The Eagle and the Hawk
You know what is one of the best film discoveries? When you realize two of your favorite actors starred in a film together that you have never seen.
In the case of The Eagle & the Hawk it would be Fredric March & Cary Grant. Of course with big names like this you expect the film to not be very good because why else did you not hear about it before? I’ve only been a fan of Fredric March for two years or so but I’ve been a fan of Grant for years so I thought I at least knew most of what he was in. Thus when I first watched The Eagle and the Hawk a little over a year ago, I wasn’t expecting much. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be a pretty decent war drama. That’s one of the best things about being a film fan realizing there are always new films to discover and it doesn’t have to be a well known film either. Sometimes a great film is one that you have not even heard of before.
The Eagle & the Hawk is about Royal Air Force WWI pilots that discover the harsh realities of war. Early US war films are always rather interesting for me to watch because they contrast so much with later war films once we hit WWII. In 1933 when this movie was made, the US was still decidedly anti-war and it shows in every way in this film. In fact if there is another movie with a similar theme I can compare this one to it would be All Quiet on the Western Front, with both movies truly showing the futility of war.
As for our two protagonists, I listed March’s name first on purpose and not just because this blog event is dedicated to him. March is decidedly the star of the film. Cary Grant was known (in large part because of his distinctive voice) but he had not made it big quite yet and is the supporting player here. March on the other hand had already won an Oscar. March shows that Oscar was deserved and gives a richly layered performance in this film as the lead character Jerry Young. Young is an American pilot who fights for the RAF. He is excited for the chance to go to France to fight heroically for his country. However, this excitement quickly turns to disillusionment as Young realizes the only thing he is fighting for is to see the next young pilot killed. Young flies the RAF planes into enemy territory while an observer takes note of the enemies’ base and guns down any enemy planes. Unfortunately these partnerships are quickly dissolved as one after one the gunners are shot down. C’est la guerre to the other seasoned soldiers on the base. In one early scene in the film a man’s bed sheets are rolled up shortly after he dies, his name erased off the board, like he was never there. March however takes the deaths much harder. Fighting for a cause you believe in is one thing but watching men die is something else.
I’m a chauffeur for a graveyard, driving men to their deaths day after day.
Young is named a hero in the film because of his constant successes. He gets medals for his bravery and is told to make speeches to inspire the young recruits. He is the character the younger soldiers (many of them just boys) look up to. This slowly kills Young inside as he realizes as a “hero” he is only inspiring these soldiers to their deaths.
The way March’s character changes and unravels in the film is a testament to his astounding acting skill. The script tells us that Young is cracking but it is the subtle changes in March’s voice and facial expressions that really show us. There are only two scenes where I feel the subtlety breaks down: a nightmare scene & March’s final speech in the film where we can see what the war has truly done to his character.
Another interesting thing about this movie is Grant’s role is not a rival lover. While there is a brief romance in the film (with a young Carole Lombard) the film instead focuses more on the war itself and the relationship of the pilots. I found the fact that romance was such a small after thought in The Eagle and the Hawk to be a nice treat, especially for films of the time.
The relationship between Grant & March’s characters is actually the heart of the film. Grant plays Henry Crocker, the tough one in the group, who isn’t disillusioned about the war at all. He is not above shooting down the enemy even when his is escaping on a parachute. For Crocker there are no rules in war, just survival. Crocker is a character you would never get to see Grant play later on in his career.
Of course Crocker and Young’s ideals are very different and they clash throughout the film. Although Crocker and Young are not on the best of terms, the two are forced to work together because they are both the best at what they do and in such a dangerous job being the best is crucial. However as the film goes on you can see that Crocker’s character is the only person in the film that truly understands what Young is going through. He sees things the others cannot because he doesn’t see Young as a hero but as a man. This leads to a fantastic ending scene between the two characters that I will not spoil here.
Another thing that makes the relationship between Young & Crocker work so well for me is the chemistry between March & Grant was spot on. I would have loved to see them team up again later in their career when Grant was a more established actor but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. I guess I should be happy that two of my favorite actors got to star together at least once & the film itself focused on the relationship between their two characters.
Eagle and the Hawk was directed by Stuart Walker & also stars Jack Oakie who provides the few lighter moments of the movie. Besides the occasional airing on TCM it is also available in the Cary Grant: The Early Years DVD box set.
Kim is an occasional contributor to Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. Make sure to check out her other posts here at the site.