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James Cagney once told a friend that if you could survive seven years at Warner Bros., you could survive anything. During the thirties and forties,Warner cranked out formula pictures to the literal exhaustion of its talent.Musicals, adventures, melodramas - once the powers-that-be figured outwhat clicked with audiences, they worked their people into the ground. Still, a lot ofartists broke through the assembly-line atmosphere to create memorablecharacters in pasted-together pictures. Humphrey Bogart, who had beentrapped in an endless loop of disposable gangster roles, is a prime example.He's a supporting actor again in China Clipper (1936), but he seized the opportunity to play a good-guy and ran with it as far as he could.
Pat O'Brien stars as Dave Logan, a former World War I ace who's inspired tocreate a trans-Pacific airline after Charles Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic.But it takes him a while to do it. First, Dave teams up with his flyingpartner (Ross Alexander) and an ambitious airplane designer (Henry B.Walthall) to establish a Washington-Philadelphia line. Unfortunately, evenwith the help of a wealthy backer (Addison Richards), the venture goesbelly-up. Undaunted, Dave recruits fellow flying ace Hap Stuart (HumphreyBogart) to join the group in launching a Caribbean airline. When that onesucceeds, he focuses on his trans-Pacific dream, which he hopes toaccomplish after building a plane called The China Clipper.
Obviously, Dave is a busy guy, and it leaves little time for his loyal wife,Jean (Beverly Roberts.) Will he be able to achieve his dream while holdingtogether his marriage? Will Jean give up and leave her brave, fly-boyhusband? Frankly, it doesn't make much of a difference. Audiences were farmore interested in the flying footage, which utilizes newsreel shots of realclippers as Bogart eases the plane over rough terrain and through evenrougher weather. AsMonthly Film Bulletin noted at the time: "Somedrama inherent in the actual achievement is lost in the manufactured dramaof the fictional plot. Nevertheless, vigorous direction with considerableemphasis on close-up work smoothes over these failings and the flying ingeneral is quite exciting. Excellent entertainment." That's all WarnerBros. was shooting for, and it turned out to be enough. One interesting bit of trivia: the screenwriter of China Clipper - Frank 'Spig' Wead - would later be the subject of a film himself, The Wings of Eagles (1957), directed by his pal, John Ford.
Producer: Samuel Bischoff, Louis F. Edelman, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Norman Reilly Raine, Frank Wead
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Art Direction: Max Parker
Music: W. Franke Harling, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Dave Logan), Beverly Roberts (Jean 'Skippy' Logan), Ross Alexander (Tom Collins), Humphrey Bogart (Hap Stuart), Marie Wilson (Sunny Avery), Joseph Crehan (Jim Horn).
by Paul Tatara