CastArthur Lake, Sue Carol DirectorHoward Hawks
Lewis Seiler WriterNorman Z. McLeod, Seton I. Miller Release dateSeptember 1, 1928 DirectorsHoward Hawks, Lewis Seiler Written byNorman Z. McLeod, Seton I. Miller Similar moviesDuncan or Devonald with Muslin Cloud, Duncan Smoking, Monkey and Another, Boxing, Ave, Leatherlip, P*to
The Air Circus is a 1928 American feature film directed by Howard Hawks and the first of his aviation films. The film is notable as the first aviation oriented film with dialogue.
Two young men, "Speed" Doolittle (Arthur Lake) and Buddy Blake (David Rollins) go out west to become pilots. The pair encounter an accomplished aviator (Sue Carol) in flight school at a local airport.
Once at the school, the boys set about learning to fly. On his first solo flight, however, Buddy has a sudden attack of fear and almost kills himself and his instructor. Buddy despairs of becoming an aviator, and his mother (Louise Dresser ) comes to comfort him.
Sue and Speed take off in an aircraft with defective landing gear, and Buddy, overcoming his fear, flies to their assistance. He prevents Speed from landing until he and Sue have fixed the defective part.
The Air Circus is Hawks' seventh feature, and the first with sound dialog. The film was completely finished as a silent when the studio commissioned dialog from screenwriter F. Hugh Herbert and assigned Lewis Seiler to insert 15 minutes of talking footage, which Hawks considered "mawkish".
Principal photography took place from April to June 1928 at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California. Stunt pilot Dick Grace did most of the flying with Travel Air and Swallow biplanes featured.
The Air Circus received generally positive reviews from critics. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called it "a jolly, wholesome and refreshingly human picture", praising David Rollins' acting as "wonderfully natural."
The Film Daily said the film was well-acted with "a bang-up youth cast from all angles" and a "thrill finish." Oliver Claxton of The New Yorker wrote that the talking sequence was "the most unfortunate scene", but that the rest of the film "should amuse you in a quiet way." Variety was more modest in its praise, writing, "Expert direction has managed to make a fairly interesting lightweight number out of a script that holds nothing but background and a plot that doesn't exist."
Various sources classify it as lost. However, Hal Erickson states the silent version "was rescued from oblivion in the early 1970s".