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Dawn Patrol -- Most "Modern" of WWI movie last night


rosebette
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I pried my eyes open last night to revisit Dawn Patrol, which I hadn't seen in years, and was surprised at the natural and realistic performances, some scenes, especially between Flynn and Niven, almost ad lib/spontaneous.  The lack of film score, except for the gramophone, gave the movie a more real quality, somewhat like All Quiet on the Western Front.  Whereas Sergeant York seemed so obviously message-y, a studio product, and The Fighting 69th was the "let's trot out the Warners' character actors and stars and have them play their usual roles," there was something truly genuine about Dawn Patrol.  

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I've always enjoyed these performances and would like to add to your comments the unusual relationship and performances between Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn. We get so used to seeing these two at odds with each other - these two (here) are quite surprising.. and refreshing. Especially the scenes where Basil has returned to meet with Errol in his office, personally bringing him his next mission orders which will send David Niven on his solo mission. A great film.

 

I tried to stay awake for Wings but fell off.. One of these days, I'm going to see Wings from beginning to end.. one of these days.

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I've always been a big fan of the 1938 version of The Dawn Patrol, the principle reason for that being the remarkable performances and chemistry of its cast, far superior to that in the 1930 original, in my opinion.

 

Flynn and Niven were friends off screen, of course, something so evident on screen, as well, from which the film tremendously benefits. As you stated, rosebette, the naturalness between the two actors, with a sense of spontaneity that distinguishes their scenes together, is quite extraordinary. This film, far more than any other that Flynn made in the '30s, shows what a strong actor he could be when cast in the right role. And as a goggled knight of the WWI skies, Flynn was perfectly cast.

 

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This was the only time that he would ever be directed by Edmund Goulding, a man who, among other accomplishments, would also be in charge of production some years later on Nightmare Alley, a film many feel has Ty Power's best work as an actor. I wish that Goulding and Flynn could have worked together again.

 

Basil Rathbone also makes the most of his scenes as Colonel Brand, the man accused of being a "butcher" for sending young kids in ancient crates into the skies. And let's not forget Donald Crisp, a character actor that I must admit is normally not one of my favourites. He has a wonderfully charming scene in which his character fantasizes, for a moment, about playing with a small dog.

 

"Come on, boy," Crisp says, his eyes filled with affection as he talks to his invisible dog, "Watch your muddy feet."

 

It's a moment of relief for him from the relentlessness of the deaths that surround them daily.

 

Rathbone is in the same room, his mind absorbed as he waits for the sounds of their planes returning from battle, when he suddenly notices Crisp's "conversation" with the dog.

 

"What're you doing?" he asks him, at first puzzled.

 

For a second or two Crisp, still smiling with his imaginary dog, tries to explain to Rathbone.

 

"The dog," he says, pointing to his invisible companion.

 

"Dog?" Rathbone asks, "What dog?"

 

Crisp stops trying to explain. He realizes he must appear silly, the fantasy dog disappears and it's back to awaiting the airships' return.

 

A brief smile then starts to form on Rathbone's face. Suddenly he understands.

 

It's a small but lovely little moment in a film filled with fine moments, one that helps to make this WWI actioner one of the most memorable of its kind, in my opinion.

 

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Crisp, lost for a moment, in the world of an imaginary little friend

 

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Rathbone and Flynn shooting Dawn Patrol. That's Edmund Goulding in the foreground watching them.

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I tried to stay awake for Wings but fell off.. One of these days, I'm going to see Wings from beginning to end.. one of these days.

 

WINGS is a really good movie. Don't believe the negative Leonard Maltin review included on the movie's TCM entry.

It's a simple story that is very compelling. (Again don't believe the Maltin review)

The restored print that aired on TCM previously looks great.

The restoration process was discussed during that airing.

I presume that this was the same print that aired last night.

 

Supposedly Buddy Rogers was really drunk in the scene where his character is intoxicated (the scene with the bubbles).

According to Rogers, director William Wellman gave him champagne on the pretense to "relax" him but actually got him drunk to make the Folies Bergère scene more realistic. Rogers said that he had never drank alcohol prior to then.

 

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The scene between Rathbone and Crisp is one of my favorites.  The thing I notice about the scene is that Rathbone is so lost in his pain and is essentially "brought round" to sanity by Crisp, something that happens throughout the film with Crisp and Rathbone, whose character is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Crisp is a wonderful caretaker of Rathbone's character and of the other men in the unit.  Without cheapening the film by calling it a "bromance," I do find it a moving vehicle that exhibits overall how the men in a military situation care for each other.  There is another scene where Rathbone's character goes to Flynn's in the bar after the loss of Scottie (Niven); it's a brief scene of few words, but beautifully played, where the viewer can really sense these two actors listening to each other.  In  my opinion, Dawn Patrol contains Rathbone's best performance as an actor, yet his Academy Award nominations were for the "classic" Romeo and Juliet, in which he plays a hothead with a sword (oh gee, isn't that a stretch) or the very hammy King Louis of If I Were King.  If you've read Rathbone's autobiography or read any of the interviews or letters regarding his WWI experience, you might wonder about whether he drew on his own feelings and experiences from the war for his performance as Major Brand, which is probably his most authentic.

