The Air Mail

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The Air Mail
The Air Mail poster.jpg
Directed by Irvin Willat
Produced by
Written by James Shelley Hamilton (scenario)
Story by Byron Morgan
Cinematography Alfred Gilks
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • March 16, 1925 (1925-03-16)
Running time
80 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)

The Air Mail is a 1925 American silent drama film directed by Irvin Willat and starring Warner Baxter, Billie Dove, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.. It was produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed through Paramount Pictures.[1] Filmed in Death Valley National Park and the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada, it was released in the United States on March 16, 1925.[2]


Russ Kane (Warner Baxter) gets a job as a pilot in order to steal cargo. After making a forced landing, however, at a "Ghost City" in the desert, he falls in love with Alice Rendon (Billie Dove) and decides to become law-abiding.

When her father (George Irving) needs medicine, he flies to get it, but on the way back is chased by ruffians in other aircraft. As a result, "Sandy", Kane's friend (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), parachutes from Kane's aircraft with the medicine.

Meanwhile, escaped prisoners have invaded Alice's home. All is resolved when a sheriff's posse confronts the invaders and Kane destroys the bandit's aircraft. In the end, Sandy becomes a pilot.



Writer Byron Morgan, himself a pilot, strived for authenticity in the story of The Air Mail. To find out what air mail pilots were encountering, Morgan flew on an air mail flight from Reno, Nevada, to San Francisco. The hazards that were found along the route including flying over the Rocky Mountains and inclement weather.[3]

To make The Air Mail, the, Famous Players-Lasky company traveled by train to Beatty, Nevada, about 4 miles (6 km) east of Rhyolite, where it set up temporary headquarters on January 10, 1925. Aircraft used in the film such as the DH .4 and Catron & Fisk arrived from Reno via Tonopah.[4] Stunt pilot Frank Tomlck was hired to do the actual flying in the film, eschewing the use of sound stages or studio effects.[5]

The filming was completed by the end of January.[6] During the filming, Famous Players-Lasky restored the Bottle House, one of the deteriorating buildings in the ghost town.[7]


Critics deprecated The Air Mail as an "... up-to-date western adventure", virtually ignoring its aviation theme. At the same time, other features based on flying air mail, Trapped in the Sky (1922) and The Fast Mail (1922) were characterized as basically inferior to the Paramount production. [8]

Reviewer Mordaunt Hall, writing for The New York Times in 1925, said that although Dove and Baxter in The Air Mail, "... deliver creditable performances", the story is "... only mildly interesting and often quite tedious". While he thought the scenes of aircraft taking off from the ground were "quite inspiring", he found the stock villains, Deadwood Dick adventures, and romantic conversations between a man at 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in the air and a woman on the ground to be improbable. "This picture ...", he concluded, "... is interesting because of the modern touch to an ordinary Western story, but the idea deserves to be more thoughtful and sincere."[9]

Only one-half (four of eight reels) of a single print of The Air Mail exists today, stored at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.[4]



  1. ^ DuVal 2002, p. 7.
  2. ^ Garza, Janiss. "Review: The Air Mail." Allmovie (Macrovision Corporation), 2009. Retrieved: March 22, 2017.
  3. ^ Pendo 1985, p. 61.
  4. ^ a b Beck 2016, p. 17.
  5. ^ Wynne 1987, p. 39.
  6. ^ Patera, Alan H. "Rhyolite's demise and the rise and fall of Pioneer and Springdale." Western Places (Lake Grove, Oregon), Volume 7, Issue 4, 2004, pp. 50–51. ISSN 1092-8782.
  7. ^ McCoy 2004, pp. 60–62.
  8. ^ Paris 1995, p. 60.
  9. ^ Hall, Mordaunt. "Seven Chances." The New York Times, March 17, 1925. Retrieved: March 22, 2017.


  • Beck, Simon D. The Aircraft-Spotter's Film and Television Companion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4766-2293-4.
  • DuVal, Gary. The Nevada Filmography: Nearly 600 Works Made in the State, 1897 Through 2000. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7864-1271-6.
  • McCoy, Suzy. Rebecca's Walk Through Time: A Rhyolite Story. Lake Grove, Oregon: Western Places, 2004. ISBN 978-1-8939-4401-5.
  • 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.

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