The Lost Squadron
|The Lost Squadron|
Original theatrical poster
James Anderson (assistant)
Paul Sloane (dismissed partway through production)
|Produced by||David O. Selznick (executive producer)|
Dick Grace (story)|
Herman J. Mankiewicz (add. dialogue)
Robert Presnell, Sr. (add. dialogue)
Humphrey Pearson (uncredited)
|Music by||Max Steiner (uncredited)|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
The Lost Squadron is a 1932 American pre-Code drama, action, satire film starring Richard Dix, Mary Astor, and Robert Armstrong, with Erich von Stroheim and Joel McCrea in supporting roles, and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The film is about three World War I pilots who find jobs after the war as Hollywood stunt fliers. The much-later The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) employed a similar theme. The Lost Squadron was the first RKO production to carry the screen credit "Executive Producer, David O. Selznick".
Captain "Gibby" Gibson (Richard Dix) and his close friend "Red" (Joel McCrea) spend the last hours of World War I in the air, shooting down more of the enemy. They then return to America with fellow pilot and comrade "Woody" Curwood (Robert Armstrong) and their mechanic Fritz (Hugh Herbert) to an uncertain future.
Gibby finds his ambitious actress girlfriend Follette Marsh (Mary Astor) with a new boyfriend, one who can do more for her career. Good-natured braggart Red decides not to take back his old job, as it would mean the firing of a married man with a new baby. Woody learns that he is penniless, swindled by his embezzling business partner. Years later Gibby, Red and Fritz ride a boxcar to Hollywood to look for Woody and find work in lean times.
At a movie premiere, they spot a prosperous Woody, who is working as a stunt flier. He offers them well-paying jobs working for disreputable and tyrannical director Arthur von Furst (Erich von Stroheim). Gibby is reluctant, as Follette is now married to von Furst, but finally gives in.
Woody introduces his two comrades-in-arms to his sister, "the Pest" (Dorothy Jordan). She worries constantly about him, as von Furst utilizes dangerously worn-out aircraft and Woody drinks a lot. Both Gibby and Red are attracted to her. Gibby misinterprets her concern for him when he barely survives a crash (caused by parts of his aircraft falling off) as love. When Red impulsively asks the Pest to marry him, she agrees, and Gibby accepts the situation with grace.
Meanwhile, von Furst is aware that his wife still has strong feelings for Gibby. He sabotages the aircraft Gibby is to fly for a dangerous stunt, secretly applying acid to a control wire, not only out of jealousy, but also to add to the realism of his film with a real crash. However, unbeknownst to him, Woody decides to do the stunt in Gibby's place. Red sees von Furst tampering with the wires and alerts Gibby. Gibby takes off in another aircraft and catches up to Woody, but cannot make himself understood over the roar of their engines. The cable breaks, and Woody crashes and is killed.
Red takes von Furst captive at gunpoint, determined to apply vigilante justice. Gibby and Fritz find out. Gibby starts to telephone the police to report a murder over Red's objections. While they are arguing, von Furst tries to escape, and is shot and killed by Red. When police detective Jettick (Ralph Ince) shows up in answer to Gibby's interrupted call, the men hide the body. Sensing something wrong, Jettick insists on searching for von Furst. When he leaves, Gibby loads the corpse into an aircraft and takes off. He then deliberately crashes, killing himself and taking the blame for the crime.
As appearing in The Lost Squadron, (main roles and screen credits identified):
- Richard Dix as Captain "Gibby" Gibson
- Mary Astor as Follette Marsh
- Robert Armstrong as Lieutenant "Woody" Curwood
- Dorothy Jordan as "Pest" Curwood
- Joel McCrea as "Red"
- Erich von Stroheim as Arthur von Furst
- Hugh Herbert as Sergeant Fritz
- Ralph Ince as Detective Jettick
- Marjorie Peterson as Stenographer
- Ralph Lewis as Joe
- William B. Davidson as Lelewer
While William LeBaron was still production chief at RKO, he started production on The Lost Squadron, but when he was fired, his replacement, David O. Selznick, took over the project as a personal production. As executive producer, Selznick fired director Paul Sloane and replaced him with George Archainbaud, and increased the film's budget to include more spectacular action sequences. Principal photography halted during the production as the RKO studio executives, including Selznick, decided to re-shoot the final scene to heighten the action of the climax, with a new ending written. Eric Linden, who had been borrowed from Warner Bros., was edited out of the final film.
Although considered a standard "B feature", The Lost Squadron boasted several first-rate aviation sequences, since the film was scripted by real-life Hollywood stunt flyer Dick Grace who flew in the film, as an uncredited "flier". Utilizing the Hollywood fleet of war surplus aircraft, the production featured many famous stunt flyers and their mounts, including Grace, Art Goebel, Leo Nomis and Frank Clarke. The aircraft seen on screen include two Nieuports, a Waco 10 and Bristol Fighter. [Note 1]
Having a screen idol such as Richard Dix made The Lost Squadron a popular feature. Although not considered a war film, the aviators' dilemma in reintegrating themselves back in a peacetime society, represents an authentic effort at showing how returning veterans back from the front lines were treated.
Contemporary reviews were generally favorable with Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times critic, calling it "... an excellent melodrama, ably directed" and "... a story about aviators which can boast of a rich vein of originality and clever dialogue." The Variety review stressed the appeal of the film was in introducing a new story motif, the "story-within-a-story" of "behind the scenes" of an aerial film production. A controversy erupted over von Stroheim's portrayal of a tyrannical German director, resulting in the German consul in San Francisco delivering an official protest.
The film lost an estimated $125,000 at the box office.
- The Bristol Fighter dressed up as a German aircraft made its one and only appearance in films, in The Lost Squadron.
- Jewel, Richard. "RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951." Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 14 No. 1, 1994, p. 39.
- Evans 2000, p. 87.
- "Credits: The Lost Squadron (1932)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 12, 2012.
- "Notes: The Lost Squadron (1932)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 12, 2012.
- Wynne 1987, p. 119.
- Hall, Mordaunt. "An Aviation Melodrama." The New York Times, March 11, 1932.
- "The Lost Squadron." variety.com, December 31, 1931. Retrieved: January 2, 2010.
- Wynne 1987, p. 121.
- Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
- I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper (2005) documentary film.
- 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.