In 1915 France, Major Brand commands the 39th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. The young airmen go up in bullet-riddled “crates” and the casualty rate is appalling, but Brand can’t make the “brass hats” at headquarters see reason. Insubordinate air ace Captain Courtney is another thorn in Brand’s side…but finds the smile wiped from his face when he rises to command the squadron himself. Everyone keeps a stiff upper lip.
Rod Crawford <[email protected]>
User Reviews: The Dawn Patrol, one of Director Eddie Goulding’s very finest, is as tense and tightly wound as the characters it portrays, who face the awful question, ‘what is maximum effort’, how much can a man give in combat before breaking? The story revolves around the vividly drawn characters of Lt. Scott,’Scotty’, played by David Niven in one of his most genuine performances, and that of his chum, Captain Courtney, well played by Errol Flynn. Together the two friends face death each day in machines held together by ‘spit and baling wire’ and each night drink themselves into oblivion. Their antics contrast with the concern that is eating at their commanding officer, Major Brand, wonderfully portrayed by Basil Rathbone. Brand is visibly cracking under the strain, while the oblivious Courtney and Scott play at war, seemingly unconcerned by death or anything else. Paired with Brand is the unflappable Phipps, presented by stalwart character actor Donald Crisp. It is Crisp, who is finally made to express the film’s underlying anti-war theme, questioning the point of sending all the fine young men to their deaths, "…and for what?", he asks though no answer is forthcoming. The tension is expertly broken by comic interludes of genuine hilarity as well as great scenes of World War air combat. One sees a reflection of Renoir’s ‘Rules of the Game’, when a German pilot, who is thought to have killed Scotty, is brought in to meet Courtney, who shot him down and they show each other the mutual respect and chivalry that still crossed the no-mans land between the two sides. Like ’12 0’Clock High’
its World War II counterpart, this film puts the viewer under the skins of these men as they face death. No phony posturing or heroics, no masks, just humanity faced with something which, ultimately is inhuman. This intelligent and questioning film is at the very top of my list of great war films, and is an absolute must see for new generations of movie goers.