Night Flight (aka Dark to Dawn): Clarence Brown’s Aviation Drama, Starring the Barrymore Brothers (John and Lionel), Gable, and Helen Hayes

Produced by David O. Selznick, and directed by Clarence Brown, Night Flight (aka Dark to Dawn) is a pre-Code aviation drama, starring John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy.

Night Flight
Night Flight.jpg

Night Flight theatrical poster

The film is based on the 1931 novel–which won the Prix Femina–by French writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Based on Saint-Exupéry’s experiences while flying on South American mail routes, Night Flight recreates 24-hours of the operations of fictional airline based on Aéropostale, Trans-Andean European Air Mail.

In 1942, Night Flight was withdrawn from circulation due to dispute between MGM and Saint-Exupery. It was rereleased in 2011, when legal obstacles were overcome.

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

Determined to make the night flight work, Riviére sends pilot Jules Fabian (Clark Gable) and wireless operator on another dangerous flight.  They’re caught in torrential rain storm, while Madame Fabian (Helen Hayes) realizes that her husband is overdue.  The airmen run out of fuel and 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) pleads with him not to go. Despite the dangers, the night mail is delivered on time. The pilot despairs that his flight only meant that someone in Paris can get a postcard on Tuesday instead of Thursday, but its real value is proven when the serum is also delivered and a child is saved. The mother weeps for joy at her child’s bedside, and the scene dissolves to two parachutes floating on the ocean. A ghostly plane appears with Fabian, smiling, at the controls. He soars up into the sky, followed by a host of phantom biplanes; the following words appear on screen: “And such is human courage…that men died…so others might live…and so, at last, man’s empire might reach triumphant to the sky!”

Made on a budget of half a million, the movie was moderately successful at the box-office.

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
C. Henry Gordon as Daudet
Leslie Fenton as Fabian’s Radio Operator
Harry Beresford as Roblet
Frank Conroy as Radio Operator
Dorothy Burgess as Pellerin’s Girlfriend
Irving Pichel as Dr. Decosta
Helen Jerome Eddy as Worried Mother
Buster Phelps as Sick Child
Ralf Harolde as Pilot
Marcia Ralston as Nightclub Vamp
Otto Hoffman as Airport Office Clerk (uncredited)


Directed by Clarence Brown
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Oliver H.P. Garrett, John Monk Saunders, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (novel: Vol de nuit)
Music by Herbert Stothart, Charles Maxwell (orchestrator)
Cinematography Elmer Dyer, Charles A. Marshall, Oliver T. Marsh
Edited by Hal C. Kern
Distributed by MGM

Release date: October 6, 1933

Running time: 84 minutes


TCM showed the movie on August 13, 2020