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Long overdue on DVD
on July 6, 2013
Warner Bros. remade THE DAWN PATROL in 1938 and that version, directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Errol Flynn, David Niven and Basil Rathbone has become a great classic. However, this earlier version is a worthy film too, and it supplied most of the air combat footage that was reused in the 1938 version.
The 1930 version was directed by Howard Hawks and stars Richard Barthelmess, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Neil Hamilton. That such a film could be stashed in the Warner closet when the newer version was released can only be explained by one consideration: money. They didn't want the older film competing with the newer one with the newer stars. When Warner Home Video released the 1938 version on DVD I was really surprised that they didn't include the 1930 version. Now, at last, we have the 1930 version too on the Warner Archive label. I could wish for a full restoration, but I'm thankful to have it at all.
The films are so similar that they are often confused. The dialogue is almost line for line the same and, as I've already pointed out, much of the combat and location footage from the 1930 version was reused in the 1938 version. But they do have differences too, which makes a comparison interesting.
The story concerns young officers of the Royal Flying Corps (the RAF of the day) flying fragile planes into combat, frequently with very little training. The original title of the story was THE FLIGHT COMMANDER and it is very much about the emotional toll taken on the young commander (Hamilton) stuck in a desk job sending other young men into combat when he'd much rather be going with them. As the story progresses promotion or death causes the command to be passed from one character to another and each has to deal with the impossible situation in his own way.
The cast of the 1938 version had appropriate British accents (a bit Aussie in Flynn's case) which helps to establish that this is a British squadron. However, the 1930 cast, though decidedly American, is mostly younger. (Actually, Barthelmess was 35, Flynn was 28, but Barthelmess looks younger.) They give a strong image of the very young men, barely more than boys, who were caught up in the horror of an unexpectedly modern war.