Ceiling Zero

Ceiling Zero

Infobox Film
name = "Ceiling Zero"

director = Howard Hawks
producer = Jack Warner
Hal Wallis
writer = Frank Wead
editor = William Holmes
special effects = Fred Jackman
music = Leo Forbstein
cinematography = Arthur Edeson
sound = Oliver Garretson
art direction = John Hughes
country = flagicon|USA
language = English
released = 16 January, 1936
runtime = 95 minutes
distributor = Warner Bros.

"Ceiling Zero" is a 1936 adventure/drama film distributed by Warner Bros. and directed by Howard Hawks. It stars James Cagney as daredevil womanizing pilot 'Dizzy' Davis and Pat O'Brien as Jake Lee, his war veteran buddy and the operations manager of an airline company. Based on a stage play of the same name, the film blends drama with some light comedy. The title, as defined at the beginning of the picture, is an insider term referring to those moments when the sky is so thick with fog that navigating an airplane is near to impossible.


Old pals Jake Lee, Tex Clarke and Dizzy Davis flew together in the Army (see the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps) during the Great War. Almost twenty years later, Jake is the manager of the Newark, New Jersey branch of Federal Airlines, a New York based airline company. Tex works as an airmail pilot and Dizzy, also still flying planes, is seeking employment with his friends. Prior to his hot-shot arrival (Dizzy does a few tricks in the air before landing), a New York associate warns Jake about Dizzy, calling him unreliable and troublesome. Insulted, Jake replies that Dizzy is one of the best pilots in the country, telling a few stories about his fearlessness and bravery.

Jake hires Dizzy as an airmail pilot. Dizzy is immediately attracted to 'Tommy' Thomas, a 19 year old girl also working there, who has just learned to fly solo. In order to go on a date with her, Dizzy, scheduled for a flight to Cincinnati in the evening, pretends he is suddenly sick and gets Tex to replace him. Tex makes it to Ohio, but on the way back to New Jersey, finds himself in a cold and heavy fog. Though there is zero visibility and he is having radio problems, he attempts to land in Newark. He crashes into one of the airport hangars and the plane catches on fire. Tex is taken to the hospital where he later dies.

Tex's wife Lou, who was never very fond of Dizzy, blames him for her husband's death. She calls him selfish and irresponsible and says that he hurts everything he touches. Dizzy, overwhelmed with guilt, returns to the airport. Meanwhile, the weather has gotten even worse and Jake has canceled all other flights. In addition, the aviation authorities have revoked Dizzy's pilot license, for extraneous reasons. Jake consoles Dizzy on account of both losses and then goes home for the night, leaving him temporarily in charge. Another pilot, unaware of the cancellation, comes into the operations building, ready for his normally scheduled flight. Chagrined and burdened with his culpability, Dizzy demands the man explain how the newly acquired and, as of yet, untested aircraft de-icers function, then knocks the man unconscious and irrationally takes his plane. Jake and the others are devastated when they find out. Dizzy radios information over to them about the de-icers. They work to a degree, but the system is flawed. He does not make it through the snow storm.

Main Cast

*James Cagney as Dizzy Davis
*Pat O'Brien as Jake Lee
*June Travis as Tommy Thomas
*Stuart Erwin as Texas Clarke


Jack Warner and Hal Wallis produced this film through Warner Bros., First National and Cosmopolitan Productions. Navy aviator turned screenwriter Frank 'Spig' Wead provided the script, based on the original three-act play he wrote for Broadway, which ran for a few months in 1935 at the Music Box Theatre. Cagney and O'Brien appeared together in "Devil Dogs of the Air", another aviation themed film, also in 1935. The budget was limited, as "Ceiling Zero" was obviously shot entirely either in the studio or on the backlot.

External links

* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0026191/ Ceiling Zero] at the Internet Movie Database

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