When an eager pilot’s homemade plane crashes into an Army recruitment office, he is quickly bamboozled into joining up. The Army never knew what hit them.
Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.
Fly, yes. Land, no.
If you find yourself in a homemade airplane and are trying desperately to avert a crash by thumbing through pages of your How to Fly correspondence course textbook, you might be the main character of a silent era comedy.
Flying Luck was released in 1927 as a bit of a riff on Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. The subsequent Lindbergh frenzy really has no modern equivalent and it was inevitable that the movies would join in the festivities.
In the case of this picture, the Boy (Monty Banks) is so enamored of Lindbergh’s flight that he has built a shrine to him with photos clipped from magazines and has even cobbled together his own plane, the Spirit of Plum Center. His maiden flight ends when he crashes into an Army recruitment center, which is also festooned with Lindbergh paraphernalia as the pride of the Army Air Corps.
Rather than getting in trouble, Monty is just what the recruiters need. They have a quota to fill and they quickly enlist him, fill his head with airplanes and medals and lunch with the colonel, and then bus him off to the nearest base, which also happens to host an air field.
And this is where the central comedy theme of Flying Luck is made clear: Monty spends the whole film wandering from one improbable situation to another on the strength of outrageous good luck. I am quite partial to this particular brand of humor, the more audacious, the better. A small coincidence helping the hero out is annoying but an elaborate Rube Goldberg plot of impossible coincidence delights me no end.
And so, Monty ends up being accused of being a bus stop pervert when a mischievous cat bats at the legs of the Girl (Jean Arthur) and he is thrown out by the Sergeant (Kewpie Morgan). However, good fortune smiles and Monty is picked up by a delegation of French military dignitaries who are scheduled to meet the air divisions of both the U.S. Army and Navy. He is swept into the army base as a VIP and soon finds himself lunching with the colonel, just as the recruiters promised.
J.W. Johnston is particularly delightful as the horrified colonel, who soon realizes that Monty is no Frenchman but has already rolled out the red carpet and can’t take it back in front of his visiting Navy rivals. Meanwhile, Jean has already arrived at the base, knows that Monty was framed by a cat and hopes to make amends. Monty has no idea what’s going on and he is also unaware that he has accidentally swapped Jean’s suitcase for his own. He just wants the French officers to stop kissing him.
Chaos naturally ensues, especially when Monty is caught with luggage full of lingerie, and it looks like he will never see the inside of an army airplane. It’s going to take quite a stroke of luck for that to happen, am I right? (Broad wink.)
Well, that was quite a lot of fun.
I am partial to silent era vehicle comedies and there were a lot of them. Flying Luck reminds me a bit of the Richard Dix racecar comedy The Lucky Devil: it was never intended as high art, it was just designed to provide the audience with a fun evening at the movies. A little comedy, a little action, a little romance. Quirky, humorous, a good time had by all. And it delivers.
I wasn’t terribly familiar with Monty Banks before, other than seeing him in a few clips, but I quite enjoy his congenial fool persona in this picture. He also brings a bit of European sensibility (he was born in Italy) and the right amount of outsider irreverence to the often-ridiculous military machine. A stiff and unyielding character or organization meeting a well-meaning fool is another comedy staple that I quite enjoy seeing on the screen. I’m also curious about the 1924 Banks film Racing Luck, which shares a director, Herman C. Raymaker, with Flying Luck. (It survives in multiple archives, so I may have a chance to see it one day!)
In addition to the Lindbergh worship, Flying Luck also pokes topical fun at the then-ubiquitous mail order correspondence course. This gag is most often associated with Sherlock Jr. (1922) but had been a staple of stage and screen for years. For example, the 1914 Edison comedy The Sherlock Holmes Girl revolves around a hotel maid discovering a How to Be a Detective manual and imagining herself the new house detective as a result. Merton of the Movies, book, play and film, are all about a rube who imagines himself a master thespian after taking an acting correspondence course. “Some thing you shouldn’t learn by mail” was hilarious because it was so true.
Of course, Flying Luck has another draw for modern viewers, a very young Jean Arthur as the leading lady. Arthur had been trying to break into the movies since the early twenties and had found some success in westerns but was generally stuck in the “picture in fan magazines but never the cover” level of fame and would continue to be until the mid-thirties. Monty Banks was an early advocate for Arthur’s talent and she seems to be enjoying herself as his love interest.
However, as much as I enjoyed Flying Luck, it didn’t seem to win over many critics during its original release. The trade magazine Motion Picture News dismissed it as “not so good,” complained about the thin plot, and suggested it would only go over in small theaters. Photoplay sniffed that the film’s humor was not funny but ridiculous, however, they did praise Arthur as “fascinating.” The best review was probably in Harrison’s Reports, which described it as “a pretty good program picture.”
Well, shows you what they know.
Flying Luck doesn’t have much of a plot but it really doesn’t need one with all the madcap antics going on. In any case, at a mere five reels, it moves along at a peppy pace and there was really no need for a more formal structure. Keep in mind, though, this was the late twenties and the film industry of the thirties and forties was famous for taking comedians who could carry movies alone and forcing them to play second fiddle to bland romantic leads, so we can consider the source.
This is just a light bit of entertainment and I enjoyed quite a few belly laughs while watching it. I am also going to keep an eye out for more Monty Banks pictures because this one was a kick. Definitely recommended for anyone else who enjoys a bit of vehicular mayhem with their clowning.
Where can I see it?
Produced for home video by Bruce Lawton and Ben Model and released on DVD by Undercrank Productions with an organ score by Model. Also includes newsreels of Lindbergh’s flight, contextualizing Monty’s hero worship.
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