Flight Angels (DVD Review)18 Jun, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Virginia Bruce, Dennis Morgan, Ralph Bellamy, Jane Wyman.
Here’s a sometimes romp-ish “on demand” DVD curio that’s new to me — and is, in fact, one of the few movies made at the time (1940) about early commercial aviation and, in particular, flight attendants. Remaining man-hungry even as they dis the entire male species with cutting wisecracks, these (corporately literal) American Airlines women-in-uniform occasionally enliven the Chicago stewardess’s lounge with roll-on-the-floor catfights that are all but out of the salon rowdiness in Destry Rides Again. And if 1970’s Airport is one of the rare movies to cast a baritone (Dean Martin) as a pilot, here’s one where a tenor (Dennis Morgan) gets the call.
The concept: Morgan and pilot pal Wayne Morris are laboring to develop a high-altitude plane in case the U.S. ends up getting involved in the ongoing war in China (kudos to the screenwriters’ crystal ball, if not always their sense of story structure). But to earn their money — and when not hop-scotching their way through “women-of-the-hub” in ways that anticipate 1965’s far raunchier Boeing Boeing — the two pilot their way through a ton of Warner Bros. fog that appears to be left over from Howard Hawks’ Ceiling Zero. The attendants, meanwhile, pass out bicarbonate of soda to dyspeptic passengers, field mundane questions from flying novices and even deliver one in-flight baby — the last probably not much fun when Morgan and Morris are forced, at exactly the same time, to make a stiff ascension avoiding some telephone wires. None of this is as much fun as a) the movie’s on-the-ground insult banter; b) the idea of Morgan being ordered to operate a stewardess classroom of nympho ditzes when his eyesight suddenly goes on the blink; or c) B-team special effects of air flight that are about one notch up from Plan 9 from Outer Space, which makes you wonder what American Airlines’ front-office suits thought of them.
To my surprise, top billing goes to short-lived Warner newbie Virginia Bruce, whose career at MGM had never been that much, though she had gotten the unlikely call to introduce Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in 1936’s Born to Dance (the same movie where James Stewart sings “Easy to Love”). Ralph Bellamy is on the ground (smoking a pipe, no less) — cheerleading landings through the fog and nursing another of his yens-for-naught over a femme co-star (this time, it’s Bruce). Fellow attendant Jane Wyman is cute with a fiery temper, which she uses on Morris. For his part, this is said to be the movie that inspired Morris to take up flying — a skill he later employed for real to shoot down seven Japanese planes in World War II before dying at 45 of a heart attack (1959) after his postwar weight ballooned up. The director is Lewis Seiler — who, other than 1943’s high-profile Guadalcanal Diary, never rated any major projects. Though you have to be a little affectionate toward a guy who grinned through two Perry Como-Carmen Miranda musicals at Fox; directed Ronald Reagan as baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander — and Frank Lovejoy as a nice-guy version of universally hated Rogers Hornsby — in The Winning Team; and then directed the 1955 camp fest Women’s Prison, which was full of usual suspects like Cleo Moore and Jan Sterling.