Ceiling Zero

Last updated
Ceiling Zero
Ceiling Zero poster.jpg
Theatrical Film Poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Jack L. Warner
Hal Wallis
Written by Frank Wead
Starring James Cagney
Pat O'Brien
Music byM.K. Jerome
Bernhard Kaun
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Edited by William Holmes
Production
company
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • January 16, 1936 (1936-01-16)(U.S.)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Ceiling Zero is a 1936 American adventure drama film directed by Howard Hawks and starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien. The picture stars Cagney as daredevil womanizing pilot "Dizzy" Davis and O'Brien as Jake Lee, his war veteran buddy and the operations manager of an airline company. Based on a stage play of the same name, the film blends drama with some light comedy. The title, as defined at the beginning of the picture, is an insider term referring to those moments when the sky is so thick with fog that navigating an aircraft is nearly impossible.

Contents

Plot

Old pals Jake Lee (Pat O'Brien), Tex Clarke (Stuart Erwin) and Dizzy Davis (James Cagney) flew together in the Army during World War I. Almost 20 years later, Jake is the manager of the Newark, New Jersey branch of Federal Airlines, a New York-based airline company. Tex works as an airmail pilot and Dizzy, also still flying aircraft, is seeking employment with his friends. Prior to his hot-shot arrival (Dizzy does a few tricks in the air before landing), a New York associate warns Jake about Dizzy, calling him unreliable and troublesome. Insulted, Jake replies that Dizzy is one of the best pilots in the country, telling a few stories about his fearlessness and bravery.

Jake hires Dizzy as an airmail pilot. Dizzy is immediately attracted to "Tommy" Thomas (June Travis), a 19-year-old girl also working there, who has just learned to fly solo. In order to go on a date with her, Dizzy, scheduled for a flight to Cleveland in the evening, pretends he is suddenly sick and gets Tex to replace him. Tex makes it to Cleveland, but on the way back to New Jersey, finds himself in a cold and heavy fog. Though there is zero visibility and he is having radio problems, he attempts to land in Newark. He crashes into one of the airport hangars and the aircraft catches on fire. Tex is taken to the hospital where he later dies.

Tex's wife Lou (Isabel Jewell), who was never very fond of Dizzy, blames him for her husband's death. She calls him selfish and irresponsible and says that he hurts everything he touches. Dizzy, overwhelmed with guilt, returns to the airport. Meanwhile, the weather has gotten even worse and Jake has canceled all other flights. In addition, the aviation authorities have revoked Dizzy's pilot license, for extraneous reasons. Jake consoles Dizzy on account of both losses and then goes home for the night, leaving him temporarily in charge. Another pilot, unaware of the cancellation, comes into the operations building, ready for his scheduled flight to Cleveland.

Chagrined and burdened with his culpability, Dizzy demands the man explain how the newly acquired and, as yet, untested aircraft de-icers function, then knocks the man unconscious and irrationally takes his aircraft. Jake and the others are devastated when they find out. Dizzy radios information over to them about the de-icers. They work to a degree, but the system is flawed. He reports by radio on the problems of the system and his recommendations for modifications, knowing that he will watch progressive icing until he dies. He does not make it through the snow storm.

Cast

O'Brien, Tibbetts, Cagney, Travis & Erwin Ceiling Zero (1936) 1.jpg
O'Brien, Tibbetts, Cagney, Travis & Erwin

Production

Jack L. Warner and Hal Wallis produced this film through Warner Bros., First National and Cosmopolitan Productions. Navy aviator turned screenwriter Frank 'Spig' Wead provided the script, based on the original three-act play he wrote for Broadway, which ran for a few months in 1935 at the Music Box Theatre; two decades later, Wead was portrayed by John Wayne in John Ford's screen biography of Wead, The Wings of Eagles (1957). [1]

Cagney and O'Brien appeared together in Devil Dogs of the Air , another aviation-themed film, also in 1935. The budget was limited, as Ceiling Zero was shot entirely either in the studio or on the backlot. [2]

Reception

Describing it as "tersely written, handsomely produced and played to perfection", Frank Nugent in The New York Times declared it " ... a constantly absorbing chronicle of life in and around a commercial airport." [3] He also called the film "one of the best to come from the Warner studios." [4] Film critic Leonard Maltin in a later review, gave it 3 out of 4 stars calling it "one of the best Cagney-O'Brien vehicles." [5]

Related Research Articles

<i>Here Comes the Navy</i> 1934 film by Lloyd Bacon

Here Comes the Navy is a 1934 American romantic comedy film written by Earl Baldwin and Ben Markson and directed by Lloyd Bacon. The film stars James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Gloria Stuart and Frank McHugh. Stuart was Oscar-nominated 63 years later for another nautical epic, Titanic (1997).

