"Most of the country is from Missouri as far as dirigibles are concerned," says a Washington admiral in the first scene, so Frank Capra sets out to educate one and all with flurries of aerial footage for a succinct representation of the time -- namely, between Lindberg and Hindenburg, or between Hellís Angels and The Wings of Eagles, if you prefer. Piloted by Jack Holt, the airship dazzles the crowds, brisk, grayish documentary shots capture the landing while the show is stolen by daredevil Ralph Graves, a "marvelous performer"; the tension between work and family is from Frank W. "Spig" Wead, Capra summarizes it by tracking back from an empty dinner table to Fay Wray sniffling until husband Graves steps in, surrounded by uniformed buds ("You donít mind the Navy, do you?"). The menís friendship dissolves when Holt, at Wrayís behest, cuts Graves out of a mission to the South Pole; the journey is serenaded by ship whistles and saluted by Lady Liberty at its sendoff, only for the balloon to be torn apart as it navigates a storm (the undulating handheld camera seizes the lightning outside to illuminate the chaos inside the darkened cabin). Graves takes over the assignment, and a lateral tracking shot (timed to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" sung by Clarence Muse) lays out the Antarctic mission, with consequences for Hawks and Carpenter, not to mention Lost Horizon. Holt and Wray supply obligatory romantic triangulation back home, Capra forges ahead in the snow with unexpectedly visceral force -- an impromptu burial in the ice is as grave a grace note as Roscoe Karnsí penguin gag. An absorbing work, for what it achieves intentionally (the simultaneous refinement of and departure from Submarine and Flight) and fortuitously ("Anchors Aweigh" made progressively suffocating, the queer anxiety between the protagonists brought forward with the displaced reading of a love letter). With Hobart Bosworth, Harold Goodwin, and Emmett Corrigan. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce