Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)

The early 30's were a good time for World War 1 flix: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and Journey's End (1930) showed that war was hell in the trenches, while Hell's Angels (1930), The Dawn Patrol (1930), and today's film take to the air to get their messages across. The latter type of films also had the added bonus of lacking the explicit gore and grungy claustrophobia of it's ground-based counterparts, making sure to intersperse the somber musings with thrilling areal dogfights.

This conflict of interest, to paint a despairing portrait of wartime, while at the same time providing entertainment, figures heavily into the plot of the unfortunately little-known The Eagle and the Hawk. Polo-playing Jerry Young (Fredric March) and working-man Henry Crocker (Cary Grant) are flyboys in France, whose missions consist of taking pictures of enemy areas, and attempting to evade enemy aircraft. While cynical Crocker remains grouchely somber about the whole affair, Young's naive idealism is unable to handle the brutality that surrounds him.

Though he is a talented flyer, he quickly losses a number of tailgunners in a short period of time. When Crocker becomes his newest replacement, the cleft-chins butt heads. But as Grant keeps his head, March slowly breaks from the strain of having his gunners drop like flies. who becomes something of a hero after flying numerous successful missions, slowly breaks from the strain

With a running time that's a little under 70 minutes, there is little time for padding, including romantic liaisons. A glitzy Carole Lombard, drowning in the fur collar of her coat, shows up for about 5 minutes as an understanding woman March meets on leave. She's okay, but it's March and Grant who are really stellar. While the mean-streaks and the hardheadedness of his character may put off some fans, his grudgingly growing mothering devotion to March reveal a more empathetic interior. Heck, I found him to have more chemistry with the leading man than with some of his leading ladies!

Decieteful VHS cover art: Lombard shares the box with Grant, and with no March in sight, makes it seem that there will be a love story involved (ala Wings or Hell's Angels)

March, on the other hand, has a more obviously showy role as the solider growing in depression and desperation. He manages, as usual, to pull it off with great panache, managing to contain his despair enough to function, but not enough to allow him to move onward from his feelings of guilt and inadequacy when it comes to the death of his men. Overtime, however, he is unable to even accomplish that, leading up to a confessional dinner scene that is a bit reminiscent of his drunken.

The strangely affecting bromance between the doomed hero that can barely keep himself together and the forgotten man who's too aware of that is just one of the many moving aspects of this film. The gorgeous cinematography, well-paced story, and great performances from the leads render this to be a near-great ant-war movie.

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