The Dawn Patrol (1938)


The Dawn Patrol is a beautiful title for two very good movies Warner Bros. made eight years apart, in 1930 and 1938. Both tell the same World War I story (which won a 1930 Academy Award for John Monk Saunders), about a succession of flight commanders at a British air base in France. Each officer in turn has to keep sending pilots out on dangerous, often insane missions in flimsy, patched-up planes, then pray that even half get back alive. The job is soul-killing for the commandants and deadly for their comrades and friends. Make that former friends.

It's the later, Errol Flynn version of The Dawn Patrol that's won DVD release. The original is rarely shown because, despite direction by Howard Hawks, it suffers from the stiffness and some overly declamatory acting characteristic of the early talkie era. Perhaps more to the point, the remake's cast has greater marquee value: Flynn and David Niven as hotshots Courtney and Scott; Basil Rathbone as Major Brand, the tortured commander whom Flynn will be obliged to succeed; Donald Crisp, Melville Cooper, and Barry Fitzgerald as staff officers and noncoms. Edmund Goulding's direction is proficient, if also impersonal.

So the remake has the edge as smooth entertainment, though not the original's raw power (or Griffith veteran Richard Barthelmess's tender, anguished performance as Courtney). And the best parts of the 1938 version are the original film: all the aerial footage--bombings, crashes, breathtaking low-level flying, and wobbly takeoffs in the glow of early morning--is Hawks's. Ideally, Warner Video should have issued both films, and in one box. --Richard T. Jameson

Not Rated
103 Minutes

Special features

  • Warner Night at the Movies 1938: Vintage newsreel, musical shorts "The Prisoner of Swing" and "Romance Road," classic cartoon "What Price Porky?"
  • Trailer