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The Dawn Patrol (1938)
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The Dawn Patrol

The Dawn Patrol

Warner Bros.' World War I drama The Dawn Patrol (1938), starring Errol Flynn and David Niven as pilot buddies facing the anguish of seeing their friends shot down in battle, is a remake of Howard Hawks' 1930 film of the same title. The remake remains faithful in many details to John Monk Saunders' Oscar-winning original story for the Hawks film. Nevertheless, Howard Hughes, upset with the remake's similarities to his 1930 Oscar-winner Wings, sued Warner Bros. He lost when it was proven that the screenplay for The Dawn Patrol was indeed based on the Saunders original, which had been written as a vehicle for Ronald Colman BEFORE it was filmed in 1930 with Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

The Dawn Patrol is set at the French headquarters of the British Royal Flying Corps, where ace pilot Flynn blames squadron commander Basil Rathbone for the heavy losses the unit is suffering. After the command is turned over to Flynn, he realizes the hard realities behind Rathbone's actions - particularly after the younger brother of Flynn's best friend, David Niven, is killed in action. The movie is unusual in that it does not contain a single female character.

Errol Flynn always seemed at his best onscreen when paired opposite his on-screen nemesis, Basil Rathbone. The Dawn Patrol is one of three films in which the two clashed, the others being Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Rathbone actually served in WWI and wears his own decorations in the movie. A few years after the release of The Dawn Patrol, Flynn saw his own desire to serve in World War II dashed when he was turned down by every branch of the armed services after being classified 4F because of heart problems and a history of malaria and tuberculosis. None of this, however, kept the popular star from serving, as studio head Jack L. Warner put it, as "all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package" to "the Walter Mittys of the world."

Flynn loved working with friends, and David Niven qualified as one of his best. During the period when The Dawn Patrol was filmed, the two actors shared a Malibu bachelor pad, dubbed "Cirrhosis by the Sea," that the hard-drinking Flynn often used as an escape from his turbulent marriage to actress Lili Damita.

Producer: Robert Lord, Hal B. Wallis
Director: Edmund Goulding
Screenplay: Seton I. Miller and Dan Totheroh from story by John Monk Saunders
Art Direction: John Hughes
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editing: Ralph Dawson
Original Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Errol Flynn (Captain Courtney), Basil Rathbone (Major Brand), David Niven (Lt. Douglas "Scotty" Scott), Donald Crisp (Phipps), Melville Cooper (Sergeant Watkins), Barry Fitzgerald (Bott).
BW-103m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Rob Nixon