 

Yes, it would be wonderful if Goulding and Flynn had been teamed again.  Flynn's performance in Dawn Patrol is among his best.  The reaction shots of his emotions at Scottie's death, Scottie's return, and his later turmoil as he takes over as commander of the unit reveal his talent as an actor.  If he had had more parts like that, perhaps he wouldn't have been pigeonholed as "just" an action hero.

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Without cheapening the film by calling it a "bromance," I do find it a moving vehicle that exhibits overall how the men in a military situation care for each other.

 

 

You're right. One of the key distinguishing aspects of The Dawn Patrol, aside from the loss of life in war, is the importance that the film places upon the relationships of its characters, and how the war impacts them: Flynn & Niven, Flynn & Rathbone, Rathbone & Crisp.

 

At the end the film deals with one man making the ultimate sacrifice that he can for a friend.

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I watched this movie a few months ago when I borrowed it at the library. Like everyone else stated it was Errol Flynn and David Niven's relationship that made the film. It was nice to see Errol and Basil in a different type of relationship where the two didn't end up in a duel. The end was sad but absolutely appropriate for the film and should not have ended any differently.

 

I just got the Errol Flynn Signature Collection vol 2 for my birthday that contains this film. I'm happy to say that I have my own copy. Truly one of the best among Flynn's many hits.

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Was it only me, or did anyone else here maybe think that this film and how its central theme of, "Commanding Officer must carry and to the best of his abilities conceal the personal emotion wounds of ordering men into battle to die", might have influenced the scriptwriters of both WWII-themed films, "Command Decision" and "Twelve O'Clock High"?

 

(...well, I saw some similarities anyway)

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I think the comparison to Twelve O'Clock High is a good one.  The difference in Dawn Patrol is that the viewer sees the system of command as serially destructive to each of the men who take it on, and except for the Rathbone character, who is clearly on the edge of a breakdown, these men cope with self-medicating with alcohol and internalize a good deal of their emotional conflict.  I still prefer Dawn Patrol to Twelve O'Clock High.  I think the ensemble work in Dawn Patrol is phenomenal.  I've never been able to watch Command Decision all the way through -- don't know why.

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Dargo, you just referenced two of my favorite "war" films, and I would include THE BRIDGES AT TOKO RI  (Fredric March sending William Holden on a dangerous mission) as well. War is always hell, although  one can debate just how necessary the war or the individual actions are.  The commanding officer  has to weigh the cost vs the benefit of the mission. Assuming the CO is at all human, he still feels the pain of the loss he knows is coming even if the mission is  worth pursuing.

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It has always seemed odd to me that a dozen or so guys on each side in the war, take off every morning and fly toward each other, then try to shoot each other out of the sky. And everyone on both sides is upset because their buddies are killed.

 

Going up each day takes no territory. It has nothing to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. All it does is kill the pilots.

 

Why not call the other side on some kind of telephone and say, "Hey, let's agree not to go up today? Let's take a day off. Or a week. Or a month??" :)

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 I've never been able to watch Command Decision all the way through -- don't know why.

 

Hmmmm...interesting rosebette. I wonder if perhaps the lack of "action" sequences in this one might be the cause of that? As "Command Decision" IS pretty much a "boardroom drama".

 

(...just venturing a guess here, that's all)

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Dargo, you just referenced two of my favorite "war" films, and I would include THE BRIDGES AT TOKO RI  (Fredric March sending William Holden on a dangerous mission) as well. War is always hell, although  one can debate just how necessary the war or the individual actions are.  The commanding officer  has to weigh the cost vs the benefit of the mission. Assuming the CO is at all human, he still feels the pain of the loss he knows is coming even if the mission is  worth pursuing.

 

Good additional thought here, Mr.R. Yes, I suppose TBATR might also fit into these basic story lines...well, except as I recall the story in that one primarily focuses upon Bill Holden and his doing the fighting(and dying), and a little less so on Fredric March's role in doing the ordering of such.

 

(...though March's final 'soliloquy' in this one that begins "Where do we get such men?", has always been one of my favorite final lines in any movie too...a war movie or not)

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It has always seemed odd to me that a dozen or so guys on each side in the war, take off every morning and fly toward each other, then try to shoot each other out of the sky. And everyone on both sides is upset because their buddies are killed.

