“The Eagle and the Hawk” is a
forgotten WWI air combat movie. I have
seen a lot of these and this one flew under my radar, so to speak. It was directed by Stuart Walker and Mitchell
Leisen. The original story was by John
Monk Saunders, who also wrote “Wings” and “The Dawn Patrol”. Saunders had been in the Air Service during
the war, but was stuck in Florida as a flight instructor. The movie casts Cary Grant and Carol Lombard
before they made it big. It was
Lombard’s 37th film and her fifth in 1933! She does not appear on the original poster
but made it onto the rerelease poster.
Grant and Frederic March were almost killed when a premature explosion
collapsed some beams on them. Grant held
up a beam while March was pulled out.
Grant suffered some internal injuries.
The movie had a nice set of vintage aircraft to work with. These included five Thomas-Morse Scouts, four
Nieuport 28’s, two de Havilland DH-4’s, and a Curtiss JN-4.
movie opens with Lt. Young (March) and Lt. Crocker (Grant) having joined the
Royal Flying Corps. Crocker makes a poor
landing resulting in the pair being upside down. Crocker takes it with a laugh, but Young
begins to think Crocker is not cut out to be a pilot. When the squadron gets sent to France, Young
makes sure Crocker is held back. Young
becomes a photo reconnaissance pilot. He
flies, the backseater takes pictures and uses a machine gun to defend the plane
if pounced on. On his first mission, he
shoots down two Germans. The footage was
from “The Dawn Patrol” (1930). But upon
returning to base, he discovers that his comrade is dead. This becomes a pattern as Young is as bullet
proof as his photographers are bullet magnets.
Squadron mates are dying to fly with him. Get it?
Nobody seems to hold this against him because he becomes a celebrated
flying ace. But at what cost? He’s not Stachel from “The Blue Max”. After two months, he has reached the point
where his job description is: “I’m a
chauffer for a graveyard, driving men to their deaths, day after day, for
what?” For medals, apparently. He begins to drink and not the usual WWI air
combat movie drinking. More the Gresham
from “Aces High” alcoholism. He also
has nightmares. His victims (the Germans
and his observers) are just kids! Kids! Into his morose life comes his foil,
Crocker. Crocker has conceded his dream
of being a pilot and now is a fearless observer. Although they loath each other, they pair up. The mutual animosity goes up to 10 when
Crocker shoots a parachuting German.
Young is the tormented, chivalric knight of the air and Crocker is the
Machivellian, stone cold killer. Young
belongs in WWI, Crocker belongs in WWII.
They are grudgingly going to learn to respect each other, but will it be
enough to halt Young’s descent into alcoholic depression? Maybe if he meets a Beautiful Lady (Lombard)
on R&R, that will turn him around.
I have seen “Ace of Aces” and “Lafayette Escadrille” and I figured this movie
would be a similarly low-quality dogfighting movie. I was wrong.
“The Eagle and the Hawk” is one of the better WWI air combat
movies. It avoids most of the clichés so
prevalent in this subgenre. Nobody rides
a motorcycle, but the main character does lose his best friend, the squadron
does party hard, and there is an enemy ace (Voss, apparently based on Werner
Voss) they joust with, but he is not a villain.
The cannon fodder replacements are enthusiastic, as usual. However, although the movie is predictably
antiwar, it is otherwise unpredictable.
In fact, for a Cary Grant movie, it is shockingly downbeat. It’s closest to “Aces High” in its depressing
take on the war in the air.
Eagle and the Hawk” is realistic in showing the stress the war could put on
even the best pilots. Young and Stachel
are at opposite extremes of the spectrum when it comes to how pilots must have
reacted to shooting down fellow human beings.
With Young, you have to add that he also loses a lot of comrades and
could argue to himself that he was at fault.
What makes the movie a cut above is the movie literally puts Young and
Stachel in the same plane because Crocker is a Stachel-like character. The cast is strong with March great as the
tormented Young and Grant his usual debonair self, but with an edge that he
showed in movies like “Notorious”. He is
not humorous. Jack Oakie provides the
comic relief you often see in otherwise serious WWI movies. Lombard has basically a cameo. She is billed as “Beautiful Lady” and she
certainly matches the description. Her
short time on screen is crucial in showing how far down the well Young has
fallen. She throws him a rope, but does
he even want redemption? While her role
is as developed as her billing, the three main characters are
well-developed. We know what makes these
guys tick. The dialogue helps with this
as the movie has the feel of a play in parts.
would hesitate to call it a dogfighting movie.
It has a small amount of actual combat, but the quality makes up for the
lack of quantity. Although the producers
had those vintage aircraft to work with, most of the action is footage from
other movies like “The Dawn Patrol”, “Wings”, and “Young Eagles”. You can’t tell, though. The sound effects are good and match the
footage well. But don’t watch it to
learn about dogfighting in WWI. Don’t
even watch it to learn about photo recon.
It’s a movie with a main character that has a character arc that has to
spiral downward, so we’ll overlook the fact that every observer he takes up
gets machine gunned and yet the German pilots can’t hit the guy sitting three
feet in front of them. We’ll also
overlook having an observation pilot become a famous ace. I can guarantee you Young is not based on an
Eagle and the Hawk” got positive reviews, but did not make a splash at the box
office. I theorize this was due to Grant
and Lombard not being big box office draws yet.
It could also be explained by the far from happy ending. The public had been conditioned by this time
to expect good WWI movies to be anti-war, but “The Eagle and the Hawk” takes it
up a notch. I won’t give it away, but I
will mention that the original ending was even more down-beat. Some things are beyond the public’s ability