Ceiling Zero (1936)

Ceiling Zero (1936) Front Cover DVD

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Ceiling Zero (1936) Back Cover DVD

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Ceiling Zero is a story about airmail pilots back when flying was itself an occupational hazard. It was written by Frank W. Wead, better known as Spig Wead whose life was later brought to the screen by John Ford in Wings of Eagles (1957) starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. For those who've seen Wings of Eagles, they know that Spig Wead was a navy pilot who set all kinds of aviation records before becoming paralyzed with a broken neck due to a fall down some stairs in his home. After that Wead turned to writing and published all kinds of articles, stories, and screenplays mostly relating to aviation. Ceiling Zero was Wead's one attempt at a Broadway play. It ran for three months on Broadway in 1935 with John Litel and Osgood Perkins in the roles played by James Cagney and Pat O'Brien respectively. It got good critical acclaim, but a short Broadway run as did a lot of plays during the Depression.

The action focuses on the Newark, New Jersey branch of fictitious Federal Airlines and its employees. Pat O'Brien plays Jake Lee, the fast talking hard-nosed operations manager of the Newark branch. The industry is one in transition as the WWI flying aces and barnstormers that once dominated as air mail pilots are being slowly replaced with "college men" - engineers. Enter James Cagney as Dizzy Davis who is one of those old aces - if you can possibly imagine the energetic James Cagney as somebody who's on the verge of being all washed up at anything in 1936. Jake, Dizzy's old WWI flying buddy, has gotten him a job at the Newark office as Dizzy is on the verge of losing his pilot's license as he has a bad ticker and a bad attitude when it comes to following all of the new rules that did not exist when he first started out in the business.

There are romantic complications too. Touchiest of these is the fact that Jake's wife of two years, Mary, was serious about Dizzy right before she met Jake. This is information Dizzy and Mary desperately want to keep from Jake in order to spare his feelings. There's also a new female pilot at the Newark branch, Tommy, all of 19, who catches Dizzy's eye. Tommy has a steady boyfriend, but she's fascinated by this older experienced WWI ace and his exciting stories and lifestyle.

Dizzy is a fellow on the move with him chasing Tommy and age and the odds chasing him, and then there's Mike, an old ace Dizzy's age who cracked up in a wreck. His bones healed but his mind didn't, and Dizzy is horrified to see his old mirror image turned simpleton and janitor. It's unspoken, but you just know that Dizzy sees his own possible future when he looks at the guy.

The film is a real edge-of-your-seat experience, even though almost all of the action is on the ground as pilots fly in "ceiling zero" weather, and some make it back alive and some don't. It's an exciting little movie with a look at the state of flight technology in 1936. The film was directed by Howard Hawks.


James Cagney as Dizzy Davis
Pat O'Brien as Jake Lee
June Travis as Tommy Thomas
Stuart Erwin as Texas Clarke
Barton MacLane as Al Stone
Henry Wadsworth as Tay Lawson
Martha Tibbetts as Mary Miller Lee
Isabel Jewell as Lou Clarke
Addison Richards as Fred Adams
Edward Gargan as Doc Wilson
Pat West as Baldy
Carlyle Moore Jr. as Eddie Payson
Mathilde Comont as Mama Gini

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The cost of this item is $9.99. This is good quality picture and sound. This DVD comes with artwork, label and case. See provided images above, these images are of the actual items.

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