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Flight Angels

Flight Angels(1940)

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teaser Flight Angels (1940)

Flight Angels (1940) takes a highly melodramatic look at a profession which in 1940 was only ten years old and has been known by many names since: air hostess, stewardess, and more recently, flight attendant.

The world's first "flight angel" was a woman named Ellen Church, who on May 15, 1930, began work for Boeing Air Transport on its Oakland, California to Chicago, Illinois route. In those days, the requirements were that they be single, no older than 25, weigh less than 115 lbs, with a height no greater than 5 feet four inches, and be a registered nurse.

For Hollywood, which had confined its air dramas mainly to World War I pictures or the daring exploits of barnstormers or air mail pilots, the invention of the flight attendant took women from their usual role of the girlfriend/wife who waited and worried on the ground and into the plane along with the men, making her part of the action. Flight Angels (originally titled Women Are Tough Angels), a film which would be considered a "B" picture or a second feature, uses this 'pilot/flight attendant' romance, though by 1940 the plot was wearing thin. As the New York Times May 27, 1940 review was quick to point out, Flight Angels required "close scrutiny to distinguish it from numerous other manufactured melodramas of men, women and planes. Is there intramural warfare amid the cloud-bound lassies over the pilot of Flight Number 8? There is. Is there a hard-boiled field superintendent in love with the favored lady? Call him Ralph Bellamy. Does an irritating young hero, after being grounded for failing eyesight, make an unauthorized test flight in the company's new plane, crack up and head for China to fight the Japanese? Not quite. He finds himself in the arms of Virginia Bruce instead. Clich will have its way. As a program piece for folk whose affinity for high altitudes continues to be nothing short of mystic, the story has been interlarded with some baldly stated facts and statistics on the careers of the crisp young women who fetch bicarbonate of soda for airsick passengers. But the informative asides, like the plot and the sequence of a plane plummeting earthward, are too familiar to be the film's raison d'tre. The actors, however, try to speak their lines as though they were brand-new. Miss [Virginia] Bruce, especially, as the stewardess who becomes an impromptu midwife at 8,000 feet, conveys the impression that she'd be a mighty reassuring person to have around during a crisis like that."

The cast of Flight Angels contained Virginia Bruce who had been in films since 1929, and once had leading roles in "A" pictures at MGM, but her career was on the decline. Ralph Bellamy, who practically made a career playing the man the leading lady didn't marry, had played this role so often he would stay away from Hollywood for five years beginning in 1945 to return to the stage where he found better roles. Jane Wyman, playing Bruce's rival, was working her way up, beginning as an extra and transitioning to supporting roles. Five months before Flight Angels was released she had married another Warner Bros. contract player named Ronald Reagan. The studio milked all the publicity they could out of the marriage, but once the hype died down, continued to put both Reagan and Wyman in lesser films. Her career would pick up in a few short years, when she won the Best Actress Oscar® for Johnny Belinda (1948).

Flight Angels would be little more than a blip on the radar screen in the careers of most of the cast members. The exception was Wayne Morris. For Morris, who played pilot Artie Dixon, the film would have a profound effect on his life. During shooting, he became fascinated with flying and shortly after became a pilot. The Internet Movie Database reports that "[w]ith war in the wind, he joined the Naval Reserve and became a Navy flier in 1942, leaving his film career behind for the duration of the war. Assigned to the carrier Essex in the Pacific, Morris shot down seven Japanese planes and contributed to the sinking of five ships. He was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals." Wayne Morris died of a heart attack in 1959, at age 45, while watching aerial maneuvers from the air craft carrier Bon Homme Richard in San Francisco Bay. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors.

Producer: Edmund Grainger, Bryan Foy
Director: Lewis Seiler
Screenplay: Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, Maurice Leo
Cinematography: L. William O'Connell
Film Editing: James Gibbon
Art Direction: Hugh Reticker
Cast: Virginia Bruce (Mary Norvell), Dennis Morgan (Chick Farber), Wayne Morris (Artie Dixon), Ralph Bellamy (Bill Graves), Jane Wyman (Nan Hudson), John Litel (Dr. Barclay).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Sources:
Wikipedia.org
PBS.org
The Internet Movie Database Jane Wyman: A Biography by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein

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