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Dawn Patrol (1938) [VHS]
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Product Description

The Dawn Patrol is a beautiful title for two very good movies Warner Bros. made eight years apart, in 1930 and 1938. Both tell the same World War I story (which won a 1930 Academy Award for John Monk Saunders), about a succession of flight commanders at a British air base in France. Each officer in turn has to keep sending pilots out on dangerous, often insane missions in flimsy, patched-up planes, then pray that even half get back alive. The job is soul-killing for the commandants and deadly for their comrades and friends. Make that former friends.

It's the later, Errol Flynn version of The Dawn Patrol that's won DVD release. The original is rarely shown because, despite direction by Howard Hawks, it suffers from the stiffness and some overly declamatory acting characteristic of the early talkie era. Perhaps more to the point, the remake's cast has greater marquee value: Flynn and David Niven as hotshots Courtney and Scott; Basil Rathbone as Major Brand, the tortured commander whom Flynn will be obliged to succeed; Donald Crisp, Melville Cooper, and Barry Fitzgerald as staff officers and noncoms. Edmund Goulding's direction is proficient, if also impersonal.

So the remake has the edge as smooth entertainment, though not the original's raw power (or Griffith veteran Richard Barthelmess's tender, anguished performance as Courtney). And the best parts of the 1938 version are the original film: all the aerial footage--bombings, crashes, breathtaking low-level flying, and wobbly takeoffs in the glow of early morning--is Hawks's. Ideally, Warner Video should have issued both films, and in one box. --Richard T. Jameson

Customer Reviews:

  • A fantastic story on the futuility of warfare
    There have been many films made about the nature of warfare, about its futility, and about the effects that it can have a on a person. But this has to be one of the greatest.

    Strangely, what I love most about this movie is what it has in common with one of my favorite westerns, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". You may wonder what these two movies could possibly have in common. Well...

    In "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", there's a part toward the end of the movie where we see that the North and South are fighting over a bridge. Every day, the same thing. Both sides rush it, many die, and then both sides retreat. It never ends. Like some sort of twisted warrior's hell, people are doomed to suffer and die. For nothing. That was a great movie because of that part. Now imagine an entire movie about that one battle. That's just what "The Dawn Patrol" is.

    Errol Flynn and his best friend David Niven are in the middle of a seemingly endless war, fought in their case with planes over the same stretches of land. Again and again they fly out on their patrol. Again and again young innocent men die. For a strip of land. For nothing.

    And because they must continually fight these battles, they eventually lose all their fear. It all becomes quite unreal. They start fooling around and having fun on their missions, showing off. In short, viewing it like it's just a job they have to do, nothing more. And Errol Flynn excels at playing a ruffian who cares for nothing. But then...

    The commander of the base (played to perfection by Basil Rathbone) where he and his friend live gets promoted because of a stunt he pulled. And guess who gets to fill his hellish job of sending young fools to a quick, painful death. When the stress starts to build, and circumstances pit our hero against his best friend, and when honor forces him to do what he feels is right no matter what the cost...

    This movie is truly the finest hour of Errol Flynn, David Niven, and Basil Rathbone combines. All shine in this movie. It's great suspense, great drama and great film-making. If you love war movies, or just good movies in general, BUY THIS MOVIE....more info

    The performances of Flynn and Rathbone shine in this fine remake of the 193O original - which conveniently used much of the same aerial footage. Major Brand (Basil Rathbone), the commanding officer of a squadron of the British Royal Flying Corps stationed in France, has been called a butcher by his top officer, Captain Courtney (Errol Flynn) - because of his hardened attitude toward sending inexperienced young flyers to their death. Courtney and his best friend, Lieutenant Scott (David Niven), have their own way of coping with the constant death of new recruits; they drink a toast to the dead, sing a song, and then go back to devising diverting, thrill-seeking pranks...It has been implied that Howard Hughes sued Warner Bros. claiming that certain story ideas and techniques which were used in this film were curiously similar to some of those used in his 193O production HELL'S ANGELS. Hughes lost the suit when it was determined that the disputed ideas originated with John Monk Saunders via his personal experiences in the air service: it WAS the basis for the first AA-winning film, the 1927 silent WINGS. In 1941, Warners blended aspects of their 1936 film CEILING ZERO and this one & came up with FLIGHT PATROL (!). Among the musical numbers which are heard in this vastly entertaining film include such vintage goodies as PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES IN AN OLD KIT BAG & POOR BUTTERFLY....more info
  • Dawn Patrol
    I first saw this movie on tv when I was a kid back in the late 1950's. I really enjoyed the movie. It was one of the first movies I can remember which didn't make war fun and adventureous. The scenes where the flyers party and get drunk to wipe out the memories and help them sleep before going back out to fight was especially moving. I think it was the fact the flyers would go out to fight and then come back to the relative peace and safety of the base behind the lines which provided the stark contrast. I highly recommend this movie. I always like Errol Flynn in all of his movies.

