China Clipper (1936): Ray Enright’s Aviation Adventure, Starring Pat O’Brien, Ross Alexander, and Bogart (Before he became star)

Directed by Ray Enright and written by Frank Wead, , and starring Pat O’Brien, Ross Alexander, Humphrey Bogart and, in his last motion picture appearance, the venerable Henry B. Walthall as “Dad.”

Walthall was gravely ill during production and his illness is incorporated into his character’s role; he died during production.

Dave Logan is struggling to build and fly a new ocean-going flying boat with the goal of reaching China from San Francisco. His wife, Jean, and his boss, Jim Horn, try to discourage him but he enlists war buddies, “Dad” Brunn, to design his aircraft and pilot Tom Collins to start an airline between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Undeterred when the airline fails, the group start second airline in Key West, Florida, to deliver mail throughout the Caribbean.

Another pilot friend, Hap Stuart (Bogart), signs up. As the airline begins to prosper, Logan becomes more obsessed, making life difficult for all around him including his wife and friends.

Jean and Hap quit but come back on the eve of an important proving flight.

The new “China Clipper” is the last project for Dad, who succumbs to heart attack after the takeoff. When the China Clipper encounters severe storm off the China coast, Logan wants to cancel the flight, but Hap brings the flight in safely, with few minutes to spare, securing a contract.

The film was produced by First National Pictures, and distributed by parent company, Warner.

Screenwriter of China Clipper, Frank “Spig” Wead, based the film on thinly disguised bio of the life of Juan Trippe- his life just prior to, during and after the founding of Pan American Airways.

Shot with the cooperation of Pan Am, actual newsreel and production footage of the Martin M-130 is used throughout the film to emphasize the story just as it was happening for Trippe in real life.

The flying sequences in China Clipper were the film’s highlight, with famed Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz working with veterans Elmer Dyer and H. F. Koenekamp to create realistic aerial photography. There are scenes of the aircraft flying over the incomplete Golden Gate Bridge, still under construction. The film is example of new technology and mode of travel put before the Hollywood cameras just as it was developing.

Despite Warner typical casting and plot, China Clipper was well received–its packaging did not detract from the timely account of transpacific flight. Frank S. Nugent in his review for The New York Times, commented, “A fascinating and surprisingly literal dramatization of the China Clipper’s transpacific flight of last November, the picture deserves a respectful accolade both for its technical accuracy and for its rather astonishing refusal to describe the flying boat’s journey in the stock terms of aerial melodrama.”

Cast
Pat O’Brien as Dave Logan
Beverly Roberts as Jean “Skippy” Logan
Ross Alexander as Tom Collins
Humphrey Bogart as Hap Stuart
Marie Wilson as Sunny Avery
Joseph Crehan as Jim Horn
Addison Richards as Mr. B.C. Hill
Ruth Robinson as Mother Brunn
Henry B. Walthall as “Dad” Brunn
Carlyle Moore Jr. as Clipper Radio Operator
Lyle Moraine as Clipper Co-Pilot
Dennis Moore as Clipper Engineer
Wayne Morris as Clipper Navigator
Alexander Cross as Bill Andrews
William Wright as Pilot Who Won’t Fly
Kenneth Harlan as Commerce Inspector
Anne Nagel as Logan’s Receptionist
Marjorie Weaver as Logan’s Secretary
Milburn Stone as Radio Operator
Houseley Stevenson as Doctor (uncredited)