Night Flight (1933): Brown’s Pre-Code Aviation Drama, Starring the Barrymores, Gable, Helen Hayes, and Myrna Loy

Produced by David O. Selznick, distributed by MGM, Night Flight is a Pre-Code aviation drama, directed by Clarence Brown, with an all-star cast, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy.

Based on the 1931 French novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s, about his experience flying on South American mail routes, Night Flight offers a 24-hour chronicle of the operations of a fictional airline (based on Aéropostale, Trans-Andean European Air Mail.)

In South America, the daunting landscape and dangerous weather have hampered the operations of Trans-Andean European Air Mail. Charged with delivering a serum to stem an outbreak of infantile paralysis in Rio de Janeiro, Auguste Pellerin (Robert Montgomery) conquers his fears, but is reprimanded by the airline’s stern director, A. Riviére (John Barrymore) for his late arrival.

Determined to make the night flight program work, Riviére sends pilot Jules Fabian (Clark Gable) and his wireless operator on another dangerous flight. They are caught in a torrential rain storm and when Madame Fabian (Helen Hayes) comes to the headquarters, she realizes that her husband is overdue. The two airmen run out of fuel, choose to jump, but drown.

Riviére refuses to quit and orders a Brazilian pilot (William Gargan) to take the mail to Rio, but the pilot’s wife (Myrna Loy) is against it. Despite the dangers, the night mail is delivered on time.

The pilot complains that his flight only meant delay of personal postcards delivery, only to realize the real value when the serum is delivered and a child is saved.

Running time: 84 minutes

Release date: October 6, 1933

John Barrymore as Managing Director A. Riviére
Helen Hayes as Madame Fabian
Clark Gable as Jules Fabian
Lionel Barrymore as Inspector Robineau
Robert Montgomery as Auguste Pellerin
Myrna Loy as Brazilian Pilot’s Wife
William Gargan as Brazilian Pilot

End Note

In 1942, Night Flight was withdrawn from circulation due to a dispute between MGM and Saint Exupéry, which was resolved decades later.

TCM showed the film on April 30, 2019.