 

Going up each day takes no territory. It has nothing to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. All it does is kill the pilots.

 

Why not call the other side on some kind of telephone and say, "Hey, let's agree not to go up today? Let's take a day off. Or a week. Or a month??" :)

Fred, at the beginning of the war airplanes were used almost exclusively for scouting the enemy forces,  to observe the enemy positions and report back. Then individual pilots started carrying their side arms in case they crossed paths with enemy planes and could shoot at the enemy pilot. Then the plane itself was  being equipped with weapons, guns and bombs, and the airplane became a direct participant in the combat.  I believe most air missions were still  primarily  intended to be for reconnaissance or attacking enemy ground forces but each side would send up their own planes to counter the enemy airplanes. If one side could win the "air war" and dominate the skies that side would have a big edge in the overall war. That certainly would prove to be the case in future wars.

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It has always seemed odd to me that a dozen or so guys on each side in the war, take off every morning and fly toward each other, then try to shoot each other out of the sky. And everyone on both sides is upset because their buddies are killed.

 

Going up each day takes no territory. It has nothing to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. All it does is kill the pilots.

 

Why not call the other side on some kind of telephone and say, "Hey, let's agree not to go up today? Let's take a day off. Or a week. Or a month??" :)

 

LOL

 

Yeah! Ya know, actually not a bad idea at all! And then all get together at Frenchy's Cafe situated halfway between each enemy's lines, and sing a rousing chorus of "Lili Marlene" while downing the local brew!

 

Yep! I sure would've been up for somethin' like THAT instead if I were one o' those guys.

 

(...probably might've ruined my chances of ever gettin' one o' them there Frenchy Croix de Gere thingies, though...but like I care about THAT!!!) ;)

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Fred, at the beginning of the war airplanes were used almost exclusively for scouting the enemy forces,  to observe the enemy positions and report back. Then individual pilots started carrying their side arms in case they crossed paths with enemy planes and could shoot at the enemy pilot. Then the plane itself was  being equipped with weapons, guns and bombs, and the airplane became a direct participant in the combat.  I believe most air missions were still  primarily  intended to be for reconnaissance or attacking enemy ground forces but each side would send up their own planes to counter the enemy airplanes. If one side could win the "air war" and dominate the skies that side would have a big edge in the overall war. That certainly would prove to be the case in future wars.

 

Ok, I see that you are correct, and that answers my question.

 

Seems that the air battles were to disrupt the spying and scouting. But the air battles were more exciting than simple film of just scouting and spying, so I suppose that's why the movies concentrated on the air battles.

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In THE BRIDGES AT TOKO RI  Fredric  March is a secondary character and yet he is the one who is making the command decisions to send the men out and  attack the assigned targets.  March does have a closer than normal relationship  to Holden; Holden reminds March of his own dead son (killed in combat) and March also gets to meet and converse with Holden's wife.  On several occasions we see March's anguish over the hardships his men must face even when they survive the mission.  "Where do we get such men"  is one of the great last lines of any film.

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It has always seemed odd to me that a dozen or so guys on each side in the war, take off every morning and fly toward each other, then try to shoot each other out of the sky. And everyone on both sides is upset because their buddies are killed.

 

Going up each day takes no territory. It has nothing to do with the ultimate outcome of the war. All it does is kill the pilots.

 

Why not call the other side on some kind of telephone and say, "Hey, let's agree not to go up today? Let's take a day off. Or a week. Or a month??" :)

Obviously, Fred, by your sentiments, you agree with the following ruminations from Courtney (Errol Flynn) in Dawn Patrol.

 

Comparing war to a game at school, Courtney says, "That's just about what it is. A great big noisey rather stupid game that doesn't make any sense at all. None of us know what it's all about or why. Here we are going at it hammer and tongs and I bet you those fellows on the other side feel exactly the same way about it, the enemy.

 

Then one day I suppose it will all end as suddenly as it began and we'll go home. Till some other bunch of criminal idiots sitting around a large table shoves us into another war and we go at it again.

 

Then quoting his father, Courtney says, "He always used to say 'Man is a savage animal who periodically, to relieve his nervous tension, tries to destroy himself.'"

 

One of the problems that I have with The Dawn Patrol is that its screenplay tries to have it both ways. On the one hand, if offers the clear anti-war sentiments, as espoused in the dialogue above. On the other hand, the film also features scenes with Flynn and Niven playing dashing daredevils in the skies, whooping and hollering, acting much like schoolboys having an adolescent adventure.

 

The Dawn Patrol does end on a solemn note, clearly anti-war in its sentiment, the film released at a time when war clouds were gathering over Europe. But those images of Flynn and Niven laughing in the skies in the film's earlier action sequences (a reflection of the first 1930 Dawn Patrol, as well) do conflict for me with the film's final message.

