Cast & Crew
Sergeant "Big Mike" Stone, an Army flier stationed at Randolph Field, Texas, wants to make a man and an aviator out of his young son, "Little Mike," who has grown up with General Carter's son Phil and daughter Skip, his childhood sweetheart. Times passes, and Little Mike proves to be a fine student at West Point and becomes the star player on the Army football team. When Little Mike brings the Army team to victory against the Navy team, Big Mike is proud. The vampish Dare Marshall, also attending the football game, takes an immediate interest in the handsome player and manages to get Big Mike to introduce her to his son. A romance soon develops between Dare and Little Mike, much to the consternation of Skip, who is still in love with him. Following Little Mike's graduation from West Point and his return to Randolph Field with Dare to begin his flying career, General Carter tells Big Mike that what his impetuous son needs to make him a good flier is his father's strict military influence. Despite his father's reproof, Little Mike takes Dare out for an evening of fun the night before an important meeting with Army officials. When Phil crashes his airplane while trying to avoid Little Mike's car on the runway, the hard-boiled general immediately orders all the students into the air so that they do not lose their nerve. Skip and Little Mike visit Phil in the hospital, where they learn that he has had a leg amputated, and Little Mike blames himself for the tragedy. Later, during his flying test, Little Mike causes a mid-air collision, which disables his airplane and sends the other to its fiery demise. Big Mike, spotting signs of distress from his son's airplane, goes into the air and helps the crippled airplane land. Back on the ground, father and son have a quarrel over Big Mike's idea to cover up the incident, which culminates in the father punching his son. Little Mike swears he will never fly again, and Big Mike is dishonorably discharged from the service for attacking an officer. Time passes, and Little Mike tells his father, now a drunken airplane mechanic, that he plans to quit the Army, even though he has been assigned to a job as a flare dropper. Big Mike upbraids his son for running out on his fellow airmen, and vows to perform his son's duties in his stead with his rickety airplane. Dare supports Little Mike's decision to quit the Army, putting herself at odds with Skip, who lectures both of them on integrity and human decency. As promised, Big Mike takes over his son's job, and when his airplane crashes, Little Mike performs a daring underwater rescue to save his father. Having proven his valor, Big Mike is restored to his sergeancy and is given the honor of pinning his son with his flying wings at the graduation ceremony. Little Mike is then reconciled with his true love, Skip.
G. Pat Collins
Lieutenant James F. Harris
Arthur J. Beckhard
Howard H. Campbell
Charles A. Marshall
James K. Mcguinness
John Monk Saunders
Capt A. B. Strickland
West Point of the Air
Wallace Beery plays Big Mike, an old sergeant who hopes to make a man of his son, Little Mike (Robert Young), by pushing him to become a top flier. The callow youth, however, disappoints him at every turn throwing over sweet Skip (Maureen O'Sullivan) for no-good temptress Dare (Rosalind Russell), carousing when he should be studying, getting his father court-martialed and dishonorably discharged, and causing another plane to crash. But in the end, spurred on by Skip's love and the stern but fatherly guidance of General Carter (Lewis Stone), Little Mike comes through, saving his father's life and earning his wings.
For a fairly routine release of its era, West Point of the Air has, in retrospect, quite an impressive credit list, featuring players in supporting roles and crew members who would go on to become some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Director Richard Rosson (whose siblings included silent film star Helene, director Arthur, and top cinematographer Hal) was certainly at home with stories of men in action, having been a second-unit director on a number of Howard Hawks films. He was also credited as co-director with Hawks on Scarface (1932) and Today We Live (1933), which featured Gary Cooper as a World War I flying ace. Beery was then one of the biggest stars in the business and an Oscar-winner for another father-son drama, The Champ (1931). Young (known to TV audiences a generation later as Marcus Welby and for the title role of Father Knows Best) and O'Sullivan (already famous as Tarzan's Jane and later as the mother of Mia Farrow) were rising young players; he had just co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in Spitfire (1934), and she had made her mark in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) and David Copperfield (1935).
