After World War I, pilots Cary Lockwood (Richard Barthelmess), Shep Lambert (David Manners), Bill Talbot (John Mack Brown)and Francis (Elliott Nugent), who are suffering from shell shock, band together in Paris. Feeling they have no future, the men are constantly drunk. One night, as they make the rounds of nightclubs, they meet Nikki (Helen Chandler), a wealthy but aimless woman, who they invite into their group. Later, when an American reporter named Frink (Walter Byron) makes a pass at Nikki, she shows no interest in him.
The ex-flyers move to Nikki's hotel where they continue drinking. Nikki is attracted to Cary She tags along when he goes to a cemetery where he tells her the story of Héloïse and Abelard, star-crossed lovers. When Nikki starts to cry, Cary is sympathetic until she announces that she now has names for her two turtles. With that, Cary suddenly gets angry and decides to leave for Portugal.
After learning of his plans, Nikki and the others, including Frink, follow him. On the train, Frink tries to force himself on Nikki but the other men come to her rescue. At a bullfight in Lisbon, Bill rashly leaps into the ring and is fatally gored. With Bill at the hospital, the others visit a carnival where outside a shooting gallery, Cary and Frink quarrel and Frink threatens to shoot Cary.
Without thinking, Francis shoots Frink while Shep is fatally wounded in the crossfire. Frightened, Francis disappears and the group is forever split asunder. Cary explains toi Nikki that after the war, all they had left was their comradeship. She begs to stay with him.
The film's pre-release titles were Spent Bullets and Single Lady. The novel, Single Lady by John Monk Saunders is based on a series of stories featuring the character "Nikki," which were published in Liberty Weekly (November 15, 1930-January 17, 1931) as Nikki and Her War Birds.
This was German-born director William Dieterle's first English language picture. Since the late 1920s, he had worked in Hollywood directing several German-language versions of American features. Variety indicates that William Wellman was originally scheduled to direct The Last Flight.
Pre-code files indicate that censors objected to sexual innuendo and skimpy clothing in some scenes in the film. Modern sources add Yola d'Avril and Luis Alberni to the cast.
The aircraft scenes in The Lost Flight were taken from The Dawn Patrol (1930).
The Last Flight was critically reviewed by Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times. He praised the film with the comment: "From flashes of air battles on the eve of the armistice, 'The Last Flight,' a picture which was offered last evening at the Warners' Strand, branches into a curious but often brilliant study of the post-war psychology of four injured American aviators. Their mad waggery and reckless drinking ends darkly for three of them, but the fourth, Cary Lockwood, played by Richard Barthelmess, finds happiness with a girl named Nikki, whose humor and outlook on life has a great deal in common with that of the fliers."
The most lasting impact of The Last Flight was, however, offscreen. Shortly after the film's release, Cary Grant appeared opposite Fay Wray and Douglass Montgomery on Broadway, starting on September 29, 1931 on a musical adaptation entitledNikki (1937). Grant was still billed as "Archie Leach" but adopted his first name from the character, "Cary Lockwood", whom he played on stage and the one Barthelmess had portrayed in the film version.