Central Airport (film)

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Central Airport
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Alfred E. Green (uncredited)
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Written byJack Moffitt
Rian James
James Seymour
StarringRichard Barthelmess
Sally Eilers
Music byLeo F. Forbstein
CinematographySidney Hickox
Edited byJames B. Morley
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • April 15, 1933 (1933-04-15)
Running time
72 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$747,000[1]

Central Airport is a 1933 American pre-Code aviation drama film directed by William A. Wellman (with Alfred E. Green, uncredited), based on the John C. "Jack" Moffitt story, "Hawk's Mate".[2] The film stars Richard Barthelmess and Sally Eilers. Central Airport was produced and released by Warner Bros., on April 15, 1933.[3] John Wayne had an uncredited part in the film, playing a co-pilot, and this film features his first on-screen death.


After his aircraft crashes in a thunderstorm, commercial pilot Jim Blaine (Richard Barthelmess) is blackballed and unable to find a job flying. Depressed, he begins working as a bank teller until he meets beautiful Jill Collins (Sally Eilers), a barnstorming parachutist working with her daredevil pilot brother. Jim is immediately attracted to Jill, and when her brother is killed in a freak crash, he reveals his past and volunteers to replace her dead sibling in their act. As they tour throughout the Southwest, their affection turns physically intimate when they are on the road as they characteristically sleep in adjoining hotel rooms.

Jim, believes that his risky lifestyle precludes the luxury of a wife and family while Jill wants marriage. When Jim's brother "Bud" (Tom Brown) joins them, he too is immediately attracted to Jill but respects his brother's relationship, However, after another freak accident puts Jim in the hospital for a prolonged convalescence, Jim returns to find them married and in bed together. Angry and bitter, he becomes a soldier of fortune and loses an eye and a leg flying for the Communist rebels in China and Chile.

After a prolonged estrangement, a chastened Jim goes to Cuba to rejoin Bud and Jill but finds his brother's aircraft has gone down in a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. With only a short window of opportunity to save Bud and his passengers, Jim volunteers to go into the storm to save his brother.

After finding the downed aircraft and saving all the passengers, he flies back but a heavy fog comes in and Jim cannot see well enough to land. All the cars in the city then line up in an old airfield, and with the help of their headlights and horns, Jim lands safely. Realizing how much Neil loves Jill, Jim leaves town again, but this time on better terms with his brother.



Production on Central Airport took place at Wilson Airport and United Airport, Burbank, California.[4] The film showcased a number of contemporary aircraft, all gathered under the direction of noted Hollywood pilot Paul Mantz.[5] The aircraft included:

Aviation film historian Stephen Pendo in From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema (1995), considered that Central Airport "proved to be one of Paul Mantz's most dangerous films." Two crashes punctuated the action and in one of them, Mantz suffered a broken collar bone when he rolled out of a careening aircraft and was struck by the tailwheel.[7]


Mordaunt Hall in his review of Central Airport for The New York Times, did not see it more than "... a most obvious affair". The only redeeming aspect was an exciting final scene, "This closing sequence, which takes place in Havana waters, is moderately effective, with scores of automobiles all tooting their horns to direct the aviator lost in the supposedly thick fog. [8]

Aviation film historian Michael Paris in Celluloid Wings: The Impact of Movies on Aviation (1984), considered Central Airport as "... the first feature to look seriously at civil aviation ... it does show something of the background of the development of air transport and the workings of a busy commercial airport."[9]

Box Office[edit]

According to Warner Bros, Central Airport earned $393,000 domestically and $354,000 foreign.[1]


See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 13 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ Farmer 1984, p. 298.
  3. ^ "The AFI Catalog of Feature Films: 'Central Airport' (1933)." afi.com, 2019. Retrieved: June 2, 2019.
  4. ^ Stafford, Jeff. "Articles: 'Central Airport' (1933)." TCM.com, 2019. Retrieved: June 2, 2019.
  5. ^ Wynne 1987, pp. 131–132.
  6. ^ Beck 2016, p. 28.
  7. ^ Pendo 1985, p. 275.
  8. ^ Hall, Mordaunt. "An aviation drama." The New York Times (NYTimes.com), May 4, 1933. Retrieved: June 2, 2019.
  9. ^ Paris 1995, p. 71.
  10. ^ "Catalog of Holdings." The American Film Institute Collection and The United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress. Los Angeles: The American Film Institute, 1978, p. 28.


  • Beck, Simon D. The Aircraft-Spotter's Film and Television Companion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4766-2293-4.
  • Farmer, James H. Celluloid Wings: The Impact of Movies on Aviation. Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania: Tab Books Inc., 1984. ISBN 978-0-83062-374-7.
  • Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-7190-4074-0.
  • Pendo, Stephen. Aviation in the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8-1081-746-2.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.

External links[edit]