<i>Angels with Dirty Faces</i> 1938 American gangster film

Angels with Dirty Faces is a 1938 American gangster film directed by Michael Curtiz for Warner Brothers. It stars James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, The Dead End Kids, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and George Bancroft. The screenplay was written by John Wexley and Warren Duff based on the story by Rowland Brown. The film chronicles the relationship of the notorious gangster William "Rocky" Sullivan with his childhood friend and now priest Father Jerry Connolly. After spending fifteen years in prison for armed robbery, Rocky intends to collect $100,000 from his co-conspirator Jim Frazier, a mob lawyer. All the while, Father Connolly tries to prevent a group of youths from falling under Rocky's influence.

<i>The Wings of Eagles</i>

The Wings of Eagles is a 1957 American Metrocolor film starring John Wayne, Dan Dailey and Maureen O'Hara, based on the life of Frank "Spig" Wead and the history of U.S. Naval aviation from its inception through World War II. The film is a tribute to Wead from his friend, director John Ford, and was based on Wead's "We Plaster the Japs", published in a 1944 issue of The American Magazine.

Pat OBrien (actor) American actor

William Joseph Patrick O'Brien was an American film actor with more than 100 screen credits. Of Irish descent, he often played Irish and Irish-American characters and was referred to as "Hollywood's Irishman in Residence" in the press. One of the best-known screen actors of the 1930s and 1940s, he played priests, cops, military figures, pilots, and reporters. He is especially well-remembered for his roles in Knute Rockne, All American (1940), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and Some Like It Hot (1959). He was frequently paired onscreen with Hollywood legend James Cagney. O'Brien also appeared on stage and television. O’Brien also appeared in 1971 as “The General” in an episode of Alias Smith and Jones called “Shootout at Diablo Station”

<i>The Aviator</i> (1985 film) 1985 film

The Aviator is a 1985 American aviation adventure drama film directed by George T. Miller and starring Christopher Reeve and Rosanna Arquette.

<i>Tail Spin</i> 1939 film by Roy Del Ruth

Tail Spin is a 1939 aviation film. The screenplay was written by Frank Wead and directed by Roy Del Ruth. It was based on the book, "Women with Wings: A novel of the modern day aviatrix", authored by Genevieve Haugen, who was also an advisor and stunt pilot in the film. Tail Spin starred Alice Faye, Constance Bennett, Nancy Kelly, Joan Davis, Charles Farrell and Jane Wyman.

<i>The Airmail Mystery</i>

The Airmail Mystery is a 1932 Universal Pre-Code movie serial directed by Ray Taylor, written by Ella O'Neill, starring James Flavin and Wheeler Oakman, and featuring doing the aerial stunts. The Airmail Mystery was Universal's first aviation serial that set the pattern for the aviation serials and feature films to follow. The film also marks the film debut of James Flavin. The Airmail Mystery is considered a lost film.

<i>Flight from Glory</i> 1937 film by Lew Landers

Flight from Glory is an American B movie about a run-down air cargo company in the Andes. It was directed by Lew Landers, and starred Chester Morris, Whitney Bourne, Onslow Stevens and Van Heflin. When released on August 20, 1937, Flight from Glory was considered one of the films that broke new ground in "pioneering airline sagas", comparing favorably to big-budget features such as 1936's Thirteen Hours by Air.

<i>Air Mail</i> (film) 1932 film

Air Mail is a 1932 American pre-Code adventure film directed by John Ford, based on a story by Dale Van Every and Frank "Spig" Wead. The film stars Ralph Bellamy, Pat O'Brien and Gloria Stuart. A copy is preserved in the Library of Congress.

<i>Dive Bomber</i> (film) 1941 film

Dive Bomber is a 1941 American aviation film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. The film is notable for both its Technicolor photography of pre-World War II United States Navy aircraft and as a historical document of the U.S. in 1941, including the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, one of the best known World War II U.S. warships.

<i>Devil Dogs of the Air</i> 1935 film by Lloyd Bacon

Devil Dogs of the Air is a 1935 Warner Bros. film, directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, reprising their earlier roles as buddies after making their debut as a "buddy team" in Here Comes the Navy. Devil Dogs of the Air was the second of nine features that Pat O'Brien and James Cagney made together. The film's storyline was adapted from a novel by John Monk Saunders.

