The Air Circus

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The Air Circus
Air Circus poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by
Written by
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • January 9, 1928 (1928-01-09)(US)
Running time
118 min.
CountryUnited States

The Air Circus is a 1928 American drama film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Arthur Lake, Sue Carol, David Rollins, and Louise Dresser. It is the first of Hawks's aviation films. [2] The film is notable as the first aviation oriented film with dialogue. [3] [Note 1]



Two young men, "Speed" Doolittle (Arthur Lake) and Buddy Blake (David Rollins) go out west to become pilots. The pair encounter an accomplished aviator (Sue Carol) in flight school at a local airport.

Once at the school, the boys set about learning to fly. On his first solo flight, however, Buddy has a sudden attack of fear and almost kills himself and his instructor. Buddy despairs of becoming an aviator, and his mother (Louise Dresser) comes to comfort him.

Sue and Speed take off in an aircraft with defective landing gear, and Buddy, overcoming his fear, flies to their assistance. He prevents Speed from landing until he and Sue have fixed the defective part.



The Air Circus is Hawks' seventh feature, and the first with sound dialog. The film was completely finished as a silent when the studio commissioned dialog from screenwriter F. Hugh Herbert and assigned Lewis Seiler to insert 15 minutes of talking footage, which Hawks considered "mawkish". [5]

Principal photography took place from April to June 1928 at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California. [6] Stunt pilot Dick Grace did most of the flying with Travel Air and Swallow biplanes featured. [7]

Lobby card The Air Circus 1928.JPG
Lobby card


The Air Circus received generally positive reviews from critics. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called it "a jolly, wholesome and refreshingly human picture", praising David Rollins' acting as "wonderfully natural." [8]

The Film Daily said the film was well-acted with "a bang-up youth cast from all angles" and a "thrill finish." [9] Oliver Claxton of The New Yorker wrote that the talking sequence was "the most unfortunate scene", but that the rest of the film "should amuse you in a quiet way." [10] Variety was more modest in its praise, writing, "Expert direction has managed to make a fairly interesting lightweight number out of a script that holds nothing but background and a plot that doesn't exist." [11]

Preservation status

Various sources classify it as lost. [12] [13] [14] However, Hal Erickson states the silent version "was rescued from oblivion in the early 1970s". [15]

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  1. The Air Circus was the first film depicting the barnstormer era. [4]


  1. "The Broadway Parade." Film Daily (New York City), September 10, 1928, p. 2.
  2. Pendo 1985, p. 9.
  3. Paris 1995, p. 60.
  4. Paris 1995, p. 61.
  5. McCarthy 2000, p. 94.
  6. Beck 2016, p. 14.
  7. Wynne 1987, pp. 84–85.
  8. Hall, Mordaunt. "Movie review: 'The Air Circus'." The New York Times , September 3, 1928. Retrieved: March 20, 2017.
  9. "Review: 'The Air Circus'." Film Daily (New York City), September 9, 1928, p. 8.
  10. Claxton, Oliver. "The Current Cinema." The New Yorker , September 15, 1928, p. 90.
  11. "Review: 'The Air Circus'." Variety , September 5, 1928, p. 14.
  12. "Review: 'The Air Circus'." Retrieved: March 20, 2017.
  13. Andersen, Arne. "Fox Films: 1928:'The Air Circus'." Arne Andersen's Lost Film Files.
  14. The Great Stars, Lost Films Wanted(Wayback Machine)
  15. The Air Circus at AllMovie


  • Beck, Simon D. The Aircraft-Spotter's Film and Television Companion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2016. ISBN   978-1-4766-2293-4.
  • McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. New York: Grove Press, 2000. ISBN   978-0-8021-3740-1.
  • Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN   978-0-7190-4074-0.
  • Pendo, Stephen. Aviation in the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN   0-8-1081-746-2.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN   0-933126-85-9.