Dirigible (1931): Frank Capra’s Pre-Code Adventure, starring Jack Holt, Ralph Graves and Fay Wray

Frank Capra directed Dirigible, a pre-Code adventure, starring Jack Holt, Ralph Graves and Fay Wray.

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Theatrical release poster

The tale focuses on the competition between naval fixed-wing and airship pilots to reach the South Pole by air.

The action scenes involve stars Jack Holt and Ralph Graves, who also played fliers two years earlier in Capra’s 1929 airborne adventure Flight.

This film was inspired by the success of Wings, another production with a similar plot, which won the first Best Picture Oscar for 1927.

Narrative Premise:

Famed explorer Louis Rondelle (Hobart Bosworth) requests the U.S. Navy’s assistance in reaching the South Pole, officer Jack Bradon (Jack Holt) convinces Rear Admiral John S. Martin (Emmett Corrigan) to offer his dirigible, the USS Pensacola, for the attempt.

Jack asks best friend “Frisky” Pierce (Ralph Graves) to pilot the biplane to be carried on the airship.

The reckless Frisky is eager to go even though he has just completed a record-setting coast-to-coast flight and has barely spent any time with wife Helen (Fay Wray). Basking in the acclaim, he has even forgotten to read the sealed love letter she gave him to open when he arrived.


Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Frank Wead (story), Dorothy Howell, Jo Swerling (continuity)
Produced by Harry Cohn, Frank Fouce
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Edited by Maurice Wright
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: April 4, 1931

Running time: 100 minutes
Budget $650,000