Pilot X (1936)

Hi all, Nate here with another little gem from the back pages of youtube. As you know, I have a thing for aviation, especially transitional periods in aviation technology like the prop-to-jet jump in the 1950s and, per this movie, the biplane-to-monoplane jump in the early/mid 1930s. Our movie was made in that heady transition period where the vast majority of aircraft, both military and civilian, were still biplanes that differed little from those fragile canvas-and-plywood machines that fought in the skies over France in WWI. It wouldn’t be until the late 1930s/early 40s that the biplane fell out of favor in military circles, though it would be well into the 1960s or so that monoplanes began to take their share of the civilian aviation market. Yes, more than you wanted to know.

You can get a full-size biplane kit on the internet.

Anyway, movie. Spinning newspaper fronts tell us that a mysterious pilot is shooting down passenger planes on the West Coast, a phantom raider flown by a dastardly bastard known only as “Pilot X”. At a local airfield at the center of the Pilot X attack area, the local officials decide that the rogue must be a former WWI fighter pilot who is trying to relive his glory years by shooting down defenseless planes, surely smoothing his mustache devilishly as he does so.

The era of the pencil stash is soon upon us.

They do some googling and some facebook searches and find that there are five men living in the immediate area who used to be combat pilots in the Great War To End All Wars. They ask them to come to a central location under the pretenses of helping them out, sure that one of these men is Pilot X and if they just watch close enough he’ll stumble and give himself away.

Most of them still wear their old uniforms.

Though intrigue is best done shirtless?

What follows is a pretty good mix of aireal action scenes and the subtle exploration of the wounded psyches of men who were ordered to do terrible things in a terrible place. PTSD is in vogue these days, and for good reason, but the emotional and mental toll that war takes on a person has been a concern for as long as kings and princes settled their differences in grassy fields with phalanxes of swordsmen and armor bearers. Some of the old pilots seem ok, but others are angry and testy, and a couple even live in denial that anything bad happened. One of the pilots (a Frenchman, of course) breaks down under the pressure and we see him flip out about halfway through, frothing and twitching around the room as he rages about the folly of war and the insanity of man. For quite some time after that he’s seen in the background of shots, sitting dejectedly in the corner, his head in his hands, a powerful image.

This dude’s wigging.

While the talky parts are outstanding, the flying scenes are tragically weak. Because of the extremely low quality of the in-flight footage, combined with the distances between the camera and the planes making it impossible to tell which plane is which, plus the fact that even in the close-up insert shots all the pilots look exactly the same in their flight helmets and goggles, the end result is that I have no idea what the hell is happening in the combat scenes. It’s only once everyone lands (either deliberately or in a flaming ball of wreckage) and takes off their helmets that I can determine who is dead and who is painting a kill mark on their plane.

Those little dots are planes (riveting!).

Who are you again?

I want to give them props for using real planes and doing all the effects in-frame, but it’s not like they had any other choice, the technology to do better hadn’t even been invented yet. If this film’s director had access to computers and blue screens you know he’d be slapping it on thick without any reservations. If they had more money, or the interest in doing it right, they could have used small scale model planes and some slick editing tricks, would have been better than what they went with.

A couple nice back-projection composite shots.

Oh, and there’s some pretty young girl in here because there has to be a cute love-interest in every movie ever made. She doesn’t really do much to advance the plot, but she does dutifully put herself in peril on occasion and looks sexy-hot in her swimsuit (they wrote a pool scene specifically to have the girl lounging about in a one-piece, no other reason than that).

This film does not need romance.

We have proof-positive that time travel is possible now because the movie ends with a shocking twist villain reveal that makes no sense at all. Some of Michael Bay’s scriptwriters went back in time to 1936, started a film company, made this movie, and decided, “Hey, how about Pilot X being that one old guy who had ten lines the entire movie and never gave us any indication at all that he might be up to something? Yeah, that’s great!”. Thanks, movie, thanks a lot.

Pilot X is dead (no one cares).

So, meh, maybe skip Pilot X, unless you are just really into old airplanes. And yes, I watched it twice.

The End.

Written in January 2015 by Nathan Decker.

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