The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) is a Pre-Code anti-war film from Paramount that focuses on the rivalry between two RAF soldiers stationed in France during World War I, Jerry Young (Fredric March) and Henry Crocker (Cary Grant). Crocker is acknowledged as the best gunner in the squad, but he aspires to be a pilot. Young, however, advises the captain the Crocker isn't good enough to be a pilot. Their conflict escalates when Crocker tries to gun down German observers that parachuting out of a burning plane, which Young sees as savage and immoral and which Crocker views as justified by the nature of war. Young's humanist philosophy increases as the death toll rises and he questions the very nature of valor, bravery, and heroism. An unsung classic, The Eagle and the Hawk deserves to be mentioned alongside other anti-war films of the time like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and Kino Lorber Studio Classics have recently resurrected the film with a pristine and beautiful Blu-ray presentation.
Among the most interesting qualities of The Eagle and the Hawk is how grim it is. Even the aviation combat sequences manage to be terrifying and not exciting. Director Stuart Walker chooses nihilistic close-ups of machine guns aimed directly into the camera, or shots of bodies falling through the clouds as the planes do loops. In this way, the film distinguishes itself from other aviation war films of the time, such as Wings (1927) (which is great in its own way). Speaking of Wings, The Eagle and the Hawk shares with it the same story writer, John Monk Saunders, who also supplied stories for Josef Von Sternberg's The Docks of New York (1928), as well as other aviation films like The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938), The Last Flight (1931), Ace of Aces (1933), and Devil Dogs of the Air (1935). The final script of The Eagle and the Hawk was written by Bogart Rogers and Seton I. Miller, the latter who was a frequent collaborator of Howard Hawks in the 1920s and 1930s and went on to adapt Graham Greene's Ministry of Fear for Fritz Lang in 1944.
Another aspect that contributes to the solemn atmosphere of The Eagle and the Hawk is the overall visual aesthetic of its studio, Paramount. Not as flashy or glamorous as MGM, Paramount's early 1930s films were more subtle visually, relying on realistic sets and photographic subtleties. The beauty of Harry Fischbeck's cinematographer is marvelously rendered in this new Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray. Fischbeck was a veteran cinematographer by this point, having got his start in the teens working alongside John M. Stahl, and later becoming a contract worker for Paramount in the 1920s where he got to work with D.W. Griffith on Sally of the Sawdust (1925)
March and Grant are, as one would imagine, incredible foils on-screen but who also elevate their characters to more than contrasting philosophical arguments. March and Grant manage to not be preachy as they clash over their views on war. In supporting roles are the always-wonderful Jack Oakie, who provides comic relief, and Carole Lombard in a small role at a party.