The Eagle & the Hawk

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The loves, losses and fates of WWI airmen.

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In this 1933 movie, Fredric March plays a WWI flier sent on aerial photography missions, Cary Grant plays his rival, and the two have an uneasy relationship from the time March keeps Grant from getting his wings, to the time Grant becomes March’s tail observer and gunner, to the time Grant does something stunning for March’s reputation. Jack Oakie has a juicy role as the jolly and beloved pilot with hints of a serious side, and Carole Lombard has a few scenes as the vision in white whom March meets while on leave to rest his shattered nerves. March is haunted by all the death around him, and even more disturbed by the medals he earns for work he increasingly considers wrong and immoral. He descends into nihilism, hopelessness and alcoholism, and in the end does something which is discovered and kept secret by Grant, and which I’ll keep secret so that you might be properly affected when you first watch it.

The Eagle & the Hawk is much more an emotional antiwar drama than a war action movie, one based on a story by John Monk Saunders, whose adapted works and screenplays often looked at the Great War, as in Wings (which is the source of the stock footage of the dogfights in this movie), Legion of the Condemned, The Last Flight, The Dawn Patrol, and Devil Dogs of the Air. Another feature of many Saunders stories is that the introspection comes with generous amount of alcohol and the drinking is prominently displayed. There’s a memorable scene during March’s little getaway in the park with Lombard where he pays a taxi driver to bring them champagne. Speaking of Lombard, it’s impressive how much she makes of the little screen time and character she has, bringing in maximum glamour and sympathy.

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However Grant and March are the central couple here, contrasting values locked in a tense yet somehow respectful relationship. Grant plays a fiery, impatient and impulsive airman, gung-ho, eager to seek out and kill the enemy, the more the better, on the solid and mostly correct reasoning that one less enemy equals one less person to kill his fellow military. But he earns more disdain than accolades when he kills an airman in his parachute, violating rules of combat meant to separate battle from murder. March on the other hand, starts out shining and then slowly extinguishes, as the extremely sensitive flier who feels that only he suffers and knows the horror of war because the other men have different ways of coping and don’t outwardly express their grief, guilt or misgivings. March is riveting, as he had a talent for playing these intense emo roles, tortured consciences with explosive raw nerves and a burning stare.

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In a memorable climactic outburst, he equates his last dogfight opponent, Germany’s top flying ace, to the recently lost youngsters on his own side, saying in a drunken rant that the German was just another “kid… like you.” Which he was, but the Ace, no matter how young and aesthetically impressive he might have been (and he is presented in the film to be a beautiful “blonde kid” and very similar to the most recent casualty from March’s plane), was also likely directly and at least symbolically responsible for many of the deaths that give March nightmares. Those Aces created countless widows and orphans for whom the concept of heroism and honour is not a dated or useless ideal but an important comfort in their loss and the memory of their loved one. So you get a picture of extremes and extreme reactions in an extreme war where ethics and ideals were just as much victims as the fighters, making this story interesting and more than just pretentious anti-war philosophizing.

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Stuart Walker has director credit but the film was Mitchell Leisen’s, an amazing piece of dark, bleak work from a man who gave us some of the finest and frothiest romantic comedies ever. Leisen said that despite it being fully understood he was the director and Walker his assistant (assigned to help with dialogue), when the picture wrapped, Walker exercised his contractual right to get full credit, whereas Leisen had no such agreement or power. When The Eagle & the Hawk was re-released in 1939, some parts were cut. There’s a missing bit where March and Lombard continue from that park bench and spend the night together; in the morning March finds that she’s left a gardenia on his pillow. There was also an additional part at the end that showed us Cary Grant living with the effects of his actions, and visiting a plaque dedicated to March. Though the presence of these scenes would be closer to Leisen’s vision, their absence doesn’t lessen the movie’s impact as a tough, frank pre-code war film that deserves more attention.

Source: Mitchell Leisen Hollywood Director, by David Chierichetti

this post is part of the WWI in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology  and  Movies, Silently 

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31 thoughts on “The Eagle & the Hawk”

    1. Yes you must, it fits right in with Dawn Patrol, All Quiet on the Western Front and many similar that are better known. Thanks for reading!

    1. and on a superficial note, both actors looked so fabulous here, young and chiseled, lit and shot so dramatically as well. Thanks for stopping by to read.

  1. Fascinating post! I must see this film. And I love the gif of Cary. Interesting side note: John Monk Saunders famously punched our beloved Herbert Marshall after Herbert called him a “bestial bastard” for his conduct towards Gloria Swanson.

    1. well that’s fascinating. Our chivalrous Herbert 🙂 definitely watch the movie– a must for March fans, Cary is in an early stage, without the charm, maybe a little awkward with lots of attitude but it sure is interesting to see him in this role and he still makes a strong complement to March. Thanks for reading.

  2. Nice analysis, particularly where you point out how this film goes a step beyond anti-war platitudes. I don’t think I’ve seen this film, but now I have to! Thanks for covering it in our blogathon.

