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On the eve of their graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, six close friends begin to nostalgically reminisce about the great experiences they have shared. The "Flying Six" express their determination to stick together and become Navy pilots.
But even before graduation the next day, one of the men will have already left the group. Prematurely celebrating his graduation, Dizzy (Edward Nugent) is caught by an officer as he stumbles drunkenly into the barracks, leading to his dismissal from the academy.
Once the five remaining friends unite for naval selection in San Diego, there are even greater hurdles to overcome, as when Specs (Gardner James) fails to pass the eyesight test to become a pilot.
Their numbers significantly diminished, the remaining friends proceed to the U.S. Naval Aviation Training School in Pensacola, Florida where their ranks dwindle even further when Kewpie (Sumner Getchell) panics aboard an initial flight and realizes he is not pilot material. Over the course of the story the original six flying buddies are reduced to just Tommy (Ramon Novarro) and Steve (Ralph Graves).
In the midst of director George Hill's accurate rendition of the trials and tribulations of military life he includes the peculiarities of the extensive training involved in flying for the Navy. Hill's The Flying Fleet (1929) enlisted the help of the United States Navy's department of Aviation (to whom the film was dedicated) for the production and includes scenes of graduation in Annapolis, Navy aircraft launchers and in-air flying that give the film its sense of authenticity.
Though The Flying Fleet focuses primarily on the mechanics of becoming a Navy fly boy, there is room for romance as well when Tommy and Steve both fall head over heels for a beguiling blonde, Anita, played by Anita Page, an actress "whose popularity is increasing in leaps and bounds" a February 1929 Variety review gushed. Mexican-born Novarro (born Jose Ramon Gil Samaniegos) was a significant sensation in his heyday as well. During the Twenties Novarro ranked as a heartthrob alongside John Gilbert and Rudolph Valentino. Novarro was featured in a number of leading roles including his breakthrough film The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Ben Hur (1925) and Mata Hari (1931) opposite Greta Garbo. In a 1995 interview Page recalled of her opportunity to star opposite Novarro in The Flying Fleet, "Oh, I loved it. I loved it, because in the first place Mr. Novarro was something to dream about. I mean he was so good looking." Unfortunately, Novarro met a violent end. On Halloween eve in 1968 he was found bludgeoned to death in his home on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
The Flying Fleet was based on a story by Lt. Commander Frank Wead, a maverick aviator who eventually became a screenwriter on films such as Airmail (1932) and They Were Expendable (1945) and whose own life was later treated by John Ford in The Wings of Eagles (1957).
Director: George W. Hill
Screenplay: Adapted by Richard Schayer based on an original story by Lt. Commander Frank Wead and Byron Morgan.
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan, Charles A. Marshall
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Music: William Axt and David Mendoza
Cast: Ramon Novarro (Tommy), Ralph Graves (Steve), Anita Page (Anita), Edward Nugent (Dizzy), Carroll Nye (Tex), Sumner Getchell (Kewpie).
by Felicia Feaster