Cast & Crew
Millionaire Martin Drewen, owner of Consolidated Airlines, thinks rival owner Barry Eldon's air mail scheme is too risky to invest in and urges him to sell his Independent Transcontinental Lines to him. However, at a meeting, Barry's pilots urge him not to sell out but to try to expand his own company. As Barry leaves the airport, he encounters the ravishing Renee Dupont in a taxi. That evening, Barry and Renee meet again at Victor Arnold's casino, where she works as a dancer. Meanwhile, Arnold shows Consolidated's representative his hideout. There, in a secret laboratory, the Russo-German scientist, Shutter, has developed a destructive ray gun. Consolidated's chief accepts Arnold's plan to build a full-scale ray gun, which will then be used to destroy their competitors' airplanes. With Shutter at the controls, the ray gun destroys one of Barry's airplanes. Meanwhile, two government men suspect what is happening and order Barry to ground his airplanes, but not before another airplane is destroyed. Barry decides to bet the airline's survival on a new speed plane with which he will try to beat the transcontinental record. Meanwhile, Tiny Davis, a reporter friend of Barry's, discovers Arnold's hideout and investigates, then tells Barry. A phone number Tiny noticed on the wall leads them to Arnold's casino, where Barry finds a map of his airline's routes and the bills for the devices required to build Shutter's ray gun. Renee discovers Arnold's and Drewen's collaboration and warns Barry of their plot to kill him. Renee pretends to flee with Arnold on an airplane, which unknown to him, is piloted by Barry. Barry forces Arnold to point out Shutter's truck on the road below. He then dives at the truck, bombing and destroying it. Meanwhile, Lewis has convinced the famous aviator, Wiley Post, to join him in flying the speed plane in Barry's place. After Drewen is captured, Renee accompanies Barry to Washington to sign a new contract.
Edward Van Sloan
C. Franklin Parker
Charles C. Wilson
George Offerman Jr.
James A. Guilfoyle
Air Hawks on DVD
What starts out as a typical aviation film of the period -- with Bellamy as the owner of an airline who refuses to sell out to a rival company -- takes a very enjoyable turn into mad scientist/sci-fi territory when the rival company turns to a professor with a mobile, laser death ray that can shoot planes out of the sky. Planes start dropping, and the resulting public outrage forces Bellamy to reconsider selling. It's completely preposterous, but we buy it by sheer force of the film's storytelling craftsmanship.
Director Albert Rogell, while completely forgotten today, was by1935 already a veteran of countless silent westerns, and his career would stretch well into the sound era and even into television. He was no great auteur, just a working professional, and among his other credits are the mystery-comedy classic The Black Cat (1941) and the Robert Cummings favorite Heaven Only Knows (1947). With Air Hawks, he keeps things moving swiftly and skillfully and merges several genres quite well, playing up the humor, menace and thrills as needed from scene to scene.
In the eclectic cast, Douglass Dumbrille makes a fine villain (as always), and Edward Van Sloan is perfectly over-the-top as the mad scientist -- a role he had already played well in many classic Universal horror movies. Many more such parts would follow.
The lead female role here is played by Tala Birell (born in Romania as Natalie Bierl), one of many exotic European actresses Hollywood tried to build into stars around this time. While stardom was not in the cards for Birell, she did stick around Hollywood and appeared in some three dozen films (including bit parts) before returning to Europe.
And famous aviator Wiley Post appears as himself for a couple minutes of screen time -- despite being second-billed! Post had a few years earlier become the first pilot to make a solo flight around the globe, and he became a bona fide celebrity because of it. This was his only movie appearance. A few months after the release of Air Hawks, Post, along with humorist Will Rogers, died in an Alaska plane crash.
At the time Air Hawks was made, Post was developing and testing the first pressurized flight suit for high-altitude flying. Made of inflatable latex and canvas, with oxygen fed in through the helmet, it can be seen in this film.
Film scholar William K. Everson put it best when he described Air Hawks as "vintage Saturday matinee fare from the '30s. Professionally made, with slick direction, a good cast, and polished production values; it's the kind of film that more than pleased us, within its category, back in the '30s, and thus it is unfair to apply more exacting standards to it today."
Sony's burn-on-demand DVD boasts excellent picture and sound quality, and is well worth catching.
For more information about Air Hawks, visit Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.To order Air Hawks, go to TCM Shopping.
By Jeremy Arnold
Air Hawks on DVD
The working title for this film was Air Fury, which was also the title of Ben Pivar's unpublished story. Wiley Post and Roscoe Turner were noted fliers of the 1930s. Post, who appeared as himself in the film, died in an August 1935 plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska in which his close friend, noted American humorist Will Rogers, was also killed. This May have been the only dramatic film in which Post appeared.