Capt. Courtney (Flynn) introduces Lt. Scott (Niven, r) to prisoner Von Mueller
(Carl Esmond, l), who shot down his plane. Second from left is Donald Crisp
The Dawn Patrol
This is a remake of the early talkie which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and former D.W. Griffith player Richard Barthelmess. It takes place during WWI on a remote RAF outpost in France. A vicious cycle is in play: young, inexperienced flyers are being sent on a one-way mission to battle the German opposition. As more are lost, younger and even less experienced enlistees are sent over to take on these missions.
There is no one more frustrated and distraught over losing lives than Major Brand (Basil Rathbone). A former flyer who was promoted to officer, his job now is to dole out these assignments to the squads. His squadron leaders and former partners despise him. Brand has no choice but to obey orders from high command, no matter how much he wants to take to the skies himself...
...Until one day he is promoted and headed back to London. Brand passes the privilege on to brazen Captain Courtney (Flynn), who - together with his buddy Lieutenant Scott (David Niven) - had snuck out that morning on their own to raise havoc at an enemy base. Courtney finds himself in the same unbearable position Brand had previously held, only the flyers coming in are younger and greener.
Major Brand (Rathbone) is suspiciously happy after Courtney & Scott
In real life, Errol Flynn and David Niven WERE pals. During the period this film was made, Flynn and Niven shared a bachelor pad (they sublet a Malibu bungalow from Marion Davies). Flynn was still married to Lili Damita, but her overbearing manner often drove him to the sanctuary of "Cirrhosis by the Sea", as the second home was called. Flynn noticeably works best opposite friends, and in DAWN PATROL, he puts in one of the best acting performances of his career. And for a fellow who went into pictures on a lark, Niven ain't so bad, either.
In this film we see another one of those unwritten laws of cinema: If someone hands you a watch to pass along just in case they don't make it back, it's a sure bet they won't.
With regard to casting foreign roles: I ran the sequence of the captured aviator for my German father. Von Mueller drunkenly rambles on to Courtney & Scott, who have no idea what he's saying. Well, my father couldn't figure out much of it either. "His German is terrible," he told me, and just barely made out that Mueller was expressing the running theme of the film: That war was a job which nobody wants to do but has to. The three flyers regard eachother with mutual respect and no hard feelings.
Oddly enough, not a single female appears in this movie!
Also worth noting: Basil Rathbone had served in the First World War and wears his own decorations in the film.
The DAWN PATROL is available on video and laserdisc (see the video page) and is highly recommended.
All original contents (writing, graphics) ęD.David and
may not be used without permission