Some films just don't age well. One such specimen is Clarence Brown's 1933 Night Flight. Despite the strong cast, David Churchill found himself entering a time warp in this Critics at Large review.
The premise is built somewhat like Grand Hotel, released the year before, except instead of being centred on unrelated characters in various hotel rooms, the focus is the cockpits of three separate bi-planes. Night Flight takes place in an era when it was considered dangerous, if not suicidal, to fly at night. In South America, an upstart airmail company – the Trans Andean-European Airmail Service – decides to push the odds and get the mail to its destination faster than any other means available at the time. John Barrymore plays the boss who insists on this endeavour. His number two, a kind and well-meaning Lionel Barrymore (yes, Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life playing a good guy!), is always trying to persuade him that this action is folly. But he insists. Three planes will fly at night. One from Santiago, Chile, over the Andes to Buenos-Aires; the second from the southern tip of Argentina to Buenos-Aires; and then once those two arrive, the third plane will collect their mail and fly it to Rio de Janeros. The mail bags contain more than just simple postcards. A vital package, containing vaccine to cure an unnamed infantile paralysis disease wreaking havoc on the children of Rio, is in the bag from Chile. There's also a ship waiting to take other mail to Europe.
In fact, if not for its pretty amazing cast – John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy and Helen Hays; the director Clarence Brown, who made several Garbo flicks in the silent era and the 1930s, plus the '40s family classics National Velvet (1944) and The Yearling (1946); not to mention, the author of the source material, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince) – this one probably would have stayed put.
|John & Lionel Barrymore|