Air Circus, The (1928): Howard Hawks First Aviation Film, Starring Arthur Lake, Sue Carol, David Rollins, Louise Dresser

Howard Hawks’ seventh feature, The Air Circus, is his first with sound dialog.

The first of Hawks’ several aviation films (Only Angels Have Wings, Air Force) stars Arthur Lake, Sue Carol, David Rollins, and Louise Dresser.

Two young men, “Speed” Doolittle (Arthur Lake) and Buddy Blake (David Rollins) go out west to become pilots. The pair encounter and befriend an accomplished aviator (Sue Carol) in flight school at a local airport.

On his first solo flight, however, Buddy has sudden fear attack and almost kills himself and his instructor. When Buddy despairs of becoming an aviator, his mother (Louise Dresser) comforts him.

Sue and Speed take off in an aircraft with defective landing gear, and Buddy, overcoming fear, flies to their assistance. He prevents Speed from landing until he and Sue have fixed the defective part.

The film was completely finished as silent when the studio commissioned dialog from screenwriter F. Hugh Herbert and assigned Lewis Seiler to insert 15 minutes of talking footage, which Hawks considered “mawkish.”

Upon release, the critics agreed with Hawks. Oliver Claxton of The New Yorker wrote that the talking sequence was “the most unfortunate scene,” but that the rest of the film “should amuse you in a quiet way.”

Principal photography took place from April to June 1928 at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California.

Stunt pilot Dick Grace did most of the flying with Travel Air and Swallow biplanes featured.

Various sources classify it as lost. However, Hal Erickson states the silent version was rescued from oblivion in the early 1970s.


Directed by Howard Hawks, Lewis Seiler
Written by Norman Z. McLeod, Seton I. Miller
Production and distribution: Fox Film Corporation
Release date: January 9, 1928 (US)
Running time 118 min

Arthur Lake as “Speed” Doolittle
Sue Carol as Sue Manning
David Rollins as Buddy Blake
Louise Dresser as Mrs. Blake
Heinie Conklin as Jerry McSwiggin
Charles Delaney as Charles Manning
Earl Robinson as Lt. Blake
Virginia Cherrill as Extra (uncredited)