MGM selected the popular Saint-Exupery story for this film in hopes of creating another GRAND HOTEL or DINNER AT EIGHT, loading the cast with superstars, but it missed. Still, NIGHT FLIGHT is full of gritty excitement and offers some splendid though splintered performances by Hayes, Gable,
Loy, Montgomery, and the inimitable Barrymore brothers in their fifth and last film together. John Barrymore is the driving, rigid head of a South American airline who insists that the mail contracts be upheld at any cost, including the lives of his pilots. He demands that they fly through bad
weather and, especially, navigate their rickety crates at night over the dangerous Andes Mountains. Barrymore's ruthless disregard for the lives of his pilots earns him the hatred of all, but he bears up nobly in the pursuit of pioneering air mail. Gable, in his first film with Loy, is married to
Hayes; he proves one of the most courageous of the pilots, although he reports via radio on one dangerous mission that he has only thirty minutes of fuel left and then there is silence. It falls to John Barrymore to break the news of Gable's death to Hayes. The same fate befalls Gargan, Loy's
pilot husband, but John Barrymore's only response is to order up more pilots to risk their lives so letters will be delivered a few days earlier. Commiserating with the pilots is Lionel Barrymore, chief foreman, who is called on the carpet by John for fraternizing with the fliers. John Barrymore
carries the film, and Brown's direction is taut and often exciting, particularly the aerial sequences. The theme of this film would be used again with better effect in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, and there are overtones of THE DAWN PATROL here, especially in the John Barrymore role, where he is bound
by duty to send men to certain death. This was a "man's film," with Hayes and Loy used as cameo props for the love interest. Gable spent most of his time in a mock airplane cockpit, and he grew to distrust producer Selznick for typecasting him as a dispensable hero, a wary attitude that existed
even when Gable went to work on Selznick's masterpiece, GONE WITH THE WIND, five years later. The Barrymore brothers are outstanding and the inevitable happened again, with Lionel stealing his one big scene from brother John, even though director Brown bet $10 with John that Lionel couldn't do it.
In the scene, Lionel merely stands before John and takes a berating lecture, having no words. When the scene was shot, Lionel stood mute, his face twitching, eyes rolling, but the script had silenced even his notorious whine. He turned to go, but when he reached the door, he found a way to steal
the scene: with his back to the camera, he reached his hand behind him and scratched his bottom. Beamed John to Brown: "Now there, sir, is a brother to be proud of! Pay me the ten dollars!" The film had a deep interest for many of those involved in making it. Director Brown was a flier himself as
was Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie, who handled the special effects on the film (Gillespie was married to the famous aviatrix Ruth Elder). This was the first time an MGM film carried a producer's credit, that of Selznick, causing a rush of studio executives to have their names tacked on films they were
producing. Only the imperial Irving Thalberg refused to take credit for productions he was overseeing.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: MGM selected the popular Saint-Exupery story for this film in hopes of creating another GRAND HOTEL or DINNER AT EIGHT, loading the cast with superstars, but it missed. Still, NIGHT FLIGHT is full of gritty excitement and offers some splendid though splint… (more)