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Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

Friday, February 17, 2012
8:55 p.m. The Dawn Patrol
Howard Hawks (U.S., 1930)

New Print!

The acknowledged master of aviation pictures, Hawks staged aerial combat scenes of such seeming authenticity that footage from this film still turns up in documentaries on the First World War. As in all his war films, in his first talkie Hawks demystifies the heroics of men in combat, stressing instead the moral conflicts inherent in positions of responsibility. Thus the British fliers played by Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are typical Hawksian heroes for whom professional duty must come before personal feelings. If the interior scenes, shot by a camera still confined to a soundproof booth, are somewhat static, the flight sequences soar—the roar of the plane engines could camouflage the camera’s noise, enabling a silent-era freedom of camera movement.

• Written by Hawks, Dan Totheroh, Seton I. Miller, from the story “The Flight Commander” by John Monk Saunders. Photographed by Ernest Haller. With Richard Barthelmess, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Neil Hamilton, William Janney. (95 mins, B&W, 35mm, Preserved by the Library of Congress, permission Warner Bros.)