The Dawn Patrol ★★★★½

The best discovery of my recent Hawks marathon, and kind of astonishing to see the leaps and bounds he made between 1928’s Girl In Every Port, which begins some of the set up to the Hawksian friendship, and this work, which is all of Hawks’s major themes in full force (his second sound film, after the lost Air Circus). He even makes extremely good use of sound with the repeated noises of the flyers returning to the station and the captain listening. War situations seem to bring out the best in Hawks, or at least create the sense of existential grief that lingers in the background (also see: Rio Bravo, Only Angels Have Wings) between scenes of more mundane “hang out” sessions, where life simply matters. In Dawn Patrol, Hawks gets to explore the futility of leadership, the irony of enemies (the drunken dance with the German fighter is one of Hawks’s most delightful and complex scenes), the danger of compulsion, and the honor of sacrifice. It’s often hard to discuss what makes films like this so affecting and why I kind of left this film in close to tears. Hawks turns this (entirely male) world into something where men have to fight for their right to be remembered, where even our hero salutes a German soldier during the last minutes of the picture, because the actual complexities of politics mean nothing to the men in the air.