Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Without Orders (1936) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Before the aviation disaster films JULIE (1956), ZERO HOUR! (1957), or AIRPORT 1975 (1974) there was WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), newly available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

WITHOUT ORDERS is a highly entertaining RKO programmer in the "stewardess flies the plane" subgenre, with Sally Eilers as plucky flight hostess Kay Armstrong.

Kay has been learning to fly a private plane under the tutelage of pilot Wad Madison (Robert Armstrong), and he also has her practice giving him landing instructions when he lands a passenger plane. So when no-good pilot Len Kendrick (Vinton Hayworth) panics during a blizzard, disables the copilot (trusty Ward Bond), and jumps out of the plane with a parachute (!), it's up to Kay to bring the plane down safely. And it's almost out of gas...

Everything which comes previously in the film builds to that sequence. The romantic triangle between Kay, Wad, and Len isn't very believable -- Wad is too old for Kay and Len is too slimy -- but Hayworth at least is entertaining as a no-good villain, who smacks Kay's sister (Frances Sage) around enough that she ends up in the hospital with a skull fracture. It takes Kay a little longer to realize that Len is bad news.

Charley Grapewin plays Len's father, the owner of Amalgamated Airlines, and look for Alan Curtis (PHANTOM LADY) as a copilot. A little girl asking about a delayed flight is Helen Westcott, who would grow up to be the leading lady in films such as THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) and COW COUNTRY (1953).

The movie also gives viewers some good looks at Glendale Central Airport, which turned up in many films of the '30s. It's easily recognized by its curved arches. In recent years it has been bought and restored by Disney. I would love to take a tour!

WITHOUT ORDERS was directed by Lew Landers, who directed many enjoyable programmers. The year after this film was released he directed one of his best films, another aviation film titled FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), also available from the Warner Archive. I'm hoping that another Landers favorite, DOUBLE DANGER (1938), will have a release at some point.

WITHOUT ORDERS was filmed in black and white by J. Roy Hunt. It runs 64 fast-paced minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print. The soundtrack could have been a little stronger at times, but it gets the job done. There are no extras.

This one is a must for fans of airline disaster movies. For more on this film, please see my review from 2013.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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