Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Best Basil Rathbone Films - #4 "The Dawn Patrol" (1938)

You can easily argue that "All Quiet on the Western Front" is the definitive World War I drama. However, one of the finest films ever to depict the Great War was released by Warner Bros.' in 1938 and features a fine ensemble cast of Errol Flynn, David Niven and Basil Rathbone. That film is "The Dawn Patrol."

Stationed near the German border in France, Courtney (Errol Flynn) and Scott (David Niven) are two aviators. Outnumbered by the Germans and low on resources, the circumstances have truly taken their tole on the squadron's commander, Major Brand (Rathbone). Brand would rather fly the missions himself rather than have young, inexperienced men shot down on their first flight. However, soon Brand is called away from the squadron and appoints Courtney as his successor. What sort of impact will the conflict have on the happy-go-lucky Courtney and will he survive the war?

"The Dawn Patrol" is a brilliant character study, especially for its lead characters. It is interesting to note that the film has a very small cast, unusual for war epics, but this helps develop the characters extremely. All three leads are very real, humane characters and the limited cast helps establish the closeness and develop a real kinship amongst them. Most notably is Flynn who turns in one of his finest performances. Although Flynn is brilliant in his swashbuckling, sword-toting types of roles, his down-to-Earth performance here is excellent. It was not very often that Flynn was able to play a "normal" human being and this film shows that Errol Flynn had acting chops which could match the best of them.

From Left to Right: David Niven, Errol Flynn
and Basil Rathbone
David Niven also shines as Courtney's friend, Scott. Though I have not seen much of his work, I am always impressed by Niven's range as an actor. He seemed just as capable of performing comedy (see "The Pink Panther" or "Around the World in Eighty Days") as he was performing drama. Much like Flynn and Rathbone, Niven's character is very down-to-Earth, and by the film's conclusion he is probably the one who is most affected by the events which have transpired. He gives a tremendously moving performance, the same which applies to Rathbone as the squadron commander. Though Rathbone's character of Major Brand is hardly a warm and cuddly guy, he's not the film's antagonist. Brand is constantly suppressing his inner guilt. He has no choice but to send young, inexperienced flyers into battle, wrought with the knowledge they will probably not make it beyond their initial flight. Rathbone's performance here is more than usually sincere and it's probably due to the fact he saw action on the front-lines during the war, and I wouldn't be surprised if he managed to channel that into his performance.

"The Dawn Patrol" is a movie which is likely to linger in the memory long after you've seen it. It's one of the finest examples of war drama I've ever come across and certainly gives the aforementioned "All Quiet on the Western Front" a run for its money as the finest World War I film out there. The same year as "The Dawn Patrol's" release, Rathbone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in another 1938 film, "If I were King." Rathbone ultimately lost to Walter Brennan, but I feel as though if Rathbone had been nominated for "The Dawn Patrol," Mr. Brennan may not have been so lucky. "The Dawn Patrol" is a fine film which comes highly recommended from me.

Coming Next Time: "Captain Blood" - Enough said

1 comment:

  1. You are right, it is a great movie. I love anything with Niven in it. Add in Rathbone and boy is it a treat.
    Thanks for the review.
    If you like that movie try, 'Aces High', newer but very good.

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