2 August 2011 | secondtake
Loy and Grant as daring pilots falling in love--doesn't get better than that!
Wings in the Dark (1935)
You have to remember what a total thrill it was to fly a single engine plane back in the early 1930s, and even to see airplanes buzzing about in the sky. Of course we still love small airplanes and bushpilots, what we see of them. And we have a fuzzy feeling for that specialty pilot who paints messages in the sky with smoke. The message that starts the movie in the deep blue? "Smoke Flips" including the dot on the I.
Some things have changed, indeed.
This movie has several amazing things going for it, and two of them have names: Myrna Loy and Cary Grant. Myrna is the pilot Sheila Mason who writes the opening cigarette ad overhead, and she's like a small town Amelia Earhart--charming, daring, and a woman in a man's world. Grant plays Ken Gordon, another pilot and an instrument pioneer. Gordon's current trick is to fly "blind" meaning by feel and by instruments, hence the title of the movie--at first. And he wants to fly to Paris. The movie was shot 7 years after Lindbergh's solo flight to Paris, and two years before Earhart's disappearance.
The director is little known James Flood, and he is helped a lot by both the beautiful actors (and their acting) and some really good photography under William Mellor, an unsung mainstay of Golden Age Hollywood. There are lots of strong close ups and good strong graphic designs, including some nice angled shots from high up, as well as some fast moving camera to follow the action. It's a an uncluttered affair, and this draws attention to the acting, which is good. Loy by this point was an established star (she had been in some 80 films by this point). Grant was newish (less than 20, all in three years), and as charming and cute as can be, but playing a more regular guy than usual--not playing "Cary Grant" quite yet.
The movie takes its dramatic turns when Mason (Loy) and Gordon (Grant) interact one on one. First there is a tragedy, then an opportunity. There are some seemingly necessary functional moments in the film, a process of getting through the crisis, but then the movie kicks in again. It's all pretty wild and exciting, actually, if not deep or original. It's got its formula underpinning, but it makes it all fast and emotionally moving, at least for a sucker like me. This is just after the Code kicked in and there is no suggestive or racy behavior, just the new clean romantic drama between two stars who are bound, we hope, to get together by the end.