Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An airplane drama that's too earthbound

Robot Pilot (aka "Emergency Landing") (1941)
Starring: Forrest Tucker, Emmett Vogan, Carol Hughes, Evelyn Brent, and William Halligan
Director: William Beaudine
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A test pilot (Tucker) and a weather man/bush-pilot-turned-inventor (Vogan) have developed a prototype for a new kind of autopilot they believe will permit flawless remote-controlling of aircraft, thus allowing for bombing raids against the Nazis and Japanese without endanggering pilots. However, interference from enemy spies and an aircraft manufacturing mogul's ditzy, self-important daugther (Hughes) may well spell doom for their project before it ever gets off the ground.

"Robot Pilot" is an avation/sci-fi film with of heavy doses of coy, cute romancing and goofy comedy. Unfortunately, much of the comedy falls completely flat, partly because of changes in society in the 65 years since the film was made, and party because it just isn't very funny. (There's a "simple-minded Mexican" comic relief character whose scenes drag on and on and on. His stchick is actually somewhat more amusing when Evelyn Brant mimics him in a later scene. If fact, the funniest scenes in the film usually involve Brent, who is definately the most talented actress in the film.)

The simple story moves fast enough for the viewer to not get bored, nor to have time contemplate the implausibility of some of the plot developments. This may be damning with faint praise, but "Robot Pilot" is one of the best films William Beaudine films I've seen. If there had been less ethnic humor and more intrigue and drama, it might have ennded up with a Five or Six rating.


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