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A World War I aviation drama from RKO Pictures, Ace of Aces is based on The Bird of Prey, a story by John Monk Saunders, an author-screenwriter who specialized in aviation and also created the stories for Wings (1927) and The Dawn Patrol (1938).
Ace of Aces stars Richard Dix as a sculptor with pacifist leanings who registers as a conscientious objector as the war breaks out but is then shamed by his socialite sweetheart (Elizabeth Allan) into enlisting in the Air Corps. He is sent to France as a fighter pilot and becomes one of the Corps' most ruthless killing machines, shooting down numerous German planes. To prove his courage, he takes such daredevil risks that even the girlfriend is shocked by his increasingly bloodthirsty attitude.
Ralph Bellamy, radio singer Art Jarrett and William Cagney (James' look-alike brother) are in the supporting cast, which also includes stunt pilot Frank Clark and, in uncredited bits, Betty Furness and Grady Sutton. Aerial scenes, featuring recreations of dogfights, spinouts and fiery crashes, were created by Howard Batt, Frank Clark, Oliver LeBoutillier and Garland Lincoln, among others. "It's the fine photography and crashes that provide the thrills," wrote a reviewer for Variety. Some aerial scenes were taken from Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels (1930).
Dix, who actually saw service during WWI, became a star of silent films with his rugged good looks and calmly authoritative manner. Among his memorable silent roles were the modern hero of The Ten Commandments (1923) and the Indian of The Vanishing American (1925). His best-remembered performance in sound pictures came in Cimarron (1931), which brought him an Oscar® nomination as Best Actor. After that he generally played leads in action films and, in the 1940s, was the star of a movie series in which he played "The Whistler."
Producer: Sam Jaffe
Director: J. Walter Ruben
Screenplay: John Monk Saunders and H.W. Hanemann, from story by Saunders
Cinematography: Henry Cronjager
Original Music: Max Steiner
Editing: George Hively
Principal Cast: Richard Dix (Lt. Rex Thorne), Elizabeth Allan (Nancy Adams), Ralph Bellamy (Major Blake), Theodore Newton (Lt. Foster Kelly), William Cagney (Lt. Meeker).
by Roger Fristoe