Set in 1915, during World War I, at a Royal Flying Corps base in northern France. The British are suffering heavy losses in air combat against the Germans, because their planes are defective and many of the pilots are too young and poorly trained. One of the ace pilots, Dick Courtney, even accuses squadron commander Major Brand of being a butcher. When Brand is recalled to headquarters, he appoints Courtney to take over. The new leader soon takes to drinking heavily in the face of his inability to do things differently. Courtney’s best friend is fellow pilot Douglas Scott. But when the new commander is forced to send Scott’s younger brother into the futile air war, his friendship with Scott threatens to sour completely … ‘What a rotten war.’ The air missions are shot in natural light, presenting the reality in an objective, unemotional way and motivating the ‘Hawks universe’ of camaraderie, professionalism, and stoicism. But the effect of the grim and gloomy reality of war on the souls of its participants is evident in the scenes in their cave-like barrack. Under the expressive angles of the roof beams, a claustrophobic sense of confinement prevails, but also at times a disconcertingly rustic coziness.
by Howard Hawks
with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Richard Barthelmess, Neil Hamilton