Flight Into Nowhere (1938) is a strange little B-movie. Its story revolves around the actions of a singularly unpleasant character, whom others try to help to no good end. One wonders why it was made in the first place, or why Sony selected it for its manufactured-on-demand "Choice Collection." It does star Jack Holt, a popular leading man whose long association at Columbia peaked in a trio of early-talkie action films directed by Frank Capra, but he has little to do here.
The movie, partly about pilots in the tradition of movies like Night Flight (1933) and Flight from Glory (1937), a sub-genre climaxing with Only Angels Have Wings (1939), segues into a standard jungle movie plot: the search for a downed aircraft and its pilot.
Flight Into Nowhere's full-frame, black and white video transfer is excellent, and for its age also boasts exceptionally good audio.
The story revolves around Bill Kellogg (Dick Purcell), a rogue pilot for a small airline. His constant risk-taking and unwillingness to follow orders gets him fired. However, Joan Hammond (Julie Bishop, acting then under the name Jacqueline Wells), the daughter of the airline's owner, Howard Hammond (Howard C. Hickman), reveals to her Uncle Jim Horne (Jack Holt) that she and Bill in fact are secretly married. She asks Horne, Bill's boss, to give Bill another chance, thus avoiding the embarrassment of coming clean with her father. Horne acquiesces though Hammond warns him, cryptically, "You'll regret it as sure as you're a foot high!"
Another pilot, Ike Matthews (James Burke), is given the plum assignment of flying over South America to photograph potential airstrips, but bad boy Bill childishly steals Ike's plane. Ike and others (including an uncredited Ward Bond) warn Bill over the radio that the plane's emergency fuel tanks are bone-dry, but Bill foolishly refuses to believe them.
Then, naturally, the plane runs out of gas while flying over thick jungle terrain and Bill panics (one can almost hear the sad trombone). Indians rescue Bill, but their village is too cut-off from civilization for Bill to leave on his own. Horne and Ike launch an expensive rescue mission deep into the jungle (using the same miniature plane with the same registration number on its tail), but aren't optimistic about Bill's chances.
The overwhelming problem with Flight Into Nowhere is that Bill is nothing more than a total jerk with zero redeeming features. Usually in movies like this such characters are charming and likeable despite their selfish, self-destructive behavior. But neither actor Dick Purcell, best known today as filmdom's original Captain America (1943), nor the character he plays have any appeal. In more charismatic hands - Robert Montgomery or William Holden, for instance - Bill might have been less insufferable.
Or maybe not. Flight Into Nowhere's screenplay so stacks the deck against Bill that he's not only impossible to like on any level, his boss, wife, and co-worker all look like idiots for putting so much energy into worrying about him and going to the great trouble and expense of trying to find him.
(Major Spoilers): At the Indian camp, Bill casually commits polygamy in order to sleep with native girl L-Ana (Lotus Long, billed here as Karen Sorrell), who also happens to be the chief's daughter. (At least Bill is consistent.) When Horne and Ike finally reach the remote village after numerous battles with headhunters, they are naturally shocked to find Bill casually living the life of Riley and shacked up with devoted but clueless "second wife" L-Ana. "You woulda done the same thing if you'd been in my boots!" Bill insists.
Even more shocking, Bill tells them he's prepared to dump L-Ana in a heartbeat ("[My] wife? Don't make me laugh!") and return to Joan as if nothing had ever happened. "Why tell her anything?" Bill asks and incredulous Horne.
What's interesting about this extreme callousness on Bill's part is that it allows an explicit, mixed-race and adulterous sexual relationship between Bill and L-Ana, who passionately kiss in one scene. (Lotus Long was half-Japanese, half-ethnic Hawaiian.) The Production Code, L-Ana's spurned suitor and a poison arrow put the kibosh on Bill returning to Joan.* That doesn't come as a surprise, but it only makes the story appear even more pointless than it already is.
Video & Audio
Flight Into Nowhere looks great on DVD, with both sound and image top-drawer for a 75-year-old black-and-white movie. The audio, English only with no other choices and no subtitle options, is likewise strong. There are no menu screens; the movie simply begins then restarts automatically after it's done. The disc is region-free. No Extra Features.
Unappealing but not without interest, Flight Into Nowhere goes nowhere fast (the film being just 63 minutes long) but then again the brazenly self-centered jerk driving the plot is also the only reason to watch it in the first place. Rent It.
* Reader Sergei Hasenecz notes, "I always find it a little surprising that the Production Code allowed Asian female and white male relationships, often outside of marriage, even though someone always died for it. Anna May Wong was Akim Tamiroff's mistress in Dangerous to Know (1938, and they both die). Bette Davis's husband famously steps out on her with an Asianized Gale Sondergaard in The Letter (1940, he dies, she doesn't. As striking as Sondergaard is in the movie, it's still a pity Wong didn't get the role.)"
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.