Captains of the Clouds (1942)





Director:     Michael Curtiz.

Starring:     James Cagney (Brian MacLean),  Dennis Morgan (Johnny Dutton),  Brenda Marshall (Emily Foster),  Alan Hale ('Tiny' Murphy),  George Tobias (Blimp Lebec),  Reginald Gardiner (Scrounger Harris),  W.A. Bishop (Himself),  Reginald Denny (Commanding Officer),  Russell Arms (Louis 'Alabama' Prentiss),  Paul Cavanagh (Group Captain),  Clem Bevans (Sam 'Store-Teeth' Morrison),  J.M. Kerrigan (Foster),  J. Farrell MacDonald (Dr. Neville),  Patrick O'Moore (Fyffe),  Morton Lowry (Carmichael),  Owen Cathcart-Jones (Chief Flying Instructor),  Frederick Worlock (President of court-martial),   Roland Drew (Officer), Lucia Carroll (Blonde),  George Meeker (Playboy),  Benny Baker (Popcorn Kearns),  Hardie Albright (Kingsley),   Ray Walker (Mason),  Charles Halton (Supt. Nolan),  Louis Jean Heydt (Provost Marshal),  Gig Young (Student Pilot (as Byron Barr)),  Tod Andrews (Student Pilot (as Michael Ames)),  Willie Fung (Willie), Carl Harbord (Blake).

a man flies new, unarmed bomber across the Atlantic to England



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"This picture is respectfully dedicated to the Royal Canadian Air Force with sincere appreciation of their cooperation and admiration for their abilities and courage.  To those student pilots in the picture who are now in actual combat overseas.  And most particularly is it dedicated to the many in the Service who have trailed the shadows of their wings over the vastnesses of Canada from the forty-ninth parallel to the Arctic Circle--  the Bush Pilots."

'Tiny' Murphy lands his plane on the waters of a lake.  He tells a native to go tell Mr. Davis that his pilot is here to take him where he wants to go.  The native says Mr. Davis is not here.  "Davis go with good pilot. . . . Maclean is good pilot." Tiny laughs and says to himself:  "Well, that's the best job I never got."

Bush pilot Blimp Labeck sees Mr. Turner down by the lake and runs over shouting that Labeck is never late.  He will take them as promised.  The two men on the dock have to tell him that Maclean charges them only $25 instead of $50 so they are going with Maclean.

Another bush pilot, Johnny Dutton, is transporting huskies to some settlers.   When he lands he learns that Maclean has already sold the man a team of huskies.  Dutton is angry because Maclean cost him a lot of money.  He had to make a special trip just to get the dogs to bring them to the settler. 

The bush pilots meet at a Chinese restaurant and the main topic of conversation is about Maclean stealing business away from them.  Tiny, Blimp and Johnny decide to head north to catch up with Maclean. 

Maclean flies very low over a settlement to let them know he's coming.  Emily Foster tears out of there heading down to the docks.  She is thrilled that Johnny has purchased a new plane.  Imagine her surprise when Maclean arrives and not Johnny Dutton.  He introduces himself and gets Emily to help him take packages up to the general store.  Maclean goes up to Emily's father and says here's his delivery from Hansen's.  Mr. Foster says Johnny Dutton always brings him his supplies from Hansen's.  He says Johnny used to deliver the goods.  He then asks for an introduction to Emily and gets it. 

Emily thinks Maclean is a little too fresh for her and she drops two packages on his foot. Emily says the old man at the dock is waiting for her fiancÚ, Johnny.  Brian says he likes competition.  "It makes me look good."  He goes down to talk to the old man and tells him that Johnny's been having engine problems, but the old man will be safe as long as he wears a parachute.  Maclean adds that Johnny killed four passengers over at Hudson Bay.  The old man gets scared and decides to go with Maclean.  And off they go.  

The three pilots acting together see Maclean below them.  They start following him.  They tell Maclean to land on a lake.  Tiny goes after Maclean but he ends up crashing his plane against some trees.  Johnny follows after Maclean, but he too has an accident, slamming his airplane down onto the water very hard.

Maclean lands at Foster's general store.  He tells Emily to tie his plane to the dock, but she tells him to do it himself.    Maclean pulls on his line, it snaps, he hits his head on one of the landing pads, becomes unconscious and falls into the water.  Emily has to dive in to save him. 

Johnny flies his plane along with Tiny.  They land and Johnny rushes into the general store.  Inside Maclean has been pawing at Emily while she has been dodging his hands.  Johnny comes in and tells Maclean that he has been stealing jobs and cutting rates for too long.  And as soon as Maclean's head heals up, he's going to kick a hole in it.  Maclean gets up to fight him, but collapses.  Johnny examines Maclean's head and sees that he has a very nasty propeller slash on his head.  They are going to have to get him to a doctor.  The nearest one is in Churchtown. 

Johnny goes to fetch Dr. Neville.  Meanwhile, Tiny is lighting some fires to mark the place where Johnny is to land.  Dutton sees the fires and down comes Johnny.  He overshoots it on the first try and the second try.  He lands it on his third try. 

The doctor sews up Maclean's head, while Emily acts as the nurse and Johnny delivers the anesthesia.  After the operation, Johnny and Emily sit outside by a fire and talk of their future.  Emily wants to get married as quickly as possible, but Johnny wants to wait until he has enough money to buy Emily a decent home.  The doctor comes out and says that the patient will be alright, as long as he stays down for a couple of days. 

Meanwhile, Tiny finds Maclean's appointment book.  Now it's Tiny's chance to get the drop on Maclean, beating him to get the business.  Tiny is thrilled. 

Johnny takes off with the doctor headed back to Churchtown.  While Johnny is out, Maclean tries out some of his lies on Emily.  He kisses Emily and she doesn't resist.  She puts her arms around Maclean's neck. 

When Johnny gets back, he tells Maclean that he wants him to come in with him and Tiny to start a flying business supplying air service to six different mines in Port Wilson.  Maclean says absolutely not.  He will steal his own jobs in his own way.  Tiny takes Maclean out for a walk.  He complains about the way Maclean is trying to take over everything and that includes Emily.  "I do know you're chiseling on a guy who saved your life." 

When Maclean goes back into the cabin, he tells Johnny that he will go into business with him and Tiny.  Emily is very upset that Maclean says he's leaving.  She wants him to take her to New York to see all its wonders and splendors.  She tells Maclean in private that he could get a job right here and then they will go to New York.  Maclean asks her why didn't she tell him that Johnny saved his life?   She replies:  "Just because I'll marry Johnny some day, what's that got to do with you and me?"  Maclean says:  "Just about everything.  So long, sweet."

Port Wilson Mining Company.   It is pouring rain today.  Tiny and Maclean are waiting for news about Johnny who is flying back to his home base.  Maclean is constantly on the phone hoping to get updates about Johnny's progress.  Finally, Tiny rushes in saying that Johnny has just landed on the lake. 

In the quiet of the cabin, Johnny says that he is going up to the Foster's place and is going to marry Emily.  Maclean warns Johnny that if he marries Emily he will never get his airline.  If he marries Emily she will be out buying "jim cracks and fancy dresses, everything but the airline.  She'll see to that."   He then calls Johnny a sucker.  Johnny is going to fight Maclean.  He hits Maclean twice, but then Maclean wipes up the floor with him.  Johnny is knocked unconscious.  Tiny says that won't stop Johnny from marrying Emily.  So, Maclean tells Tiny there is another way. 

At home Emily is flirting with still another fellow.  Maclean flies his plane to Foster's general store.  He gets out of the plane to Emily's delight.  He tells her she has a choice.  Johnny is coming up her to marry Emily or she can go with him and spend his money in Ottawa having a gay old time.  Emily chooses the money with only a small bit of hesitation. 

Johnny lands at Foster's place.  Where's Emily?  She left with Maclean.  They went to Ottawa.  Johnny looks like he's going to Ottawa.

Emily and Maclean arrive in their fancy hotel room.  Maclean orders from room service a bucket of ice and a set-up for eight.  Johnny finds them.    Emily comes out in her lingerie and runs right into Johnny.  Maclean lets Johnny tag him three times and he goes out.  Johnny tells Emily to get dressed.  She's going back with him.  Emily says she will certainly not go with Johnny.  She and Maclean are married.  Upon hearing that, Johnny turns around and leaves the room.  Johnny gives most of his $4,000 dollars in earnings to a charity and keeps $25 for himself to get drunk on. 

In Ottawa there is a big military parade with the soldiers looking tall and proud.  Johnny sees a recruiting poster for the army.  In fact, army recruiting posters are plastered seemingly everywhere. 

Mrs. Maclean is frantically calling around to find out where her husband is at.  Maclean returns home and she demands to know where he's been.  He says he was looking for Johnny.  He wants to explain to him why he married his girl Emily.  He frankly tells her that he married Emily simply so that Johnny couldn't.  He throws his near $4,000 dollars on the hotel room desk saying don't ever let it be said that Maclean abandoned his wife without a penny to her name.  He then says:  "Goodbye, sweet fraud."  Emily picks up a vase with flowers in it and hurls it at Maclean.  She misses.  The first thing she does next is open the envelope with the near $4,000 dollars in it. 

Tiny, Blimp and Roger are together in the Chinese restaurant.  Maclean comes in to say hello to Tiny and the guys.  The other guys say they don't like Maclean, but Tiny gathers everyone together at a restaurant table.  Maclean starts talking business until everyone is interrupted by a speech by Winston Churchill.  It's that famous speech about how the British will fight on and on and never surrender.  When Churchill stops talking, everyone in the restaurant applauds the speech.  Maclean suggests that they all join the Royal Canadian Air Force.  They all agree.

The fellows fly their planes to an air force base.  The man in the tower tells an assistant to go down there and tell those civilians that they landed on the wrong field.  A couple of officers walk out to meet the bush pilots.  The speaker tells the boys in a very nasty tone that if they don't get those planes out of here right now, he will have the men arrested for trespassing.  They are interfering with their training schedule.  The guys feel insulted by this reception and decide to leave.  But they do go down to the recruiting station to sign up.  The fellow there tells them even though they have thousands of hours of flying time, they will have to go through the same course that everyone has to go through. 

Now the guys talk to a superior officer.  He flatly tells the guys that they can't become fighter pilots.  No one over the age of twenty-six can fly for the RCAF.  But they can be valuable members of the teaching staff of the unit.  The guys are not happy about this.  But they agree to go through the course and become flight instructors.  They soon are learning how to march in formation.  Then all those training to be instructors will be going up in the air with a trained pilot.  Who should be Maclean's partner, but Johnny Dutton. 

Johnny asks what did he do with Emily?  Dumped her?  Maclean says yes.  Then he asks Johnny why is it any of his business?   Johnny responds that Maclean is right.  It's no longer any of his business.  They go up in the air. 

The instructors get together and ask each other whether each man is fit to be an instructor.    Tiny is out because he keeps up his boozing.  As for Maclean, Johnny puts in a good word for him.  He suggests that Maclean be made a staff pilot for Jarvis. 

Maclean now flies gunnery students for their target practice.  He flies over water while the students blaze away at targets placed in the water. 

Maclean has to go see the new boss.  It turns out to be Johnny.  Johnny tells Maclean that he has to stop telling the students that they should learn flying by the seat of their pants. This in undermining the training objectives of the school.  But at least Johnny did not abuse his office to screw Maclean over.  He basically tells Maclean to do his duty, and he, Johnny, will do the same and they won't have any problems. 

A.M.L. Bombing Teacher Room #3.  Students here are trained to be bombardiers. 

Maclean has taken a liking to a student named Alabama.  Maclean asks him how's it going and he tells Maclean that he might be washed out of flight training.   Maclean thinks that's preposterous.  He says that Alabama is a natural born pilot and potentially he is the best student they have.  He puts Alabama in the back of the plane and flies him out over the target to show everyone some very impressive bombing.  But in doing so, Alabama has to warn his instructor that he is going too low.  If the splinters from the bomb explosion hits their airplane, she could go down.  Maclean, ever confident, says don't worry about it.  But on the next dive the bomb hits the target directly and the splinters from the bomb and the target hit the plane.  Soon one of the engines start smoking. 

Maclean yells to Alabama to prepare for a water landing, but the lad is unconscious.  A boat rushes out to save the men.  Maclean is brought up on charges.  He is charged with flying too low without permission.  And by his actions he caused Alabama to suffer severe injuries.  He is guilty as charged.  Maclean is dismissed from His Majesty's service. 

Back home with Tiny, Maclean gets drunk and sings songs in the bar with a group of men.  Tiny and Maclean sit down at a table and discuss Billy Bishop, the famous World War I Canadian ace who knocked down 72 enemy planes.  Maclean remarks that Billy also flew by the seat of his pants. 

The flight school holds its graduation.  Billy Bishop will be handing out the wings to the graduates.  Tiny and Maclean buzz the ceremony.  Tiny copies Maclean and goes into a really steep dive.  When he starts to bring the plane back up, Tiny looses consciousness. Tiny crashes and the airplane is set on fire.  Maclean feels awful about what happened to Tiny. 

The officers go into a club and there Johnny sees Emily.  She comes over to talk to Johnny.  She takes him to a private table.  Emily wants to know if Johnny knows anything about the whereabouts of Maclean.  Johnny asks her if she still has a thing for Maclean and she says he got me, we were the same type of person.  Johnny tells her that he will try to find out.  But now Johnny and all the officers have to return to base.  He shakes her hand and leaves.  Her eyes well up with tears. 

The officers report to the commander and he tells them that England needs all the bombers and pilots the Canadians can send them.  So they are looking for every available pilot to fly the bombers.  He says the officers present here are heading for Newfoundland right now.  

The flight leaders get together with their crews.  Dutton gets a surprise when they announce Tiny's name, but it's actually Maclean using Tiny's name to be a pilot.  Dutton sends the other pilots to their planes, but he asks Maclean for a private moment.  Maclean thinks that Johnny is going to try and stop him.  Johnny tells him that nobody will stop him from flying.  He then tells Maclean that he saw Emily recently and she told him why Maclean married her  --  to keep her from marrying him and ruining his life.

The planes start taking off.  Maclean talks a lot with an Englishman about England.  Then Maclean sees something up in the air  --  a shiny reflection. It turns out to be a German fighter plane, a Messerschmitt 109.  The fighter shoots down the plane piloted by Blimp.  On his next run he kills the Englishman Maclean was talking to.  And now Maclean decides to smash his plane into the fighter plane.  It take a number of tries, but Maclean finally does crash into the Messerschmitt. 

"We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall never surrender."  Winston Churchill


So here's another film about Canada.  In the Second World War Canada took in student pilots from around the world.  And they also took in bush pilots, as long as they were aged 26 or under.  This eliminated most of the bush pilots as possible military airmen.  Some of the bush pilots got non-pilot jobs in the air force.  Our anti-hero bush pilot Maclean (played by James Cagney) really tries hard to find a place for himself to help the military effort.  But the man is just too much of a maverick and doesn't like to follow orders.  He loves "flying by the seat of his pants".  But it's this attitude that continues to defeat Maclean.  He finally goes too far and lands up not only with no military license to fly, but no civilian license to fly either.  He's a has-been, a washed-out man. 

But the bush pilot Johnny Dutton becomes an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.  And it is he that gives Maclean another chance to fly and contribute something to the war effort.  Maclean now appears to be a man not solely driven by his own self-interest, but by real concern to help defeat the Nazis.   

There is an interesting triangle love affair involving Johnny and Maclean fighting over a girl called Emily.  Maclean early on learns that Emily is as two-faced and as selfish as he himself is.  But when Johnny decides to marry Emily, he quickly fights to prevent this marriage from ever happening.  And this was done to save Johnny from Emily, rather than to take Emily from Johnny.  Johnny has to learn the hard way that Emily is not who she pretends to be. 

The selfish Maclean finally becomes unselfish and proves himself to be a hero.  Cagney was as good as ever.  He brings a real spark to the parts he plays. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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