Criminals of the Air
Cast & Crew
C. C. Coleman Jr.
Mark Owens, a United States government undercover agent, is dispatched to the Mexican border to aid the border patrol in its effort to stop the movement of contraband into Mexico. The contraband smugglers work out of the border town of Hernandez, a favorite destination for couples who want to get married in a hurry. There, Owens, a professional pilot, gets a job flying an airplane called the "Honeymoon Express." Although Owens believes that his identity is unknown in Hernandez, he is spotted by "Hot Cake Joe," an informer for the smugglers who tends a local sandwich stand. Soon after Owens arrives in Hernandez, a border patrol aircraft is shot down by Blast Reardon, border gang leader Kurt Feldon's first lieutenant. Feldon, owner of the Raven Night Club, hires Owens to fly wedding parties to his cafe. When Nancy Rawlings, a newspaper reporter assigned to the airport beat, begins to write a story about Owens and his unusual job, she soon becomes suspicious of him when he refuses to allow his picture to be taken. After witnessing Owens accepting money from Feldon, Nancy concludes that he is in the employ of the smugglers. To learn more about his activities, Nancy pays Mamie, a waitress, to spy on Owens and report to her when his airplane leaves. Owens, meanwhile, takes photographs of the border region, hoping to discover the gang's hideout. While Owens' film is being developed, Feldon is informed of his true identity and orders Blast to kill him. After Nancy is tipped off by Mamie of Blast's plot to kidnap Owens, she hides in Owens' airplane and, undetected, flies with Blast, his moll and Owens on their flight to the gang hideout, where Owens is to be held prisoner. Concerned about Nancy's mysterious disappearance, her newspaper editor calls the border patrol. The border patrol sends a rescue team when it receives Owens' aerial photographs that reveal the location of the hideout. Meanwhile, Nancy helps Owens escape to his airplane and the two take to the air, followed by Blast in his airplane. When the border patrol airplanes arrive on the scene, an aerial dogfight ensues, resulting in the downing of Blast's airplane. The border patrol airplanes then attack and kill the rest of the gang, who are attempting to make a getaway by car. With the smugglers put out of business, Nancy and Owens decide to marry.
Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)
Born Max Goldsmith on February 17, 1910, in the Bronx, Lawrence had his heart set on a career in drama right out of high school. He enrolled at City College of New York to study theatre, and in 1930, he worked under famed stage actress Eva Le Gallienne. Anxious for a career in movies, Lawrence moved to Hollywood in 1932 and found work immediately as a contract player with Warner Bros. (an ideal studio for the actor since they specialized in crime dramas). He was cast as a heavy in his first film, If I Had a Million (1932). Although his first few parts were uncredited, Lawrence's roles grew more prominent: a sinister henchman in the Paul Muni vehicle in Dr. Socrates (1935); a conniving convict aiding Pat O'Brien in San Quentin (1937); a menacing thug stalking Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940); the shrewdly observant chauffeur in Alan Ladd's breakthrough hit This Gun For Hire (1942); and one of his most memorable roles as Ziggy, a fedora wearing mobster in the Bogart-Bacall noir classic Key Largo (1948).
Lawrence, when given the opportunity, could play against type: as the prosecuting attorney challenging Tyrone Power in Brigham Young (1940); a noble aristocrat in the Greer Garson-Walter Pidgeon period opus Blossoms in the Dust; and most impressively, as a deaf mute simpleton in the rustic drama The Shepherd of the Hills (both 1941). Better still was Lawrence's skill at comedy, where his deadpan toughness worked terrifically as a straight man against the likes of Joe E. Brown in Beware Spooks (1939); Abbott and Costello in Hit the Ice (1943); Penny Singleton in Life with Blondie (1945); and Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951).
After that, Lawrence's career took a turn downward spin when he was labeled a communist sympathizer during the Hollywood witch hunts of the early '50s. He was exiled in Europe for a spell (1951-59), and when he came back, the film industry turned a blind eye to him, but television overcompensated for that. Here he played effective villains (what else?) in a series of crime caper programs: Peter Gunn, Johnny Staccato, The Untouchables, Richard Diamond, Private Detective; and eventually made a welcome return to the big screen as a returning exiled gangster in William Asher's underrated mob thriller Johnny Cool (1963).
It wasn't long before Lawrence found himself back in the fray playing in some big box-office hits over the next two decades: Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Marathon Man (1976), Foul Play (1978); and The Big Easy (1987). Sure he was cast as a gangster, but nobody could play a rough and tumble mob boss with more style or conviction.
Interestingly, one of his finest performances in recent years was in television, as a severely ill old man unwilling to accept his fate in a fourth season episode of ER (1997-98). His last screen role was just two years ago, as a nimble minded VP in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).
In 1991, Lawrence published a memoir about his venerable career, Long Time No See: Confessions of a Hollywood Gangster that received much critical acclaim. He has also developed a cult following due to his appearances in such offbeat items as From Dusk to Dawn and Pigs aka Daddy's Deadly Darling, the 1972 horror film he directed and starred in with his daughter Toni. He is survived by his wife, Alicia; two children from a previous marriage, Toni and Michael; and a stepdaughter Marina.
by Michael T. Toole
Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)
Rita Hayworth's name change came between the preview (where she was credited as "Rita Cansino") and the release print.
Working titles for this film were Guardians of the Air and Honeymoon Pilot. The latter title was used in Motion Picture Herald's "Cutting Room" column, which lists Folmer Glangsted as the co-director of the film along with C. C. Coleman, although all other contemporary sources credit only Coleman. This is the first film in which Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) is billed as Hayworth rather than Cansino. Modern sources list the following additional credits: Gowns by Kalloch; Makup supv by Johnny Wallace; Art dir supv by Stephen Goosson; Chief sd eng John Livadary. Modern sources also add to the cast: Frank Sully (Contact); Lucille Lund (Ruby); Crawford Weaver (Ronnie); Ruth Hilliard (Ronnie's wife); Matty Kemp (Arnold); Robert Fiske (Groom); Martha Tibbetts (Bride); Howard Hickman (Harrison); Sam Flint (Chafin); Eddie Fetherston (Simmons); Jay Eaton (Harry-the-Actor); Jane Weir (Harry's wife); Norma Pabst (Field porter); Sammy Blum (Bartender); and Richard Botiller (Mike).