CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS is another gung-ho saga released early in 1942, designed to spur the recruiting lines with movie-struck glory-seekers. It’s also,ostensibly, a tribute to our Canadian ally in the struggle against the Nazis, specifically the Royal Canadian Air Force. The armada of old planes will delight aviation enthusiasts. Prreiews for the picture let the Germans know that “THE HEAVENS ROAR WITH THEIR GLORIES!”
Bush pilots James Cagney, Dennis Morgan and Alan Hale buzz around over the woods and lakes up in Ontario, out-stunting one another, talking fast and loud, working against each other for the charms of Brenda Marshall.
Cagney plays a typical role with his usual energy, though it seems achingly familiar, as do the antics of Hale, George Tobias and others in support. When the time for heroism rolls up, the grandstanding sacrifices come straight from the often visited Wishful Thinking Province. As one of the advertising tag lines had it “Living recklessly, flying gallantly – the whole RCAF story from training to fighting!”
The beautiful Technicolor shows up nicely in the aerial photography up there in Ontario’s wilds, and in lingering appreciation of the down-to-earth glories of Miss Marshall. Dated special effects and much obvious use of studio back projection footage runs equal with the good stuff, keeping the film on a fixed course, directed at a whiz by Michael Curtiz. The Cinematography and Art Direction were Oscar nominated.
Though he wasn’t keen on the script, “I didn’t like this story the last four times I did it and I don’t like it now!”, Cagney did offer this nice reflection in his memoirs: “The one consolation for all the hard work was the kind of person you worked with. Alan Hale, that big, wonderful guy we all loved. Always in a good humor. Dennis Morgan, also a nice, nice guy. As the years wear on, I look back at those people and think about them. When they were around, I really enjoyed them, but now I realize that I could have enjoyed them more. The picture business has always been such a hysterical one and the demands on attention so great that one didn’t have time to savor everything to the fullest – particularly your friends. That is one of my regrets.”
113 minutes, with Reginald Gardiner, Reginald Denny, Paul Cavanaugh, the great Clem Bevans, J.M. Kerrigan, Billy Bishop* and Gig Young. The film came in a lucky #24 for the year, flying back to Warners with $4,660,000.
- *Billy Bishop, winner of the Victoria Cross, was Canada’s top air ace from World War One, claiming 72 victories.