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Michael Curtiz
James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Brenda Marshall
Writing Credits:
Arthur T. Horman, Richard Macaulay, Norman Reilly Raine

Inspired by Churchill's Dunkirk speech, undisciplined bush pilot Brian MacLean and three friends enlist in the RCAF but are deemed too old to be fliers.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 3/22/2022

• 1942 Newsreel
• 3 Short Films
• Trailer


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Captains of the Clouds [Blu-Ray] (1942)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 16, 2022)

I suspect we’ll never again see Hollywood devote feature films to pro-war efforts like we did in the 1940s. For an early example of these “morale support” efforts shot during World War II, we go to 1942’s Captains of the Clouds.

Canadian bush pilot Brian MacLean (James Cagney) gets a bad reputation as a shady customer. However, even a less than reputable character like Brian feels the tug of patriotism, so when he hears Winston Churchill’s stirring radio address, he joins the Royal Canadian Air Force.

While Brian wants to engage in combat, he finds himself ruled out due to age. Brian strives to figure out how to achieve his goals, no matter the cost.

Based on that synopsis, you might assume Clouds offers a rootin’-tootin’ war epic. However, the end product provides something different.

That occurs mainly because Clouds devotes nearly half its running time to events before Brian decides to join the war effort. Instead, we spend time with Brian, his romantic target Emily Foster (Brenda Marshall) and her fiancé, rival pilot Johnny Dutton (Dennis Morgan).

While aspects of this plot thread prove significant for the rest of the film Clouds spends way too much time of this love triangle and other fairly superfluous elements. I guess the producers felt that the interactions among Brian/Emily/Johnny would add drama, but instead, they simply come across as dull and extraneous.

Sure, I get that Clouds needs to set up some personal stakes before it engages in the war effort. I understand that a movie without any exploration of the characters before combat would seem thin and without meaning.

Nonetheless, Clouds just goes too far, and a lot of the “prologue to war” scenes just feel like padding. The film could lose half of the material among the pilots pre-military and fare better.

The same goes for all the sequences during Brian’s training. These tend to run much longer than necessary, and they slow a draggy movie even more.

All of this seems like a shame, for Clouds comes with a good tale of bravery at its heart. Yeah, it exists essentially as propaganda, but it still features a potentially appealing narrative.

And some parts of the film do fine. As usual, Cagney offers a solid performance, and we get some thrilling flight sequences – even if a few find themselves marred by bad effects work.

Ultimately, Clouds winds up as a bit of a snoozer, though. It just lacks the substance it needs to sustain the viewer across 113 minutes.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

Captains of the Clouds appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became an excellent presentation, especially given the film’s age.

In terms of sharpness, the movie usually demonstrated nice delineation. A few shots seemed just a smidgen soft, but those issues occurred infrequently, so the majority of the flick looked concise and accurate.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and no edge enhancement became apparent. Grain remained appropriate, and no specks, marks or other defects showed up at any time in this fresh presentation.

Colors were strong. A Technicolor production, the hues tended to be vivid and full.

Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. I found little about which to complain here and thought the Blu-ray brought the movie to life in a positive manner.

The DTS-HD MA monaural audio of Clouds appeared fine for its era, and speech was appropriate. The lines showed age-related thinness, but they were always perfectly intelligible and without edginess.

Effects resembled the dialogue in terms of quality. Those elements lacked much depth but they were without notable problems.

Music was acceptable for its age, as the score tended to be a bit tinny. There wasn’t much range to the music, but again, that stemmed from the limitations of the very old source. This became a perfectly adequate mix for its vintage.

As we head to extras, we find three short films from 1942. These include the live-action Rocky Mountain Big Game (10:06) as well as animated reels What’s Cookin’, Doc? (8:12) and Hold the Lion, Please (8:26).

In Game, hunters seek to slaughter innocent sheep. Much of it plays as a nature travelogue, which works, but when we got to actual killings, I turned it off. Sorry – hunting is barbaric.

With Cookin’, Bugs demands a recount when he doesn’t win the Oscar. Doc deviates from the usual “Bugs battles a foe” template and mocks Hollywood in a delightful manner, though it loses some points because a large chunk reuses the Little Hiawatha short.

Finally, during Hold a lion hunts rabbits and gets more than he bargained for when he meets Bugs. The Bugs side works but the lion seems like a less than stellar antagonist.

Along with the movie’s trailer, we a 1942 newsreel. During this two-minute, 14-second clip, James Cagney reads a message from Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau as an attempt to sell war bonds. It’s propaganda but it’s an interesting archival clip.

As an example of World War II semi-propaganda out of Hollywood, Captains of the Clouds occasionally stirs to life. However, too much of it focuses on extraneous character material and the end product runs too long to justify its flimsy narrative. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals along with acceptable audio and a few bonus features. Despite a few positives, Clouds doesn’t satisfy as a whole.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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