CANAL ZONE is an interesting little slice of WWII history, released just three months after Pearl Harbor. As new Lockheed bombers arrive in the Canal Zone, Morris's "Hardtack Hamilton" trains new recruits how to safely fly the planes to their final destinations in the Pacific. There's constant pilot turnover, as roughly two-thirds of the men join the military once they make their deliveries to the war zone.
John Hubbard plays pilot Harley Ames, a playboy looking for some fun and adventure. Harley's pretty obnoxious, but he's a good enough pilot that Hardtack keeps him on, after making him spend some time doing low-level chores and mechanical work. Unfortunately Harley still has too big a head on his shoulders, making bonehead flying moves which have tragic repercussions. Eventually, though, Harley may have a chance at redemption.
Beyond favorite Chester Morris, the film's cast includes an actor who's recently become of interest, Forrest Tucker -- who looks impossibly young! The film also features character actor fave Louis Jean Heydt, who has a single scene, plus Lloyd Bridges, Larry Parks, Harriet Hilliard (Nelson), and Hugh Beaumont. I'd be hard-pressed not to have fun watching a movie with a cast like that!
I found it an entertaining 79 minutes, directed by Lew Landers, who almost always seems to turn out "B" movies I enjoy. There's quite a list of Landers movie reviews at the end of this post, and I encourage my readers to check out more of his work. Landers worked frequently with Chester Morris, and their aviation drama FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937) might my favorite of all the Landers films I've seen to date.
I haven't been able to find out where the CANAL ZONE air field scenes were filmed, but based on the mountain range in the background, I strongly suspect these scenes were filmed around Bishop, California, the same location used by John Ford for AIR MAIL (1932) a decade earlier.
CANAL ZONE is available on DVD from Sony Choice in an impressively sharp print. I rented it from ClassicFlix.
Films directed by Lew Landers which have previously been reviewed at this site: NIGHT WAITRESS (1936), WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), THEY WANTED TO MARRY (1937), THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), DANGER PATROL (1937), BORDER CAFE (1937), DOUBLE DANGER (1938), CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938), CONDEMNED WOMEN (1938), SKY GIANT (1938), SMASHING THE RACKETS (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), PACIFIC LINER (1939), CONSPIRACY (1939), STAND BY ALL NETWORKS (1942), ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942), AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943), THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947), DYNAMITE PASS (1950), DAVY CROCKETT, INDIAN SCOUT (1950), THE BIG GUSHER (1951), and MAN IN THE DARK (1952).