actually says something like that -- and he's proved right in the end. When two men are killed, he practically throws the grieving widow out of the office. "We can't have that here. It discourages the staff." Helen Hayes is the grieving widow. That's ALL she is, a grieving widow. Her husband is pilot Clark Gable whose airplane runs out of gas and is lost at sea. He's listed third in the cast, but only has about half a dozen lines, the first coming about 44 minutes into the movie.

    There's tension enough associated with Gable's attempt to find a landing place among the storms. And either the pre-code dialog is a little racy or I'm more perverted than my shrink tells me I am. Robert Montgomery is bundling himself into his bulky flight suit, preparatory to leaving on a perilous flight. His girl friend watches him and says, "I hate zippers. They're too fast." Montgomery replies, "I go slow." Saint-Exupery was a fine and imaginative writer, and this has a superior MGM cast and a lot of potential in its flying scenes. But it seems to go nowhere. Well, one instance of particular care might be mentioned. The Morse code we hear on the radio matches the message as it's being copied by the wireless operator. That's about it.
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