 

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One of the problems that I have with The Dawn Patrol is that its screenplay tries to have it both ways. On the one hand, if offers the clear anti-war sentiments, as espoused in the dialogue above. On the other hand, the film also features scenes with Flynn and Niven playing dashing daredevils in the skies, whooping and hollering, acting much like schoolboys having an adolescent adventure.

 

The Dawn Patrol does end on a solemn note, clearly anti-war in its sentiment, the film released at a time when war clouds were gathering over Europe. But those images of Flynn and Niven laughing in the skies in the film's earlier action sequences (a reflection of the first 1930 Dawn Patrol, as well) do conflict for me with the film's final message.

 

 

However Tom, isn't this "conflicting message" common to all the better made War movies? Because, without this contrast don't you just end up with a simplistic Propaganda film?

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I saw the 1930 version of THE DAWN PATROL recently on TCM and that was clearly done with an anti war sentiment.  I don't see where the 1938 remake  deviated far from that. Most of us will prefer the 38' film because of the cast (what a great cast! ) but I enjoyed the earlier film a lot too. Much of the combat footage was reused from the earlier film.  The "schoolboy" antics of Flynn and Niven  is there to entertain the audience but I believe that accurately reflects the behavior of most of the pilots of the WW1 era. You had to be somewhat of a "crazy daredevil" to fly any airplane in those days and to go into combat in an airplane  that was a necessity if you had any chance of surviving.

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However Tom, isn't this "conflicting message" common to all the better made War movies? Because, without this contrast don't you just end up with a simplistic Propaganda film?

I think that The Dawn Patrol, while a film that I enjoy very much, can't be taken as seriously as other films that preach an anti-war message because of that conflict (unlike, say, an All Quiet or Paths of Glory).

 

Unlike those other two films, DP also tries to appeal to the strictly romantic image of WWI knights of the sky, ready to give the enemy a quick salute of the hand in respect after shooting him down. The film's anti-war message is a conflict for me since, as I stated earlier, the film tries to have it both ways.

 

Let's put it this way. It's still a fine damn entertainment. But trying to make an at times larky adventure with material that also claims to be anti-war dilutes the impact of the message.

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The "schoolboy" antics of Flynn and Niven  is there to entertain the audience but I believe that accurately reflects the behavior of most of the pilots of the WW1 era. You had to be somewhat of a "crazy daredevil" to fly any airplane in those days and to go into combat in an airplane  that was a necessity if you had any chance of surviving.

That's an interesting take that I hadn't considered, mrroberts.

 

It's interesting that what changes Flynn's attitude about the war is being placed in command, and therefore being responsible for sending others to their death. His carefree, reckless, (Flynn-like) adventures are over.

 

What changes Niven's character is seeing his kid brother arrive on the scene. His deep concern for a sibling removes all the previously crazy fun from the war for him. From that point on the film is entirely anti-war in its presentation.

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 The "schoolboy" antics of Flynn and Niven  is there to entertain the audience but I believe that accurately reflects the behavior of most of the pilots of the WW1 era. You had to be somewhat of a "crazy daredevil" to fly any airplane in those days and to go into combat in an airplane  that was a necessity if you had any chance of surviving.

 

I think you are a correct about this, but it is an affectation. In other words, it is a mental "defense mechanism" that helps keep someone from going crazy or deserting. They would really rather be back home, and playing any game of Sports would be better than all this shooting and killing. And of course, being alone for a night with one's girlfriend would even be better.

 

But they have no choice, so they pretend the flying and shooting is a lot of fun, like a big game, and they pretend they are brave. It is the only way they can survive mentally, plus, it does help them not be afraid, and that gives them an edge in a battle and can help them to win the battle.

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I still see The Dawn Patrol as anti-war, but as you say, Tom, with a "mixed message."  After all the Flynn and Niven characters do have a good deal of fun and are perceived heroically.  They also score several strategic successes against the enemy, for instance, the bombing of the munitions factory.  Unlike All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the main character dies futilely -- actually at the moment armistice is declared -- Flynn accomplishes his mission.  He is a hero and recognized a such, even by the enemy, who drops his helmet with that note in the end.  So, there is this ambivalent love-hate relationship with war.

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Hmmmm...interesting rosebette. I wonder if perhaps the lack of "action" sequences in this one might be the cause of that? As "Command Decision" IS pretty much a "boardroom drama".

 

(...just venturing a guess here, that's all)

I think whenever I saw "Command Decision" I saw it as a "boredom drama."  It just can't compare to Flynn and Niven drinking it up and matching each other for self-sacrifice.

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