But today we're more likely to remember the film careers of two cast members in smaller roles. Rosalind Russell, in only her second year as a film actress, was just starting her career at MGM, where she would take on a lot of second-leads throughout the 1930s, usually playing sophisticated women (the "Lady Mary" parts she jokingly called them, where she had to say "rahther" a lot). Here she's incongruously cast as the bad girl with the odd but evocative name Dare. But true to the versatility she displayed throughout her long and varied career, Russell gave the part her all, causing one reviewer to note that her ultimately dumped temptress was "much the hotter number" of the two female love interests in the picture. Robert Taylor was also in his second year on screen. At this point, MGM executives didn't think much of his acting (an opinion Taylor agreed with throughout his career) and saw him only as a pretty face that photographed well. Although his role in this picture amounts to little more than a bit part, within two years he would be courting the likes of Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Greta Garbo in some of the biggest hit films of the time. Also watch for character actor and three-time Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in a tiny part as another member of the Army Air Corps.
Director: Richard Rosson
Producer: Monta Bell
Screenplay: Arthur J. Beckhard, Frank Wead, based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness and John Monk Saunders
Cinematography: Clyde De Vinna, Charles A. Marshall, Elmer Dyer
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: H.R. Campbell, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Charles Maxwell
Cast: Wallace Beery (Big Mike), Robert Young (Little Mike), Maureen O'Sullivan (Skip Carter), Lewis Stone (General Carter), Rosalind Russell (Dare), Robert Taylor (Jaskerelli).
by Rob Nixon
West Point of the Air
A contemporary source said there were 1,000 airplanes flying in formation and 200 simultaneous parachute jumps.
The PCA requested that the 'pansy gag' be deleted from the prints. That gag has James Gleason kissing Wallace Beery, who responds with "I told you the army was a place for men." However, that scene is in the Turner library print.
The onscreen dedication notes that "this film was make in cooperation with the Army Air Corps at Randolph Field, Texas." Although the release date in Motion Picture Herald was listed as March 22, 1935, contemporary news items relate that the world premiere took place on 23 Mar. According to Hollywood Reporter pre-production news items, Franchot Tone was initially announced for a part in the picture, and Wallace Beery was to fly his own plane to the San Antonio, TX location site. Hollywood Reporter pre-release news items noted that Harry Perry, "one of the best aerial cameramen," joined photographer Charles Marshall on the film, and that writer Joe Cunningham was engaged to write gags. A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item also lists Paul Stanton in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A contemporary source claimed that the film featured 1,000 airplanes flying in formation, and 200 simultaneous parachute jumps. Hollywood Reporter production charts list actors Syd Saylor and Herman Bing in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter production charts also list Mickey Rooney in the cast, but he did not appear in the released film. An early Hollywood Reporter production chart lists Philip Dunne as a co-screenwriter along with credited writer J. K. McGuinness, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed.
According to a Daily Variety pre-release news item, the football players credited above were members of the UCLA football team. A 4 February Daily Variety news item notes that M-G-M did "considerable retaking and remaking" after seeing the first cut of the picture. According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in March 1935, the PCA urged M-G-M to retake the scene in which it is suggested that Robert Young spends the night at Rosalind Russell's apartment, and have him leave her apartment instead. Among other changes requested by the PCA, was the deletion of a "pansy gag" at the end of the picture in which James Gleason kisses Wallace Beery, and Beery's line: "I told you the army was a place for men." Following the release of West Point of the Air, a Hollywood Reporter news article reported that the film had received some unexpected exploitation resulting from a Cleveland, OH police department request that all officers view the film in order to familiarize themselves with the face of Lieutenant James F. Harris, who makes a brief appearance in the picture. This was done in the hope of locating the officer, who was suffering from amnesia and was reported missing from Fort Snelling soon after his transfer from Randolph Field.