Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wings of the Navy (1939)

Wings Of The Navy from Warner Bros.

Wings of the Navy (1939) shines a spotlight on U.S. naval aviation. This Warner Bros. film was directed by Lloyd Bacon and produced by Cosmopolitan Productions (a Hearst company). It stars George Brent as Cass Harrington. Cass and his younger brother Jerry (John Payne) have followed in their father's footsteps by pursuing careers in the Navy. Their rear admiral father, who recently passed away, has left them with the responsibility of carrying on the Harrington name in the Navy so that his legacy would continue. Pride, self-sacrifice and honor are all major themes in the story and the driving forces behind the actions of the various characters.

John Payne and George Brent in Wings of the Navy (1939)

Cass is an esteemed naval aviator with a reputation that has earned him respect and admiration among many of his colleagues. The younger Jerry is jealous of his older brother and seeks to surpass him. He abandoning his work with submarines and signs up to be a new naval aviation recruit, much to Cass' dismay.  Olivia de Havilland plays Irene Dale. With a father and a boyfriend (Cass) in the Navy, she's no stranger to the lifestyle. Jerry and Irene fall in love heightening Jerry's competitiveness towards his brother. What follows is a love triangle complicated by the dangers of aviation and the intricacies of a brotherly bond.

Olivia de Havilland and John Payne in Wings of the Navy (1939)

Providing some comic relief to this naval drama is Frank McHugh who plays Scat Allen. He's a farmer-turned-new-recruit who is blundering his way through the recruitment process. However, his character has the most personality and displays the most personal growth of all the characters. All of the other characterizations ultimately fall flat.

Frank McHugh in Wings of the Navy (1939)
The plot of Wings of the Navy (1939) is really secondary to the film's real purpose; to showcase the advancements in naval aviation and to entertain audiences with flying sequences both real and fake. Think of this film as a sandwich. You don't eat the sandwich for the bread, you eat it for the fillings. But without the bread it's not a sandwich. Without a plot Wings of the Navy wouldn't be a film. You need the plot to hold things together but really what you're after is the depiction of naval aviation.

As a story this film isn't very good. It's difficult not to compare Olivia de Havilland's very weak role as Irene Dale to her strong role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind which released the same year. Wings of the Navy was shot before Gone With the Wind but it's still a good example of how Warner Bros. didn't see de Havilland's true potential as an actress.

This film is worth watching especially if you are interested in military history. The planes and the aviation footage are the real stars of the movie. A New York Times review of the film reads:
"As a documentary study of the Pensacola Naval Air Training station, and its methods of turning raw recruits into seasoned pilots of combat and bombing planes, "Wings of the Navy" gets off the ground very nimbly, and has a good deal of value, interest and even excitement, of the purely mechanical sort, to offer to the curious."
Wings of the Navy was shot on location at the Pensacola and San Diego Naval Air Stations. The quality footage adds an authenticity to the film and gives it a lot of value as a historical piece.

The incredibly good looking cast of Wings of the Navy (1939). Olivia de Havilland, George Brent and John Payne.

Two of the characters head to Honolulu, Hawaii at the end of the film. I won't tell you which ones otherwise I'd spoil the ending. While Wings of the Navy is a WWII-era film, as of 1939 the United States was not yet involved with the war. However, in two years it would be when Japanese troops launched an attack on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu in 1941. After the film was over, I couldn't help wondering whether the two characters would have been victims or heroes of the Pearl Harbor attack or if they would have moved on to another base by then.

Wings of the Navy (1939) is available on DVD-MOD through Warner Archive . I usually feature Warner Archive movie reviews as part of my Warner Archive Wednesday feature. However, in honor of Veterans Day I'm posting this review early. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Wings of the Navy (1939) to review.

Wings of the Navy marquee on the Hemet Theater in Hemet, CA circa 1939. Source

Monday, November 10, 2014

Classic Film Indiegogo Campaigns

Do you love classic films? Consider putting your money where your mouth is and support an Indiegogo campaign. Here are a few classic film related campaigns looking for donors.

Do you know of a campaign I missed? Let me know in the comments section below.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday Norman Lloyd!

Happy Birthday to Norman Lloyd! He turns 100 today.

I had the pleasure of seeing Norman Lloyd at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. I shot a video of him in conversation with Leonard Maltin at the screening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). I'm sharing it here today in celebration of Lloyd's milestone birthday!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin

Hope: Entertainer of the Century
by Richard Zoglin
Simon & Schuster
Hardcover - ISBN: 9781439140277
576 pages
November 2014

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound (your independent bookstore)

"He was the most popular entertainer of the twentieth century; the only one who achieved success... in every major genre of mass entertainment in the modern era." - Richard Zoglin

Bob Hope's life was his work. If ever there was a man who was born to entertain it was him. The medium didn't matter. As long as there were funny jokes and an audience to laugh at them Bob Hope was happy.