<i>The Irish in Us</i> 1935 film by Lloyd Bacon

The Irish in Us is a 1935 American comedy film directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and Olivia de Havilland. Written by Earl Baldwin based on a story by Frank Orsatti, the film is about an Irish family consisting of a mother and three sons: a cop, a fireman, and a boxing promoter. Encouraged to find a real job, the boxing promoter makes one last attempt by promoting a fighter he believes will bring him a fortune. The Irish in Us was released in the United States by Warner Bros. Pictures on August 3, 1935.

<i>China Clipper</i> (film) 1936 film by Ray Enright

China Clipper is a 1936 drama film directed by Ray Enright and written by Frank Wead, produced by First National Pictures, distributed by parent company Warner Brothers, and starring Pat O'Brien, Ross Alexander, Humphrey Bogart and, in his last motion picture appearance, the venerable Henry B. Walthall as "Dad." Walthall was gravely ill during production and his illness is incorporated into his character's role; he died during production.

<i>The Flying Fleet</i> 1929 film by George W. Hill

The Flying Fleet is a 1929 romantic drama film directed by George W. Hill and starring Ramon Navarro, Ralph Graves, and Anita Page. Two United States Navy officers are rivals for the love of the same woman. The film is silent, and in black and white, although various scenes have either background music, engine noises or in one case, trumpet sounds, inserted.

<i>Boy Meets Girl</i> (1938 film) 1938 film

Boy Meets Girl is a 1938 American screwball comedy film directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien. The supporting cast features Marie Wilson, Ralph Bellamy, Frank McHugh, Dick Foran and Ronald Reagan. The screenplay by Bella and Sam Spewack is based on their 1935 stage play of the same name, which ran for 669 performances on Broadway. The two zany screenwriters played by Cagney and O'Brien were based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, while Ralph Bellamy's part as the producer was based on Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox.

<i>International Squadron</i> (film)

International Squadron is a 1941 American war film directed by Lewis Seiler and Lothar Mendes that starred Ronald Reagan, Olympe Bradna and in his final film, James Stephenson. The film is based on the Eagle Squadrons, American pilots who volunteered to fly for the Royal Air Force during World War II. International Squadron featured noted Hollywood pilot Paul Mantz who acted as the film's aerial coordinator and flew during the production.

<i>The Flying Fool</i> (1929 film) 1929 film by Tay Garnett

The Flying Fool is a 1929 aviation-themed film produced and distributed by Pathé Exchange as both a silent film and sound film just as Hollywood was transitioning to filming with sound. Tay Garnett directed and William Boyd, and starred.

<i>Town Tamer</i>

Town Tamer is a 1965 American Western film directed by Lesley Selander, written by Frank Gruber, and starring Dana Andrews, Terry Moore, Pat O'Brien, Lon Chaney Jr., Bruce Cabot, Lyle Bettger and Richard Arlen. It was released on July 7, 1965, by Paramount Pictures.

<i>Border Flight</i> 1936 film by Otho Lovering

Border Flight is a 1936 American aviation drama film directed by Otho Lovering and written by Stuart Anthony, Arthur J. Beckhard and Ewing Scott. The film stars Frances Farmer, John Howard, Roscoe Karns, Robert Cummings, Grant Withers and Samuel S. Hinds. Border flight was based on the exploits of the US Coast Guard pilots, based in San Diego. In Aviation in the Cinema (1985), aviation film historian Stephen Pendo considered Border Flight, a drama that "detailed the aerial activities of the United States Coast Guard fighting a gang of smugglers."

<i>Stunt Pilot</i>

Stunt Pilot is a 1939 American adventure film directed by George Waggner and written by Scott Darling and George Waggner. The film is based on the comic strip Tailspin Tommy by Hal Forrest and Glenn Chaffin. Stunt Pilot stars John Trent, Marjorie Reynolds, Milburn Stone, Jason Robards Sr., Pat O'Malley and George Meeker. Following the success of Mystery Plane (1939), Stunt Pilot, the second in the "Tailspin Tommy" series, was released on July 2, 1939, by Monogram Pictures.

References

Notes

  1. Pendo 1985, p. 259.
  2. Pendo 1985, p. 242.
  3. Pendo 1985, p. 275.
  4. Nugent, Frank. "James Cagney and Pat O'Brien in the Strand's crackling melodrama, 'Ceiling Zero.'." The New York Times, January 20, 1936.
  5. Maltin. Leonard. "Review: 'Ceiling Zero' (1936)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 9, 2015.

Bibliography