Monday, February 14, 2011

Hell Divers (1931)

Hell Divers, while routine in many aspects, impressed me as being much more ambitious than I'd expected - it was the Top Gun of its day. The movie sports some amazing aerial footage, Navy-lent filming of the huge carrier USS Saratoga, bombings galore and even dirigibles, beautifully photographed drifting through the clouds. Naval and aeronautics fans will go nuts with this film.

Wallace Beery plays the sort of character he usually did: a "lovable" (depending on your perspective), incorrigible (until the end) big kid in a cartoonishly gruff, middle-aged man's body. Clark Gable, in the twelfth of twelve films he made in his first year in Hollywood (!) is his in-the-air and on-the-ground competitor. The antagonism between the two, which reportedly carried off-screen, propels the plot forward until the sentimental end, when Beery becomes a hero through his unexpected maturity.

Hell Divers also features silent star Marie Prevost, Marjorie Rambeau as Beery's girlfriend, and Cliff Edwards (no ukulele in this one, alas, though Beery does sing and play the piano).

Hell Divers hasn't been released on VHS or DVD, but is shown occasionally by Turner Classic Movies.

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