Friday, April 27, 2012
DIRIGIBLE (1931) is a fantastic film! It has several good things going for it, any one of which would have been enough to make it worth watching. First, it has the luminous Fay Wray playing the lead (actually, only) female character. Miss Wray will always be known primarily as one of the stars of the great KING KONG (1933) but she was in quite a number of very good movies in this era and she could always be counted on to turn in a fine performance. It doesn’t hurt that she was one of the most beautiful screen presences of her time. Of course, Capra shoots her close-ups in a slight soft focus to make her even more gorgeous but I think she looks best in the shots with other actors in which you can see the details of her stunning face. She is an always welcome sight in any film and her performance as the neglected wife of a daredevil pilot here is good and very convincing.
The one element that might be considered a hurdle for a modern viewer watching this film is the rather corny storyline involving the ambitious pilot husband and his blindness to what his career is doing to his long suffering wife. It’s a story told a thousand times before 1931 and just as many times since (even if has fallen out of favor in the movies) but I found even this familiar plotline enjoyable as it is played out with so much energy. The reason is Fay Wray as you might expect, because she is so moving in her emotional anguish as she tries desperately to communicate her feelings and fears to a man unaware of what his choices are doing to his beloved. It helps that Ralph Graves is an appealing performer as well even if he only really shines as the film reaches its dark third act. It’s this part of the film that put it in the ‘fantastic’ category for me as Graves and his crew are forced to crash land in the Antarctic. Their fight for survival is depicted as quite harsh and it’s in this segment that the movie’s Pre-Code pedigree shows. The nastiness of the hard choices that the increasingly haggard men have to make had me flinching away from the screen on a couple of occasions. It is some pretty strong stuff.