This bizarre but absorbing film depicts WW I fighter pilots working in Hollywood as daredevil stunt pilots, under the orders of maniacal German director von Stroheim. Dix, McCrea, and Armstrong are the pilots he punishes by making them perform impossible death-kissing feats. Making matters
worse is von Stroheim's discovery that his wife, Astor, and Dix are in love. The pathological director decides he will murder Dix and spreads corrosive acid on the control wires of Dix's biplane, causing it to crash. It is not Dix who is killed but his pal Armstrong. Dix and friends take just
revenge on the killer von Stroheim. McCrea shoots him and then he is taken up in a stunt plane by Dix who dives with von Stroheim's body to earth in a fiery crash. Actually, von Stroheim was performing an adroit parody of himself in THE LOST SQUADRON. He is shown strutting about on sets, calling
his actors idiots, and, when Astor displeases him, twisting her wrists so forcefully that they almost appear to break off. His attire is strictly Saville Row and he wears white gloves everywhere. He rages about while stroking a horrid scar on his forehead, grabbing the many megaphones available to
him at every turn, all monogrammed with his name ("Mr. von Furst"), so he can bellow at his cowed actors. He laces every direction with sarcastic insults and, in one scene where he is displeased with the performances, he explodes, discarding his coat and throwing it to the ground, screaming like a
maniac. His Teutonic words run together so that he sounds like a rabid dog, which, of course, is a parody of himself when he was directing some of his classics (THE MERRY WIDOW, THE WEDDING MARCH, FOOLISH WIVES, BLIND HUSBANDS) during the silent era. The aerial stunts in THE LOST SQUADRON are
stupendous, with dogfights simulating WW I combat that look as real as anything achieved by Howard Hughes in HELL'S ANGELS or William Wellman in the silent classic WINGS. In his first production for RKO, David Selznick pulled out all the stops and produced a high quality, expensive-looking film.
When releasing the film, RKO hyped it mightily to the public, trying to encompass in its PR copy the many facets of the complex story. Wrote their office flaks: "Wingmen of the Hollywood skies courting death as they courted women--dangerously, glamorously! A wave of the hand and off they streaked!
Plunging, zooming, climbing, crashing that a madman below might create on film the supreme thrill to shock the world!" This was not the first and certainly not the last film to caricature the eccentric von Stroheim. In the silent era he was profiled as a manic foreign director, "Eric von Greed" in
MY NEIGHBOR'S WIFE, 1925, as "von Strogoff" in HIGH HAT, 1927, and in the talkie era as "Kolofski" in the Leslie Howard-Humphrey Bogart comedy, STAND-IN (1937), and in Red Skelton's spoof of Hollywood, MERTON OF THE MOVIES (1947) as "von Strutt." But it was in THE LOST SQUADRON that the priceless
scenes of von Stroheim satirizing von Stroheim appear (or maybe he was just playing himself for the fun of it), a film director who will do anything to achieve realism, even if it costs the lives of a horde of extras. Paul Sloane was originally scheduled to direct this film but he grew ill during
the production and was replaced by the competent Archainbaud. Many believed, however, that von Stroheim really directed the film, especially when realizing that it was typically overlong in the von Stroheim tradition and much had to be cut from it, bringing it down to 80 minutes for its initial
release. It was later cut to 72 minutes. There are some marvelous early talkie scenes of Hollywood, a crowd-packed premiere witnessed by the hobo fliers who arrive in Los Angeles looking for jobs after being on the bum for a decade, and the outdoor aerial stunts with von Stroheim directing his
cameramen below, shouting: "Listen you--be sure and keep them in the cameras. We might catch a nice crackup!" In another scene von Stroheim directs the leading man in one of his films by telling him how to fly his plane and to be sure that stunt pilot Armstrong "doesn't knock your head off" when
he swoops close with his plane. Adds von Stroheim: "There's one consolation--you'll never miss it!"
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- Review: This bizarre but absorbing film depicts WW I fighter pilots working in Hollywood as daredevil stunt pilots, under the orders of maniacal German director von Stroheim. Dix, McCrea, and Armstrong are the pilots he punishes by making them perform impossible d… (more)