Friday, June 3, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen! Edition)

Video event of the week: Might Summit Entertainment's DVD of the latest Nicolas Cage piece of action crap Drive Angy by any chance be what we're talking about? Are HBO's respective disc version box sets of the vampire soap opera True Blood: The Complete Third season, conceivably in the sanguinary running? Or is it by any chance possible that Paramount's Blu-ray update of Sergio Leone's fabulous Once Upon a Time in the West is, in fact, The One?

All worthy (except for the Cage movie, obviously) but for my money it simply has to be Warner Home Video's release of MGM's unseen for decades and quite spectacular version of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic novel Night Flight, directed by Clarence Brown.

By unseen, we mean that it was pulled from circulation in 1943, although the reasons are unclear; presumably, some sort of copyright dispute with the publisher's of the book. In any case, the film -- the story of heroic aviators trying against desperate odds to deliver polio serum while the women they love bite their nails -- is a sort of action-adventure version of one of Metro's all-star parlor dramas a la Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight, which is to say that Clark Gable, John and Lionel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy try their damndest not to be upstaged by some extremely impressive aerial photography of rickety biplanes in the South American skies. As you might expect, it's something of a curio; Brown's direction is alternately ahead of its time (very impressive relentlessly moving camerawork) and old-fashioned (the actors mostly declaim as if they're in a Victorian melodrama), and the aforementioned quite breathtaking aerial photography is interrupted by a lot of surprisingly unconvincing process shots. Still, as vault exhumations go, this one is a doozy, and it's nice to have the picture available finally, especially in WHV's razor sharp transfer (the print itself is in mostly first-rate shape).

In any case, you can -- and I think it would be a good idea -- pre-order Night Flight over at Amazon here.

And with that out of the way, and because things are doubtless going to be a trifle quiet around here for a while, here's a fun and clearly relevant little project to help us wile away the hours:

Best or Worst Aviation-Themed Feature Film!!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is/are:

5. Millenium (Michael Anderson, 1989)

Former Charlie's Angels pin-up Cheryl Ladd stars as one of a group of cops from the far future who comes to our present to stage plane crashes in order to avert a holocaust that has rendered the human race genetically impotent in the 30th century. Or something. Not as bad as it sounds, actually, and who knew Ladd could act? Not so sure about frequently mistaken for a 2X4 co-star Kris Kristofferson, though.

4. Snakes on a Plane (David R. Ellis, 2006)

I'm sorry -- that's motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane. Motherfucker.

3. The Fighting Devil Dogs (William Witney and John English, 1938)

Vintage Republic serial nonsense, with a villain -- The Lightning -- who is pretty obviously the inspiration for Darth Vader, and whose villainy mostly takes place aboard his fabulous Flying Wing, a giant futuristic aircraft-carrier-in-the-sky recycled with great glee from an earlier (less amusing) Dick Tracy serial.

2. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

Great flying scenes, an amazing cast including Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, and typically snappy Howard Hawks-ian dialogue and action, and yet Angels has always left me cold. I mean, I like Hawks as much as the next auteurist, but in this case all that macho romantic fatalism and bravado seems kind of creepy. IMHO.

And the Numero Uno "up, up and away!" epic of them all simply has to be...

1. Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1933)

For obvious reasons (NOT Fred and Ginger). And also for one immortal line, when a WASP-ish socialite, upset that star Delores del Rio seems to be getting all the guys, asks "What do Latin girls have south of the border that we don't?"

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?