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  • The Glory and Futility of War
    Errol Flynn and David Niven star as a couple of pilots and close friends in World War I who know firsthand about the reality of war. Angry at first with his commander, Basil Rathbone, who must (against his own wishes) send very inexperienced men up to fly against the Germans, Flynn soon learns to understand his commander's feelings of guilt and duty when he takes over as commander and must send up Niven's brother to a certain death. The film mixes the glory and heroics of the air war with a look at the futile waste of young, unprepared men who really don't know what they are in for. As the wiser, seasoned pilots, Flynn and Niven have an excellent rapport, and Rathbone is fine as the tortured commander whose men do not respect him until they can themselves personally understand what he goes through everytime he is ordered to send up more inexperienced pilots. The aerial sequences are well done, and the film is a thoughtful look at both the glory and futility to be found in war....more info
  • Forget "Top Gun"... here's the best aviator film ever made
    An outstanding, and rather bleak, war movie, featuring Errol Flynn and David Niven as two dashing but harrowed, hard-drinking WWI fighter pilots, whose front-line unit is a constant revolving door of fresh-faced "replacements," new cadets who lack the basic skills to keep them alive for even a day or two, against the seasoned German pilots based only miles away. Basil Rathbone plays the British base's high-strung commanding officer, who feels every death as a personal blow -- following heartless orders, he sends boy after boy to an inevitable death. The worm turns when his promotion comes in, elevating the hotheaded and resentful Flynn to his position as commander, and Flynn's grief takes on an added dimension, as he becomes the one responsible for issuing the orders that transform eager young men into mere cannon fodder. The film is a typical interwar mix of pacifist-tinged pessimism and old-world chivalry: the men are gallant and brave, but resentful of the higher-ups who created and orchestrate the wars they have to fight in. The script is fascinating, with the action of the first half taking place entirely on the base. Rather than see the aerial combat, we see the psychological after-effects of the heavy personnel losses. When we do see combat, it is deflationary, either a framework for tragedy or a curse disguised as a giddy triumph. It's also well presented: the feel of the ungainly, canvas-clad prop planes that men went to war in is made palpable, as the ricketty machines bounce along the runway and sputter to life in the skies. A very good film, definitely worth watching....more info
  • 70 years between viewings
    I first saw this film when I was a boy - 70 years ago - always remembered it - the model airplanes I played with were all tri-wing Fokkers and Spads, etc. The film's dogfight scenes were great and it was fun to see Basil Rathbone as a young man - Errol Flynn was the same as ever - he never grew up. The quality of the film was remarkably good - excellent restoration. Acting was more basic then, a bit corny by today's standards, but a great film. ...more info
  • Command Responsibility...
    1938's "Dawn Patrol" captures a theme familiar to fans of the war movie genre: the awful responsibility of command amid the fearful attrition of combat. In "Dawn Patrol", Errol Flynn and David Niven portray veteran Royal Flying Corps pilots Courtney and Scott, grim survivors of aerial combat over the 1915 Western Front of World War I. The two men fly hair-raising missions each day in rickety aircraft and carouse drunkenly at night, while replacements show up and die before they can even unpack their bags. The commander of their 59th Flying Squadron, Major Brand (a superbly conflicted Basil Rathbone), wrestles with high command over impossible orders but resolutely sends the men out each day on mission.

    When an opposing German flying squadron challenges the 59th by dropping a pair of trench boots on their aerodrome, Courtney and Scott defy orders to return the insult. In a thrilling flying sequence, the two men bomb and strafe the enemy aerodrome, then survive additional hazards on the return trip. The two pilots face court-martial, but in a twist of fate, Major Brand is promoted, leaving a stunned Captain Courtney to fill his shoes as squadron commander. Courtney soon discovers the terrible responsibility that comes with command, including the loss of his friendship with Scott. When a vitally important but almost certainly suicidal mission comes down, Courtenay faces a heart-breaking choice.

    "Dawn Patrol" features entertaining repartee between real-life friends Flynn and Niven, a vision of fellowship amid dispair among the fliers, and some excellent flying sequences featuring World War I aircraft. The film offers its own take on a theme repeated in "Twelve O'Clock High" and "Command Decision" and is very highly recommended to fans of those movies.
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  • It's a slaughterhouse... and I'm the butcher!
    Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, always great at crossing swords, in a solid and very enjoyable little WWI melodrama. It's "Poor Butterfly" that plays endlessly on the gramaphone as the doomed lads drink away their sense of futility and guilt. A great movie....more info