Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Captains of the Clouds

I remember CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS being on TV fairly often when I was growing up, but I didn’t really become fond of James Cagney until later, so I never saw it until now. As some of the reviewers on IMBD have noted, it’s really two movies in one. The first half, which features Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale, and George Tobias as two-fisted Canadian bush pilots, is very much like an ARGOSY serial from the Thirties as written by somebody like Frank Richardson Pierce. It’s a lot of fun as Cagney and Morgan vie over the affections of the beautiful Brenda Marshall, who plays the daughter of a trading post owner. Then, wouldn’t you know it, World War II breaks out and the guys go off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.

They’re deemed too old to go into combat, though, so they become training pilots, a job that doesn’t sit well with Cagney’s brash, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants character. There’s drama and tragedy, characters rise and fall and rise again, and finally everybody who’s left alive sets off on a hazardous mission ferrying bombers across the North Atlantic to England.

If you’ve never seen this movie, you’ll probably know everything that’s going to happen, but does that matter? Not as far as I’m concerned. I had a fine time watching a great cast in the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. The photography is great, and the Technicolor is just beautiful, richer colors than you’ll see most of the time these days, that’s for sure. There’s one shot of the sultry Brenda Marshall, wearing a man’s shirt and blue jeans as she sprawls languidly across the seats of a rowboat on a lake, that looks like the cover of a Harry Whittington or Charles Williams backwoods novel come to life.

Marshall’s character is kind of interesting, too, because instead of the good girl you might expect, she’s really kind of a backwoods tramp and stays that way through the whole movie. Cagney is his usual self, cocky and charismatic and kind of a heel. The two of them work very well together.

Actually, I probably enjoyed CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS more now than if I had watched it as a kid. The morally ambivalent characters wouldn’t have appealed to me as much then. I liked more clear-cut good guys and bad guys in those days, and there are no real bad guys in this one other than the Nazis. It’s part of a boxed set of Cagney movies, none of which I’d seen until now, and I’m looking forward to watching the others.


Elgin Bleecker said...

This movie really is a lot of fun. And you are right, the Technicolor process in those days turned out some beautiful images. It has been a long time, but I recall shots of a pontoon plane landing on a lake. Credit also goes to director Michael Curtiz. Not all of his films are as great as CASABLANCA or THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, but he always made slick, smooth entertainment.

Richard Robinson said...

It's a good one, all right. I'd love to watch it today.