Ceiling Zero

Howard Hawks's 1936 film is a superlative airport melodrama, comparable with Only Angels Have Wings. All of the lines of Frank “Spig” Wead's stage play are there and the action is confined to a few sketchy sets, yet the film is never theatrical: Hawks turns the conventions into superbly cinematic abstractions. James Cagney, with a rakish mustache, plays a daredevil flier who plays fast and loose with the rules and the women; it's a perfect Cagney portrayal, mixing his bantam Irish grace with a touch of Hawksian elegance and pridefulness. The overlapping, speeding dialogue is perfectly launched, as Hawks cuts to the core of the play with his own meditations on personality and responsibility. With Pat O'Brien, June Travis, Stuart Erwin, Isabel Jewell, and Barton MacLaine.

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