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I WAS BROWSING in Aeroplane (or Flying machine) Scrap Book Number 3 1911-1941 and read an ad for an early aviation flick, The Air Mail, 1925. This got me wondering when flight first entered the movie house. Here are some tidbits gleaned: a few unfamiliar movies, a few familiar names and even some unexpected encounters.
Die Flugmaschine der Brüder Orville und Wilbur Wright–Ihre Demonstration auf dem Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin was a 1909 German documentary following Orville Wright’s visit to this airfield in September 1909. Tempelhof was later to be famous for the Berlin Airlift, 1948–1949.
An Aerial Joyride was a 1916 example of special effects, part of the Runt and Plump series of comedy shorts. Runt buys an old flivver; Plump is his chauffeur. They take Runt’s girlfriend for a ride, which turns into a flight with the police in hot pursuit. Plump is played by Oliver “Babe” Hardy, a decade before he teams with Stan Laurel.
The Air Mail was a Paramount Pictures production, still silent in 1925. Its ad in the Aeroplane Scrap Book says, “Paramount believes the air mail is a theme of tense romance and of thrilling interest to lovers of better motion pictures…. Ask your theater manager when ‘The Air Mail’ will be shown.”
I didn’t recognize Warner Baxter, Billie Dove or Mary Brian in The Air Mail credits, but the fourth one, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., jogs my memory.
The 1927 Wings, another Paramount flick, is memorable in many ways. See its Wikipedia entry for all the Hollywood gossip.
This epic World War I tale was shot at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, with the help of some 300 pilots and planes of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Its aerial combat scenes set an extremely high standard for future aviation films. Thomas-Morse MB-3 biplanes masqueraded as Spads; Curtiss P-1 Hawks were painted in German livery.
At one point, adverse weather precluded shooting aerial combat scenes for 18 consecutive days. The filming took nine months; this, at a time when most Hollywood productions took less than a month.
Wings went on to win Best Picture at the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. It was the only fully silent film of its era to get Best Picture. Clara Bow was the female lead; Gary Cooper’s Cadet White launched his movie career. Hedda Hopper had an uncredited role.
The stars of Plane Crazy are familiar to all: Building on the Lindbergh craze following his 1927 New York-to-Paris flight, Mickey and Minnie Mouse made their debut in this cartoon directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks.
Plane Crazy was given a test screening as a silent flick on May 15, 1928, but failed to pick up a distributor. Later in 1928, Disney released Mickey’s first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, to great acclaim. A sound version of Plane Crazy followed in 1929, its soundtrack by Carl Stalling, later renowned for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
Mickey, Minnie, Walt and Carl continued to soar. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016