Monday, August 6, 2012

China Clipper (1936) - Glory Days

China Clipper 1936 film poster
"China Clipper" (1936).

"China Clipper" (1936), directed by Ray Enright, is a fascinating film for a number of reasons. It has an early Humphrey Bogart, Pat O'Brien as the heavy, and an unnamed character who became famous worldwide a year after this film was released for reasons he would have preferred to have happened differently. We'll get to him below.


China clipper crew China Clipper 1936 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
The China Clipper was a beautiful plane!

Let's go back to those days of yore, when reporters cheered when told a plane had landed, when peoples of other nations appreciated US aid and rewarded Americans for it, and when Chinese waited anxiously at the shoreline for American progress to reach them (quite literally, here). That's "China Clipper," an excellent memento of days long gone that manages to preserve a slice of the buccaneering spirit that built the modern world.

Real China Clipper China Clipper 1936 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
The real China Clipper, flying over San Francisco.

The drama is pedestrian and holds no surprises - what, do you think that increasingly dictatorial airline boss Dave Logan (Pat O'Brien) will fail? - but still manages to hold some interest over seventy years later. Logan fights with everyone, alienating people left and right because they won't do exactly what he wants, but ultimately comes to the shattering realization that the world will continue with or without him. That is the film's real lesson, and it is a good one. Logan loses his wife (Beverly Roberts) along the way (she later cravenly crawls back because she is "lonely" in one of the film's least authentic touches), but the real romantic relationship in the film is between Logan and his company. Humphrey Bogart plays Logan's on-and-off employee who pilots Logan's planes through weather that even modern planes would likely avoid, managing to look stoic while still managing to throw a good right hook on occasion.

Marie Wilson China Clipper 1936 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Marie Wilson always livens things up in "China Clipper."

"China Clipper" is good history, even though it is "fiction" (ha! It actually hews closer to real facts than most film biographies). One fascinating detail is omitted because of when the film was made - in real life, only a year later, the navigator on the climactic flight to China piloted by Bogie disappeared in the South Pacific. That was one of many plane crashes during the period, and the navigator's loss at sea is sad in any event. However, this particular navigator's loss has led to a continuing mystery that endures to this day. Fred Noonan was that navigator, but he hadn't yet flown with Amelia Earhart and so was completely unknown and not referenced here. Having disappeared with Amelia while flying to Howland Island, Noonan's exact whereabouts today remain a topic of intense interest and investigation.

Crew China Clipper 1936 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Wait, which one is Fred Noonan? He was a member of the flight crew in the real "China Clipper" flight.

"China Clipper" is well worth viewing for the stunning aerial shots of various classic planes, brand new airports (then) and cities around the world that have since changed irrevocably. It's a nostalgic trip down memory lane, when American technical achievements brought the true gratitude of the world.



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