Air Mail

Screening on Film
Recently Restored
Directed by John Ford.
With Ralph Bellamy, Gloria Stuart, Pat O’Brien.
US, 1932, 35mm, black & white, 84 min.

A rousing tale of the bonds and rituals within a community of risk-taking pilots, Air Mail anticipates Howard Hawks’ iconic films of daring fliers, Ceiling Zero and Only Angels Have Wings. Ford’s film, in contrast, is steeped in a sober atmosphere of menace and gloom, darker than the devil-may-care nobility embodied by Hawks’ pilot heroes. Air Mail’s dramatic heart lies in the feisty pilots’ oscillation between alpha-male competition amongst themselves and bonding in the face of the stark dangers of their job. Pre-Code immorality is radiantly emblazoned on the film—when, for example, the widow of one pilot immediately takes up with another. But Air Mail is perhaps most notable as the one time that Ford, so influenced and enamored by German expressionism and F.W. Murnau, worked with Karl Freund, the great expressionist cinematographer who shot several of Murnau’s masterpieces. 

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