—Starts Strong, Ends Weak—
Your Bogie Fix:
Director: Ray Enright
Dave Logan (Pat O’Brien) is a veteran war pilot who becomes obsessed with the globalization of commercial air transport. Unfortunately, his passion comes at the cost of his wife, friends, and coworkers.
What I Thought
There was a moment about fifteen minutes into this film where I thought I might have found a real hidden gem. China Clipper isn’t widely available to watch or purchase, and I was just getting ready to write my complaint email to Warner Brothers when I suddenly understood the lack of enthusiasm behind the film.
This is the second Bogart picture from director Ray Enright that I’ve watched for the blog. The first, Swing Your Lady, was a lot of silly fun, but certainly had its issues. China Clipper is a complete dramatic reversal in tone from Lady, and while it starts strong, it eventually peters out, overstaying its welcome by a good thirty minutes.
We watch as Pat O’Brien’s retired war pilot, Dave Logan, passionately decides to follow his dreams after seeing Lindbergh cross the ocean. He believes that oceanic commercial air travel is the future, and he’s willing to gamble everything to get it. Perhaps the strongest scene in the film comes with Logan lying in bed with his wife (Beverly Roberts) just after learning that she wants to leave him. O’Brien pulls her close, apologizes for neglecting her, and then convinces her to stick it out just a little longer. It’s touching moment, and O’Brien plays it wonderfully. In fact, the first half of this movie is some of the best work I’ve ever seen O’Brien do, especially when he confronts, and moves on from, his wife leaving him.
The problem comes about midway through the film. Dave Logan seems to hit the peak of his character arc and just kind of flat lines. He learns his lesson on why he shouldn’t abuse his friends, family, wife, and coworkers, and he makes his apologies. Unfortunately, there’s still a good forty minutes left in the movie, and the character apparently has nowhere left to go. Not only that, but whatever growth supposedly took place is quickly ignored as he reverts back to old habits. Except now, no one questions him.
If you like to watch repetitive shots of an airplane flying through clouds, maybe you’ll like the ending better than I did, but once O’ Brien’s character began to lose steam, I did too.
The Bogart Factor
Bogart’s enjoyability in this film runs parallel to the movie’s. For the first half, he’s great to watch as Hap Stuart, Logan’s old war buddy who comes looking for a job with the new airline company. He’s wry, witty, and loyal – traits not unfamiliar to some of his best roles. But again, once the film shifts to extended scenes of the final plane flight, we’re relegated to fairly static shots of Bogart sitting behind the controls, doing his best to look focused and alert.
There are a few good moments here, but overall, it’s not a must see performance.
Beverly Roberts is good as Dave’s wife, Jean Logan, but there’s not a whole lot of meat in the script for her to work with. She has a solid scene towards the end, though, when she has a great fight with Dave about working for his airline.
Ross Alexander plays Dave’s closest friend, Tom Collins, and he was the stand out performance for me in this film. He adds a lot of humor, has a great side story with a ditzy girlfriend, and is able to hold his own on screen with both O’Brien and Bogart. I was saddened to learn that Alexander’s career was cut short after he took his own life at a young age due to personal turmoil. I’m going to have to see what else is in his filmography though, as he’s very good.
Henry B. Walthall as Dave Logan’s father, Dad Brunn, is another standout for the film. He plays Dad as the loving father who’s willing to break his back for his son, and it’s a very sympathetic role. I was also saddened to learn that he died during the making of this film, and had to be written out. Ironically, scenes involving Dad Brunn’s weak heart were already shot, and are included in the movie.
Classic Bogie Moment
There’s a scene midway through the film where Bogart takes O’Brien out to a hallway to scold him for his calloused behavior while their coworkers look on. Watch as Bogart builds up to the big punch after he resigns from the airline. We get a close up on Bogart’s face, and right before he loses his temper, we see his lips part just a bit and tighten up against his teeth. It’s a little physicality that I recognized from countless other Bogart movies. (And a great tell if you were ever in a fistfight with the guy! If his lips tighten, duck!)
The Bottom Line
While O’Brien has a handful of great scenes, and several actors in his supporting cast are stellar, this one won’t give you a great Bogie fix. In fact, you’ll find yourself shaking your fist at the screen, wondering why they didn’t just put a mannequin in that danged pilot’s seat for the last twenty minutes of the film.