Body and Soul (1931): Alfred Santell’s Pre-Code Actioner, Starring Charles Farrell, Elissa Landi, Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy

Alfred Santell directed Body and Soul, a Pre-Code action drama starring Charles Farrell, Elissa Landi, Humphrey Bogart, and Myrna Loy.

Body and Soul
Body and Soul poster.jpg

Theatrical poster

The story, adapted from the stage play “Squadrons” by Elliott White Springs and A.E. Thomas, depicts Royal Air Force pilots in World War I.

American pilots Mal Andrews (Charles Farrell), Tap Johnson (Don Dillaway), and Jim Watson (Bogart) enroll in a Royal Air Force squadron.

Mal and Tap are concerned that their friend Jim is cheating on his new bride.

When General Trafford evaluates the squadron, he criticizes its lack of discipline and poor effort in aerial battles.

Consequently, Trafford orders Jim to undertake a near-suicidal mission, calling for shooting down an enemy balloon in his first flight.

Then, secretly, Mal joins him aboard the aircraft and when Jim is killed in the air battle, his friend manages to complete the mission and make it look as if the dead pilot was its hero.

At the base, Jim’s wife Carla is mistaken for “Pom Pom,” his mistress. Mal falls in love with Carla and when Alice Lester, the real “Pom Pom,” appears, she finds out that Tap is about to fly a mission.

It turns out that Lester is a German spy who sends the information to the enemy, as a result of which Tap is killed.

In the end, when Mal realizes that Carla is Jim’s widow and not his mistress, he sets off on another mission, hoping to return to his true love.

The Travel Air 4000 approximated the “look” of a WWI aircraft.

Body and Soul began location shooting on November 29, 1930, and wrapped up on January 2, 1931, at the Russell Movie Ranch in Agoura, California, with a modicum of flying.

A Travel Air 4000 biplane that had been flown in the 1930 Hell’s Angels, disguised as a British World War I fighter aircraft, was the only actual aircraft acquired for the production.

Flying sequences were matched to sound stage process shots at the studio, where the Travel Air was again used.

One of the film’s main attractions was introducing Elissa Landi as leading lady.  While she and Myrna Loy received good notices, Bogart was described by some reviewers as “too earnest.”

Charles Farrell as Mal Andrews
Elissa Landi as Carla
Humphrey Bogart as Jim Watson
Myrna Loy as Alice Lester (“Pom Pom”)
Don Dillaway as Tap Johnson
Crauford Kent as Major Burke
Pat Somerset as Major Knowls
Ian MacLaren as General Trafford-Jones
David Cavendish as Lieutenant Meggs (Dennis D’Auburn)


Directed by Alfred Santell
Written by Jules Furthman, based on the play Squadrons by Elliott White Springs and A. E. Thomas
Produced by William Fox
Cinematography Glen MacWilliams
Edited by Paul Weatherwax
Music by Peter Brunelli, George Lipschultz (uncredited)
Production and distribution: Fox Film Corporation
Release date: February 22, 1931
Running time 70 minutes