"He transcended comedy; he was the nation's designated mood-lifter." - Richard Zoglin

Hope was born in England in 1903 but was considered an all-American entertainer. He went on to live for a century and much of his 100 years on earth was dedicated to his career. Hope started off in vaudeville at the time when that medium of entertainment was starting to die off. He had luck on his side and was successful in vaudeville even with the Depression rearing it's ugly head. Always being on the road and performing for live audiences gave him the early training for his long stretch of military tours later on. After vaudeville, Hope went on to Broadway, radio, movies and TV. He was a success in all three, especially TV. Nielsen ratings of his shows and specials broke records and his work hosting the Oscars set standards for future ceremonies. Hope was the father of stand-up comedy and the modern stand-up monologue.

"To survive the vaudeville grind you had to be resourceful, vigilant, watchful of money, always on the move. These were qualities Hope would never lose." - Richard Zoglin

During WWII, Bob Hope found his calling entertaining the troops. It became his mission to bring entertainment to American military troops around the world during times of war and peace. He worked tirelessly through WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. That last war would prove to be the most damaging to his career. The patriotism of WWII that drove him was notably absent during the Vietnam War with a nation protesting our involvement. (Hat tip to the author for mentioning America's invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. Bob Hope and Tuesday Weld went to the DR to perform for the troops. It's a little known piece of American and Caribbean history. My mother and her family lived through it and I was glad to see it at least get a mention somewhere).

"... no one else pursued his public-service mission so tirelessly or made it such an integral part of his image." - Richard Zoglin

Author Richard Zoglin is a journalist who writes for Time Magazine. He approaches this book very much as a journalist would and covers Hope's career in a very unbiased way. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. Altogether we see a complete portrait of Bob Hope, flaws and all.

Hope's biggest downfall was his longevity. Zoglin writes "Hope needed to keep performing because he couldn't stop believing that the audience needed him." Even when Hope was very old and frail he still wanted to work. And even when he was younger and in better health, he would still find himself working more than he should.

Did you know Bob Hope was loyal to NBC for over 50 years? It was a relationship that benefited both parties, Hope gave NBC great ratings and NBC in turn gave him many spotlights over the years.

This book truly is about Bob Hope's career more so than it is about a life of an entertainer. That's because you really can't separate Hope's career from his life. The two are inextricably intertwined. However, this means Hope as a person wasn't all that interesting. He didn't have a rich inner life and he had only one hobby: golf.

Zoglin does discuss Hope's relationship with his wife Dolores Hope. As you may have read elsewhere, it's revealed in the book that he and Dolores may not have been legally wed. This is despite the fact that Dolores Hope was very Catholic. Zoglin also reveals Hope's first very secret marriage to entertainer Louise Troxel which ended in divorce. There is some information about Hope's string of infidelities and a particularly lurid scene you will not be able to unread. No matter how hard you try! However, I wouldn't categorize this book as salacious. Dolores Hope is portrayed as the stabilizing influence in her husband's life. She sought affection from him but he was very distant. She couldn't conceive so they adopted several children. The Hope family always lived in the shadow of Hope's immense fame something that was more of a curse than a blessing.

So many entertainers are foolish with money. It's almost a cliche. Hope didn't drink, do drugs or gamble. He was frugal to a point and sometimes that meant he short-changed his employees. But overall, he made good investments in real estate, business ventures and in his production company Hope Enterprises.

The book is sprinkled with Hope's one-liners and dialogue from his skits and movies. We learn a lot about his comedy techniques (including some fascinating details about pacing), his staff of writers and his partnerships. Hope and Bing Crosby had chemistry on screen but off screen they weren't friends. Hope got a lot of flack for depending on cue cards and for not writing jokes himself. He always seemed to play the same character on screen what Zoglin refers to as "the wise-cracking, girl-chasing, blustering coward." However, no one can say Bob Hope didn't entertain. That he didn't make people laugh. Because he did and for a very long time.

Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin was a terrific read. It's a long one and there will be some trudging to do especially during the Vietnam War era which is covered extensively in the book. The 500+ pages are well-worth the effort. You'll learn a lot and will be glad you did.

And don't you think that cover is so striking? Bob Hope's profile and ski-slope nose was so iconic! I love this line from Bob Hope:

"It's not true my nose is the way it is as a result of having been broken in an accident. It came the way it is from the manufacturer."

Each chapter of the book represents a different phase of Bob Hope's life and career. The last one entitled "Legend" is particularly difficult to read because of Hope's decline. Grab a tissue because you'll get a good cry at the very end. Zoglin leaves you with a very touching account of Bob Hope entertaining troops during WWII. It's like a one-two punch that will leave you a bit emotional at the end.

Thank you so much to TCM and Simon & Schuster for sending me a galley of this book to read!


Related Posts with Thumbnails