Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

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The Dawn Patrol

The BFI is having a Howard Hawks season, much to my joy.

On Friday I saw The Big Sleep. I've seen it before and obviously I love it. Humphrey Bogart plays Philip Marlowe in a Howard Hawks movie - what is not to like?

Last night I saw The Dawn Patrol, whose theme was obviously dear to my heart.

The film is so full of war movie tropes that it would make a fun drinking game.

Here are the eager, doomed kids fresh from flying school, the bitter, hard-drinking commanding officer, and a selection of cheery Cockney ground crew. See them agonise about the pointlessness of war then go out after German blood to avenge a fallen comrade. Like Tom Wolfe's test pilots decades later, life for them is all about Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving.

The captured German pilot (played by Hawks!) is a sympathetic, if comic, character, but 'Von Richter' and the other 'Heinies' seen in the air are malevolent, grinning caricatures, some of whom appear to be wearing lipstick (unlike the wholesomely grubby British fliers).

But these things become tropes because they're great, and in this early occurrence they're all fresh and vibrant. Some of the airborne stunts and crashes genuinely made me gasp, too.

This was Howard Hawks's first talkie and was groundbreaking in its use of understated, realistic dialogue rather than melodramatic hamming (thanks, BFI factsheet!).

One point of interest: there's graffiti scrawled on the walls of the mess, including the letters 'NO SPLIT-AR', with the rest of the words obscured by shadow. If you're familiar with Royal Flying Corps terminology, you'll recognise the phrase as 'No split-arsing' (slang for a Split-S turn).

Mentioning arses on film, however obliquely, is surely quite daring for 1930?

I recognised the plot, although I was sure I hadn't seen the film before. Thanks to the handy factsheet, I know that I had in fact seen the 1938 remake.

My enjoyment was slightly spoiled by some people a few rows back talking, laughing too loudly and shouting out things like 'Spiffing!'. This being the BFI, other patrons told them to keep it down and a member of staff threatened to eject them, hurrah.

When the lights went up and I turned round to glare at the offenders, I expected them to be Young Folk, possibly attending for the Howard Hawks module of their degrees in film studies. Instead, I saw a trio of grey-haired men in late middle age. Disgraceful.

NB: The Big Sleep is on loads but was fully booked both on Friday and last night. Deservedly so.

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