Thunder Birds (William A. Wellman, 1942)

This is my contribution to the William A. Wellman Blogathon, hosted by the Now Voyaging blog.  Please do visit and read the other postings.

Thunder Birds 4Drawing on his own memories of his days as a pilot, William A. Wellman made aviation films right through his career, from silent masterpiece Wings right through to his deeply personal final film, Lafayette Escadrille.  The Second World War film Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air is one of his lesser-known movies on this theme. This is really a slice of propaganda, looking at the training of young pilots and the close working together of the US and British forces.  However, aside from a long voice-over intro and another voice-over at the end, where the Chinese pilots training at the field are also spotlighted, most of the movie is focused on a buddy story which turns into a love triangle, bringing back memories of Wings.

This film is admittedly far from being one of Wellman’s greatest – but, in purely visual terms, it might just be the most gorgeous spectacle that he ever made. The Technicolor is truly glorious, showing off the locations around Thunderbird Field in Glendale, Arizona, where Allied pilots gained their wings before going to war. Cinematographer Ernest Palmer’s colour footage of aircraft spiralling through a vivid blue sky in a series of daring stunt flights is the film’s most striking element, while  the sweeping shots of desert scenery would grace any Western. Costume designer Dolly Tree also clearly decided to make the most of the opportunities presented by Technicolor. Leading lady Gene Tierney – who gets top billing despite fairly limited screen time – wears a succession of  dazzlingly colourful outfits.

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William A. Wellman films I’ve reviewed so far…

William A. Wellman
William A. Wellman

How exciting that the William A. Wellman blogathon starts today! I’ll be contributing a posting about one of his lesser-known films, the Second World War propaganda drama Thunder Birds – the reason I’ve chosen that one is that I’ve been trying to review his films in vaguely chronological order and that is the one I’ve got up to (though there are still a few earlier rarities I haven’t caught up with as yet).  My main love is his pre-Code work but I do want to get back into writing about his later films too.

Here’s a list of all those I’ve reviewed here so far in this intermittent project, with links:

I also reviewed a later film, his great Western Track of the Cat (1954) for the Western countdown at the Wonders in the Dark website, and I recently contributed a piece about Wild Boys of the Road to the childhood films countdown there (not the same as my piece on this blog).

If anyone wants more, my Wellman page (which I haven’t kept up very well, sorry) also has mini-reviews of  The Great Man’s Lady (1942), Lady of Burlesque (1943), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Buffalo Bill (1944), The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Magic Town (1947), Yellow Sky (1948), Battleground (1949), The Happy Years (1950), Across the Wide Missouri (1951), Westward the Women (1951), Island in the Sky (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Blood Alley (1955) and Darby’s Rangers (1958). 

Not that I’m obsessed, or anything…

Anyway, I hope to have my posting for the blogathon up soon, and am looking forward to reading everyone’s postings!

Dinner at Eight (George Cukor, 1933)

This is my contribution to the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon. Please do look at the great range of postings.

Dinner at Eight 5“The most glamorous production of all time,” proclaims the original trailer to Dinner at Eight. Well, Jean Harlow’s astonishing dresses, made by Adrian, are certainly glamorous – and so is the whole central idea, of a businessman’s wife arranging a grand society dinner. But, like the previous year’s great portmanteau drama featuring some of the same stars, Grand Hotel,  this is very much a Depression era film, with a desperation underlying the glamour.

The film has an astonishing cast even by the standards of MGM – it must be one of the most star-studded ensembles of all time, featuring  both John and Lionel Barrymore, as well as Harlow, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Billie Burke, Madge Evans, Lee Tracy and Edmund Lowe. Names like Phillips Holmes, Grant Mitchell and May Robson have to make do with bit parts.

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Angel and the Badman (James Edward Grant, 1947)

John Wayne and Gail Russell
John Wayne and Gail Russell

This is my contribution to the 1947 Blogathon being organised by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. Please take a look at the great range of postings.

A rider gallops through the Western countryside – but falls from his horse, hit by a bullet. He is seen by a pair of passing Quakers, who go to his aid, but he is reluctant to accept their help, wanting to press on with his quest even if it kills him. That’s the starting point for Angel and the Badman, an unusually romantic Western starring John Wayne and Gail Russell as a couple who come from completely different worlds.

Director James Edward Grant also wrote the script, so this was clearly a film which meant a lot to him. It has an atmosphere all of its own, almost taking place at two speeds, with some fast-moving Western segments, such as a bar-room brawl, and some slower and more gently unfolding scenes in the world of the Quakers’ farmhouse.

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A Couple of Items About William A Wellman

Just to say that I’ve written a new review of William A Wellman’s great pre-Code drama Wild Boys of the Road for Wonders in the Dark, as part of the site’s Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown. It’s a film I’ve already written about here in the past, but it was fun to watch and write about it again and there was lots more to say!

Still on the subject of Wellman, who is one of my favourite directors, I was excited to hear that a blogathon is being organised about his work, from September 10 to 13. Now Voyaging is hosting The William Wellman Blogathon, and has had the honour of receiving a comment from Wellman’s son and biographer, William Wellman Jr.  I will be taking part and contributing a piece about his Second World War aviation drama Thunder Birds.

Trapped by Television (Del Lord, 1936)

Trapped by Television 5This is my contribution to the Film Preservation Blogathon, being hosted for its final day (May 17) by  Sam and Allan at  Wonders in the Dark. The blogathon aims to raise funds for the restoration of the intriguingly titled 1918 silent film Cupid in Quarantine, a Strand comedy which is centred on a couple trying to start a smallpox outbreak! To support this cause, please scroll down to the bottom for the donation button, and do visit Wonders and the other host blogs, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod.

Science fiction is the loose theme of the Film Preservation Blogathon. In all honesty, the comedy-drama Trapped by Television, starring Mary AstorLyle Talbot and Nat Pendleton (all pre-Code veterans), doesn’t entirely fit the bill. However, this film does take off from the science fact of the time, as it focuses on efforts to develop the first TV sets. It also seemed an appropriate choice because it’s one of the many movies which have landed up in the public domain. This means they are freely available on the internet and on many cheap DVDs – but also usually means nobody is prepared to fund a restoration. Trapped by Television is actually in a better state than many of the films existing in this sad copyright limbo, but still suffers from a rather grey picture and some surface noise. Watching it is a reminder of why it’s so essential to preserve and restore our film heritage. I watched the movie at, but I think the picture quality is slightly better at

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