Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Central Airport (1933): A Warner Archive DVD Review

CENTRAL AIRPORT (1933), a pre-Code aviation film directed by William A. Wellman, is available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

I enjoyed this fast-paced 72-minute aviation film, which has a number of interesting facets.  

Richard Barthelmess plays Jim Blaine, a commercial pilot whose flying career goes sideways after a crash.

Out of a job, Jim goes to work for a bank but fate intervenes when he meets Jill (Sally Eilers), who does parachute drops for an aerial circus. Jim becomes Jill's pilot, and they soon embark on a hot affair with adjoining hotel rooms while they tour. There's no doubt this is a pre-Code film!

Jill eventually becomes disillusioned when she realizes Jim has no intention of putting a ring on her finger, and when Jim is out of commission in a hospital after stopping a runaway plane, Jill finds herself courted by another man -- Jim's younger brother, Neil (Tom Brown). Neil is also a pilot, but despite his youth he has a steadier character than Jim, and he's got marriage in mind.

To go further with the plot would give away the entire rest of this short film, but there's a great climactic crash sequence to go along with the love triangle, and the final fly-away by one of the characters reminded me for all the world of the end of CASABLANCA (1942).

I frankly have never found Barthelmess compelling, but Wellman manages to coax a reasonably moving performance out of him. Wellman's comfort with the aviation subject matter and the film's fast pace all work quite well here, along with a nice mix of action and emotion. In addition to the final crash sequence, the scene where Jim stops the out-of-control plane is quite exciting.

Sally Eilers, who would later play a heroic stewardess in WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), is quite good as the feisty Jill. I've always had a soft spot for Tom Brown, though it must be said the mustache used in an attempt to age his character -- Brown turned 20 just before the film's release -- is slightly ridiculous. Brown overcomes the mustache and being a little too young for the part to do a pretty good job pulling off the "nice brother" role.

The movie is filled with fun faces, starting with Charles Lane early on as an airport dispatcher trying to reach Jim's downed plane. James (Jimmy) Ellison also shows up in that sequence as a pilot anxious for news of the overdue plane. Favorite character actress Louise Beavers appears in a single scene as a hotel maid.

And look very closely at Neil's copilot during the crash sequence at the end of the movie -- it's John Wayne! Don't blink, because he's on screen extremely briefly.

Other familiar faces in the movie are Grant Mitchell, Fred "Snowflake" Toones, Sam McDaniel, J. Carrol Naish, Toby Wing, and Chris-Pin Martin.

Glendale Airport, which was a location in numerous '30s films, appears in this movie. It hasn't operated as an airport for years, but the terminal building seen in the film still exists and is now an aviation museum owned by Disney.

Alfred E. Green is said by IMDb to have done uncredited directing work on the film, which was written by Rian James and James Seymour, based on a story by Jack Moffitt. The movie was filmed by Sid Hickox.

The Warner Archive print, which was first made available manufactured on demand in 2010, isn't super sharp but I found it quite acceptable for a film of the era. Sound quality is fine. The disc includes a trailer.

Fans of pre-Codes, William Wellman movies, and/or aviation films will find CENTRAL AIRPORT to be a worthwhile and entertaining film.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive DVDs may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where DVDs are sold.


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