Okay, okay, I know it’s the end of the month and here I am just now declaring the Movie of the Month for September. In my defense, I just moved and my office has turned out to be the last room to get unpacked. I always rewatch the Movie of the Month and reread the passages about it in some of the books I have. So I had to wait until I found my DVDs and books! I actually had another film in mind for this month but I can’t find the DVD at the moment, so Night Flight it is.
Night Flight is a true ensemble piece, boosting an impressive lineup of Hollywood royalty: Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Robert Montgomery, Lionel and John Barrymore. Clark Gable is hardly the star of this one, as he does not appear until a good twenty minutes into the film. It is a tale of 24 dramatic hours in the Air Mail industry, where pilots risk their lives every day flying through the pitch black night with limited instruments and no lights guiding the way. This time, it’s a vaccine needed at a children’s hospital in South America. Gable is Jules, a pilot who has lost his way somewhere over Texas, while his wife (Hayes) waits at home for him and grows more and more frantic.
Ok, so it is definitely worth pointing out that not only does Clark not appear until 20 minutes into the film, but all his scenes are limited to the cockpit of a plane. He has no scenes with Helen, his onscreen love interest. The reason for this was probably that his first film with Helen, The White Sister, had failed miserably at the box office–much blame given to the utterly awkward chemistry between Clark and Helen.
The extent of romance between Clark and Helen: her gazing at his portrait
Night Flight is clunky to me; it relies to heavily on the star power of its roster rather than actual plot. It is also very dated, as modern audiences hardly understand the peril of pilots flying through darkness.
The film paired Clark with renowned producer David O’ Selznick, whom he would later memorably work with on Gone with the Wind. David was all about doing things big and bold and his last ensemble piece, the classic Dinner at Eight, was a big hit. Night Flight did not perform as expected, however. Despite earning a decent profit of $175,000, MGM was disappointed with the returns, expecting more from a film that demanded so many of its big name stars. After the flop of this film and the disastrous production of their next joint effort–Dancing Lady, Clark’s distrust of Selznick grew and simmered on the back burner for years…undoubtedly one of the factors in him not wanting to play Rhett Butler under Selznick’s guiding hand.
Since Clark is in a cockpit the whole time, the best scenes are given to the Barrymores. I also like Myrna and Robert’s small scenes. Clark’s name on this one is really for window dressing–the part could have been handled by a much smaller player. I suppose though they needed his name to round out their “all star roster.”
All in all, not a film for the Gable fan seeking out its finest. Night Flight was the last film in his resume that I saw; at the time it was very difficult to find. Talk about ending my quest on a disappointment!
Night Flight is available on DVD through the Warner Brothers Archive Collection
You can see about 20 pictures from the film in the gallery and read more about it here.