Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Captains of the Clouds (1942)

CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS is an interesting film about the efforts of the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. The film, set prior to the U.S. entry into the war, was released just two months after Pearl Harbor.

The movie starts out as a tale of brawling Canadian bush pilots, played by James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale, George Tobias, and Reginald Gardiner. Brenda Marshall is the woman who complicates Cagney and Morgan's lives.

Morgan eventually signs on with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the other men, who are too old to be accepted as fighter pilots, "audition" for positions as flight instructors, with varying degrees of success. The film comes to a climax when the men join a mix of RCAF and civilian pilots tasked with ferrying a fleet of bombers from Newfoundland to England.

The actors play their typical types of that era, with Cagney the brash rule bender, Morgan the responsible nice guy, and Hale and Tobias the goofy sidekicks. I especially enjoyed Gardiner's dry wit and reminisces about missing England. Marshall does a good job as a woman with inconstant affections who longs to leave the Canadian wilderness for the excitement of the big city.

The movie is 113 minutes, and the film's pace would have been improved if a few minutes had been shaved from the running time. That said, it's an enjoyable movie, distinguished by stunning Technicolor location photography. The film would be worth watching for the color scenery alone; Marshall is also lovely to watch in vivid Technicolor.

Sol Polito was nominated for the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography; it's a bit curious that he was the only photographer nominated for the film, as he shared a credit with Wilfred Cline. Polito lost to Leon Shamroy, who won for THE BLACK SWAN (1942).

The crew of aerial photographers included Winton C. Hoch, who would go on to win three Oscars.

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz. The supporting cast includes Reginald Denny, Paul Cavanagh, Louis Jean Heydt, Clem Bevans, J.M. Kerrigan, and J. Farrell MacDonald. A student pilot is played by Gig Young, then billed as Byron Barr.

This film is available on DVD in the James Cagney Signature Collection. The disc comes with a complete "Warner Night at the Movies" set of extras including a newsreel, short, and cartoons. The DVD can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

This film also had a release on VHS.

CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer on the TCM website. TCM will next show this film on August 14, 2012, which is James Cagney Day in the annual Summer Under the Stars Festival.

2022 Update: This film is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.  My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger DorianTB said...

Laura, I really enjoyed your review of CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS, especially since my husband was born in Canada (also, some of his kin fought in World War 2). Wow, what a cast and crew! I'll have to catch up with it!

9:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Dorian! My husband's dad was born in Canada and came to the U.S. when he fought in the U.S. Army in WWII.

Best wishes,

10:14 AM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

An ironic angle to this movie is that Cagney was actually terrified of air flight and always took car, train, or boat (for overseas) when travelling!

7:15 PM  

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