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The Eagle and the Hawk

The Eagle and the Hawk(1933)

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teaser The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)

Carole Lombard is prominently billed in The Eagle and the Hawk (1933), just below Fredric March and Cary Grant, and ahead of Jack Oakie and Sir Guy Standing. Although she was on the brink of becoming Hollywood's queen of comedy, there's no comedy here and in no way can it be thought of as her film. It's a dark, brave, bitter, unexpectedly potent antiwar movie, neglected dynamite, built around Fredric March's growing disillusionment as an ever-increasingly lauded World War I flying ace. Lombard has only one scene, a frankly parenthetical one, but it's not unimportant. Just as jovial Oakie provides comic relief to the stressed Allied combat pilots in France, Lombard's job is to provide respite to March's pilot, Jerry Young, who begins the war almost in a state of high gamesmanship (the introductory credits depict him in polo gear!) that quickly nosedives as the dead bodies pile up around him.

When the war becomes up close and personal, his guilt snowballs after five of the reconnaissance photographers who double as gunners sitting behind him are killed while he keeps making it back alive. "I'm a chauffeur for a graveyard, driving men to their deaths, day after day," he growls, with a growing sense of horror, adding the words that carry the film's theme and his distress: "for what?" Standing's stolid base commander, whose job it is to keep things together as he steadily erases the names of the dead on his blackboard at headquarters and chalks in the new cannon fodder, sees Young drink himself into oblivion after each mission. Realizing Young is in danger of cracking up, and not wanting to lose his best pilot, the CO sends him to London for ten days' leave.

Enter Lombard. Her character, swathed in white furs, nameless and billed only as "Beautiful Lady," is moved by his discomfort at a party, where, far from relaxing into a momentary time out, he squirms, unable to escape his hero image, especially when the hostess' little boy speaks of emulating him, and with boyish enthusiasm asks him how he does it. Fleeing, he's followed by Lombard's gowned socialite, who steps into his cab, "Can I drop you somewhere?" he asks. "I don't want to be dropped," she replies, "I want a cigarette. I think you need a glass of champagne." Battle fatigued, then bottle fatigued, he all but collapses into her arms, tells her of his conflict and torment. On a bench in a park, they share the bubbly. She offers a soothing, sympathetic ear, and, it's clear, more. "You've been awfully kind," he says. "I want to be kind," is her reply.

It's Lombard before she became Lombard. Ernst Lubitsch, at the time studio boss of Paramount, where the film was made, had been telling Lombard she was undervaluing her own talent. He encouraged her to try more serious roles. But in this film, her 37th and her fifth to be released in 1933, she was disappointed not to be given more to do. A year later, in 1934, Howard Hawks cast her in Twentieth Century, and she never looked back. My Man Godfrey (1936), Nothing Sacred (1937) and To Be or Not to Be (1942, released months after she died in a plane crash outside Las Vegas while returning to Los Angeles from a War Bond rally in her native Indiana) insured her stardom and place in film history. But something of the warmth and openness, and even a hint of the bluntness and bawdiness that made the famously tomboyish and down-to-earth Lombard so beloved can be detected in the sincerity and generosity she projects in her punctuating role as sadly fleeting R&R for March's nearly-shattered pilot.

It's also Grant before he became Grant. War movies often revolve around antagonists on the same side What Price Glory? (1926), Wings (1927) -- competing for a woman. In The Eagle and the Hawk, the ongoing clash between March's and Grant's characters is nominally motivated by March getting the higher-ups to divert Grant's Henry Crocker from his ambition to pilot a plane to a seat behind the pilot as photographer/gunner a role for which he's better suited. Really, though, they're on different sides of a values gap. Young is honor-bound, driven by a sense of noblesse oblige. Crocker sees Young's chivalry not only as an impediment, but as possible suicide when facing a determined enemy.

Young is filled with self-disgust when the German flying ace he shoots down is revealed to be, in his words, "a boy." Earlier, when Young angrily berates the gunner for shooting a parachuting German to death, Crocker snarls: "This is a war. I'm hired to kill the enemy, and there ain't no book of rules about that. Every one I put away means one less to kill me. That's my job and I'm doing it." The words "ain't" and, earlier, "yeah," do not fall naturally from Grant's lips. But this is Grant as yet not fully formed, before he arrived at the suave persona that carried him to, and through, stardom. Still, there always was something hard-edged about Grant. In such films as Suspicion (1941) and Notorious (1946), we're convinced he could be a nasty piece of work. Here, he's not entirely at home in the standard American tough-guy masculinity he's assigned. But his spine and anger get the job done, especially in their plane, with its logo of death wielding a scythe.

So does Oakie get the supporting job done. He's entirely at home in his blustery salt-of-the-earth genial mode -- until he dies in Young's arms. Made in a time when the world was fascinated with aviation, the flight sequences many borrowed from Wings, Lilac Time (1928) and The Dawn Patrol (1930) and utilizing anachronistic planes -- are smoothly integrated into the film. (John Monk Saunders got story credit for this film, Wings and The Dawn Patrol). Stuart Walker is listed as director, although Mitchell Leisen, later to be known for romantic comedies, claimed at the time of his reworked version of the 1939 re-release that he had directed much of the original. Either way, it crackles with urgency.

The big reason is March. He's superb as the noble soul impaled on his own high ethical standard. Incisive without ever being pompous, underplaying touchingly in such scenes as his confrontation with the hero-worshipping English boy, he's graceful always, even when we feel him corroding from within. His sharply etched character is heroic in his high-minded anti-heroism, increasingly unable to fight with conviction a war that has become an end in itself, chewing up human lives. Ever more alienated from his hero's mantle by his unsparing perception of himself as murderer, he's the film's soul as it makes its points with a grim, unflinching integrity that compels respect and makes you wonder why The Eagle and the Hawk isn't better known. It fully deserves a place alongside that foremost WWI antiwar film, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the seismic values shift that animates Jean Renoir's great The Grand Illusion (1937).

Producer: Bayard Veiller (uncredited)
Director: Stuart Walker
Screenplay: Seton I. Miller, Bogart Rogers; John Monk Saunders (story "Death in the Morning")
Cinematography: Harry Fischbeck
Music: John Leipold (uncredited)
Cast: Fredric March (Jerry H. Young), Cary Grant (Henry Crocker), Jack Oakie (Mike Richards), Carole Lombard (the Beautiful Lady), Guy Standing (Major Dunham), Forrester Harvey (Hogan), Kenneth Howell (John Stevens), Leyland Hodgson (Kingsford), Virginia Hammond (Lady Erskine), Douglas Scott (Tommy Erskine), Robert Manning (Voss)

by Jay Carr

Screwball: The Life of Carole Lombard, by Larry Swindell, Morrow
The Films of Carole Lombard, by Frederick W. Ott, Citadel
The Films of Fredric March, by Lawrence J. Quirk, Citadel
Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart, by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley, Avon
Cary Grant: A Touch of Elegance, by Warren G. Harris, Zebra
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Review by Mordaunt Hall, New York times, May 13, 1933

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