Classic Hollywood Pick: The Dawn Patrol
By Aaron Cutler
(Warner Archive, $18.95)
A squadron commander erases dead men’s names from a chalkboard. The time is 1915, “when a great country was forced to entrust its salvation to its youth.” Major Brand (a barking, exhausted Neil Hamilton), the Commanding Officer of the 59th Squadron of Britain’s Royal Flying Corps, drinks to relieve the pain of sending boys to be shot down each day, while the survivors, led by flying ace Dick Courtney (a quiet, hooded-eyed Richard Barthelmess), drink to pass whatever time remains for them. Howard Hawks’s 1930 film comes to focus on Courtney who, through a promotion, shifts from opposing a brutal system to leading it. Hawks’s first sound film, like many of his subsequent works, is about a group of men competing to go the longest without cracking. As they sing—“Here’s a toast to the dead already/Hurrah for the next man who dies”—their camaraderie is revealed to be a thin cover for despair.