Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tonight's Movie: 13 Hours By Air (1936)

Before there was AIRPORT (1970) or even ZERO HOUR! (1957), there was 13 HOURS BY AIR (1936), a spiffy little airline melodrama starring favorites Fred MacMurray and Joan Bennett, and directed by Mitchell Leisen.

13 HOURS BY AIR depicts a fabulous long-gone world -- if it ever really existed -- of Streamline Moderne airports, passengers dressed to the nines for air travel, and personal service, including telegrams delivered to passengers mid-flight. And if the weather gets heavy, why, just set the plane down any old place, even in the middle of a field during a blizzard. (I was interested that icing on the wings didn't seem to be a problem with taking off the next morning...)

Bennett plays an heiress who simply must make it from New York to San Francisco on time, for mysterious reasons. MacMurray is a United Airlines pilot who rides as a passenger on the first few legs of the trip, as the plane lands to refuel in Chicago, Omaha, and Salt Lake City. MacMurray takes over as pilot for the final leg of the journey, and that's when things start getting exciting, what with an FBI agent and a hijacker on board.

Ruth Donnelly, one of my favorite character actresses, plays a stewardess on the first section of the flight. The passengers include Zasu Pitts, Brian Donlevy, Fred Keating, and Alan Baxter. John Howard is MacMurray's copilot, and Adrienne Marden is his fiancee, a stewardess. Benny Bartlett plays the world's most annoying brat, but there's a nice final payoff with his character. Look for Dean Jagger and Dennis O'Keefe (billed as Bud Flannagan) among the cast.

Donlevy and Baxter's facial reactions seem a bit exagerrated in close-ups, but on the other hand the movie did a good job fooling me as to their real identities.

In Charles Tranberg's fine biography of Fred MacMurray, director Leisen is quoted as saying "Actually it took at least fifteen hours to fly across the continent in those days, but I knew that sooner or later they would get the time down, so I decided to call it 13 HOURS BY AIR and get the jump on them."

The original New York Times review, which notes the time issue, makes fun reading. Among other things, it says, "There is no disputing the liveliness of the melodrama" and it's noted that the leads "carry the romance pleasantly."

Bennett and MacMurray have nice screen chemistry. The MacMurray biography also says that Joan Bennett liked working with Fred MacMurray so much she wanted him to costar in BIG BROWN EYES (1936), but director Raoul Walsh insisted on casting Cary Grant. Both films came out in April 1936. Two decades later MacMurray and Bennett appeared together in THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956), which recently came out on DVD.

13 HOURS BY AIR runs a fast-paced 77 minutes.

This was a very entertaining little movie which will be particularly appreciated by fans of the cast, the world of early airline travel, or great set design. Unfortunately this Paramount film is not available on VHS or DVD. Hopefully it will turn up on Turner Classic Movies one day in the future!


Blogger Terri said...

This one sounds like a good one! I'll look for it!

3:41 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I've never seen this one, but it's the kind of thing I love, a real snapshot of an era. Your blog has become a terrific resource to me for discovering unknown (to me, that is) films. Thanks.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad to know I've been able to point you in the direction of some "different" titles, Jacqueline! It's my pleasure to be able to spread the word about movies. I hope you and Terri can see it at some point! I think you'll love it from a history standpoint.

Best wishes,

9:45 AM  

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