Ceiling Zero (1936): Hawks Directs James Cagney in Characteristic Role

Howard Hawks’ big-screen adaptation of the Broadway play by Frank “Spig” Wead, Ceiling Zero, teams again Warner’s contract stars James Cagney and Pat O’Brien.

Cast in a role that fits him like a glove, James Cagney is Dizzy Davis, a cocky, irresponsible civil aviator.  His arrogant character is contrasted with Pat O’Brien’s Jake Lee, a sober, rational commander, who’s also a buddy. Dizzy ducks out of a dangerous mission in order to dally with the pretty Tommy Thomas (June Travis).

The young pilot Texas Clark (Stuart Erwin) takes Dizzy’s place, and dies in a fiery wreck, which devastates his emotional wife (Isabel Jewell).

Disgraced in the eyes of his co-workers after Clark’s death, Dizzy redeems himself by taking a crucial test flight in fog-laden “ceiling zero.” Dizzy dies like a hero, leaving behind Jake to deliver the eulogy.

Director Hawks moves things fast, and so manages to conceal the theatrical origins of the material.

In 1940, Ceiling Zero was remade under the title of “International Squadron.”



Running tme: 95 minutes

Directed by Howard Hawks

Written By: Frank “Spig” Wead