Blu-ray Review: Captains of the Clouds | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, May 25th, 2022  

Captains of the Clouds

Studio: Warner Archive

May 10, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s funny in retrospect to think that Captains of the Clouds was the least consequential of the three films that Michael Curtiz directed for Warner Bros. in 1942. An A-list, patriotic war film starring James Cagney, released less than three months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II, the film premiered to enthusiastic audience responses and doubled its budget at the box office. But in June of 1942, Warners released their second Curtiz/Cagney joint of the year, Yankee Doodle Dandy, which would become the definitive American propaganda film of the war and win Cagney his only Oscar. And in November they released Curtiz’s final film of 1942, Casablanca, which would go on to win Best Picture, among other things.

Quite a year for any filmmaker. It’s easy to see how Captains of the Clouds would get lost in the shuffle of history. Although the film was shot in the summer and fall of 1941 - before the United States entered the war - the film makes no secret about its political alignments. Following a group of Canadian bush pilots who eventually join the Canadian Royal Air Force, the film sees the New World joining the war as an inevitability to be encouraged. There’s a pivotal scene where Cagney and his disreputable compatriots are all moved to enlist after hearing Churchill’s famous “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech over the radio.

Much like Curtiz’s other wartime propaganda films, Captains of the Clouds leavens its jingoism with strong character work and some impressive action sequences. Introduced as a girlfriend-stealing scab who undercuts the rates of his fellow bush pilots, Brian MacLean is a classic Cagney protagonist; an impish, pugnacious jerk who gets by on charm and skill. The film is at its best in the early stretches where Cagney and the other pilots slowly learn to respect each other and work together, resulting in some terrifically loose, almost improvisational bits of banter and hanging out. The film gets a big more predictable once it becomes a war movie, but the dazzling Technicolor flying sequences are impressive, even when you can see the strings for the insert shots. The care and majesty with which flying is depicted is an interesting reminder that in 1942, most people would never have flown in a plane and seeing such realistic depictions of it on film would have been quite impressive.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray of Captains of the Clouds includes a nature documentary short “Rocky Mountain Big Game” as well as two Bugs Bunny cartoons. Fans of Cagney, the Canadian landscape and aerial dogfights should consider it a must.

(Warner Archive Store)


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