Trans-America Air Lines pilot "Three Star" Bob Halsey (Lyle Talbot) is in love with stewardess Judy Wagner (Ann Dvorak), but she wants him to stop his daredevil ways. So does his boss, Lackey (Charles C. Wilson). He pays neither any mind.
When Brownell (Henry O'Neill) gives Lackey an urgent assignment from the U.S. government, Lackey chooses Bob and Judy's brother, Tom (Robert Light) to secretly fly Clement Williams (Edward McWade) and a cylinder containing a revolutionary explosive he has invented, to Washington, D.C., guarded by government agents. Jason (Arthur Pierson), a spy working as Lackey's assistant, alerts Taggart (Russell Hicks), the ringleader, about the flight.
While waiting in his regular bar, Bob is provoked into a fight with three men and knocked out. Another pilot, George Wexley (Gordon Westcott), offers to fly with Tom. Over the lower Sierras, the airliner explodes.
Bob and Lackey fly to the crash site, where Bob finds Tom's cap. Frantic for news of her brother, Judy attempts to drive to the site, but is waylaid by imposters posing as government men. She is taken to Taggart and Wexley, who works for him, and reveals that he escaped the explosion by bailing out at the last moment. Wexley tells Judy that her brother is still alive and that he is going to Tijuana to identify fake government agents who were implicated in the theft. The false story was used to convince Judy to go to Mexico, with the recovered explosive cylinder hidden in her car.
Back at his base, Bob becomes suspicious when the bartender tells him that he saw the same three men from the brawl pick up Jason. Back at the airline office, Bob discovers Jason's listening device.
At Taggart's hideout, Judy overhears a radio report announcing Tom's body has been recovered, but, realizing her predicament, pretends not to have heard the news. That night, she paints three stars on the roof of the house as a signal. The next day, when Bob and Wings see the house, they land nearby, and Bob rescues Judy. Wexley, Jason and Taggart catch the couple as they try to run away. Wings, hearing shooting, as instructed, flies away and seeks out the "Air Patrol". After a brief gunfight, they capture Taggart and his henchmen. Bob and Wings take off to catch Wexley who has flown away with Judy and the cylinder. After Wexley shoots down a government aircraft in a dogfight between biplanes, Bob manages to force him to land. Both Judy and the explosive are recovered. Although the government is grateful, all Judy and Bob want to do is get married.
As appearing in Murder in the Clouds, (main roles and screen credits identified):
Principal photography took place primarily at the Glendale Grand Central Air Terminal and airport, in the Warner Bros. studio, and at Big Bear Lake, California, from August 27 to September 15, 1934. The aircraft used included a Ford Trimotor and Travel Air Speedwings. Much of Dyer's aerial photography in Murder in the Clouds would be reused in future Warners programmers such as Fly-Away Baby and Fugitive in the Sky.
The two leads, Dvorak and Talbot were considered difficult by mainline studios; Talbot was actively involved in the Screen Actors Guild while Dvorak was known to advocate for equitable pay for actors."I'll String Along with You" (Music by Harry Warren)
"Without That Certain Thing" (Written by Max Nesbitt and Harry Nesbitt)
Murder in the Clouds was both handicapped and praised for its brevity and breeziness. As a "B" film, it was one of a score of aviation-themed films that appeared in quick succession, and had many similarities. By 1934, the film industry became more safety-conscious, with screen air crashes largely being abandoned as more civil aviation topics replaced the usual World War I air battles. A more contemporary review notes "... a predictable and formulaic film. Clouds also – and this is also not rare in these knock-offs – suffers from plot holes you could fly an airplane through. In other words, the script is a lot of hooey ..."