    1. Yes it is unrelenting but it also raises questions along with its message. thanks for hosting, looking forward to seeing the other posts and movies covered.

  3. Great review. I was not expecting much when I saw the movie a year ago, so I was shocked by its frank depiction of how March’s character was affected by the deaths he had caused and seen. I have to admit that Grant’s final service for March took me completely by surprise. Thanks for filling in the details about the scenes with Lombard. The sudden infusion of glamor was a nice break from the grimness but it seemed a little disconnected, as if something was missing. The movie definitely needs to be seen by more people.

    1. Thanks and I agree, it’s one that not too many people have known about or maybe expected much from, like you initially, but it really sticks with you, and definitely deserves a place with the better known WWI pictures.

  4. One of the few Cary Grant films I’ve yet to see, but I loved reading your review. Lombard certainly looks like she bought the glamour to the party, although I wouldn’t expect anything less.

    1. Thanks very much, it is a different role for Grant, some people don’t enjoy him in this type of role but I found it interesting to see him at this stage of his career. Hope you get to see it sometime soon.

  5. I remember you suggested this to me a while back and after watching it I found myself once again realizing that March was such a fine actor who deserves to be known more than he is…..(5 days of?) His performance here is ahead of it’s time.

    1. yeah it really is, he is so intense. I first saw this when it came out on vhs thinking I was going to get a Grant/Lombard romantic thing but was surprised at what it was. And probably only knew March from Jekyll & Hyde back then!

  6. I need to see this – but I am paralyzed because I can’t stop looking at that GIF of Cary. Can someone please call for a clean up in aisle one, because my heart just melted. Awesome post!

    1. i did the same when choosing the gif, there are a quite a few nice ones from this movie floating around tumblr 🙂 thanks so much, glad you enjoyed and hope you get to see this once you’re done mopping

  7. Thanks so much for joining in with this splendid review. Whenever I see a screenshot or GIF from this film, my reaction is always thus:
    “AWWW! It’s a baby Cary Grant. Who’s the cute boy? You are! You are!”
    😉

    1. haha! that’s my reaction exactly, he was such a babyface here, and it fit in with the aesthetics of the movie too, everyone is just so pretty in this. thanks for hosting ladies, always a pleasure to join in your events

  8. That was a wonderful write-up. I’ll join the chorus of people saying I have to see this one. John Monk Saunders could spin a yarn. He never made it to Europe during the war, but he could write about it convincingly.

    1. thanks, luckily this movie is a bit easier to find, I think there’s a tcm dvd of it (?) so more people will be able to see what was previously kind of a rare film. WWI had its share of fine poets and writers and sadly, much for them to write about, in this vein

  9. Wow, I really need to see this – not sure if it is available in the UK, but I hope so! I love seeing Cary Grant in more serious roles as well as his comedies, and it sounds as if this is a great role for March – plus I have really admired the other films I’ve seen where Monk Saunders was involved. Will definitely return to reread this excellent review after tracking down the movie.

    1. Thanks very much, I appreciate that– very much a March showcase and he made the most of the material, hope you get to catch it or pick it up sometime

  10. Wow-great review and a movie I have never heard of. Didn’t even know that March and Grant had been in a movie together! Hoping it won’t elude TCM much longer.

    1. Well glad to have brought it to your attention, there’s ALWAYS new movies to discover and seek out, that’s what makes this the greatest ‘hobby.’ Thanks for reading

  11. When I saw that you were reviewing this movie, I looked for it, and I’m so happy I did. The movie left me speechless. Seriouly, this probably entered the list of my favorites of 2014.
    Carole’s brief presence as “the beautiful lady” was a highlight, but the whole anti-war theme won the film for me. I mean, it should be viewed by everybody before starting a war!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Kisses!
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/09/a-epopeia-do-jazz-alexanders-ragtime.html

    1. many thanks, glad that you were inspired to look for it because it’s interesting for the cast and the story, and feels very ahead of its time. and you reviewed one of my favourite movies at your blog 🙂 will be reading soon!

  12. I’ve never heard of this film! The photos you’ve posted are stunning. I know I’ll love this. Thanks for introducing me to “The Eagle and the Hawk”.

    Oh yes – great review, too!

    1. Thank you, and I am pretty sure you will love it. It’s amazing that as much as we think we know about movies there’s still such surprises and discoveries left! 🙂

  13. Neat review, Kristina, and thanks for introducing me to a film I’ve never heard of, but would now like to see. It always fascinates me to see Grant playing a bad guy (which I guess doesn’t happen often, or at all, since Hitchcock had to change the ending of ‘Suspicion’), so I’d watch this movie for that aspect alone. And I kinda like those two deleted scenes you mention…too bad they weren’t retained. And this is off subject, but I wanted to say congrats and thanks for being my 100th follower over on the Monolith!

    1. You’re very welcome and thanks for dropping by here to read & comment! Interesting how this “early Cary” already has that powerful presence– he could be cold and nasty when needed, the charmers usually can pull that off really well, even if they didn’t get to do it too often.

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