The Dawn Patrol (1930)


The Dawn Patrol is a 1930 American pre-Code World War I film starring Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

It was directed by Howard Hawks, a former World War I flight instructor, who even flew in the film as a German pilot in an uncredited role.

The film is based on the book The Flight Commander by John Monk Saunders.

It was subsequently remade in 1938, with the same title, and the original was then renamed Flight Commander and released later as part of the Warner Bros. film catalogue.


During World War I, the pilots of an RFC squadron deal with the stress of combat primarily through nightly bouts of heavy drinking. The two aces of the squadron’s “A Flight”, Courtney (Richard Barthelmess) and Scott (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), have come to hate the commanding officer, Brand (Neil Hamilton), blaming him for sending new recruits directly into combat in inferior aircraft.

Unknown to them, Brand has been arguing continually with higher command to allow practice time for the new pilots, but command is desperate to maintain air superiority and orders them into combat as soon as they arrive. Brand is so disliked by the two he cannot even easily join the men for the nightly partying, drinking alone and clearly breaking under the strain. The tension grows worse when an elite Luftstreitkrafte squadron led by “von Richter” takes up position just across the front lines from them.

After losing several of the squadron’s veteran pilots, the ranks become increasingly made up of new recruits, who have absolutely no chance against the German veterans. Von Richter issues a taunt that Courtney and Scott answer by attacking the Germans’ airdrome in defiance of orders from Brand not to go up against them. Brand gets revenge when he is recalled to headquarters and Courtney is made squadron commander. Courtney quickly learns the misery that Brand endured when four patrols a day are ordered and his pleas not to send green men are ignored.

Scott and Courtney have a falling out when Scott’s younger brother is one of the new replacements and is immediately ordered on a mission. He is killed flying the Dawn Patrol. Brand returns with orders for what amounts to a suicide mission far behind enemy lines. Courtney is forbidden to fly the mission, so Scott angrily volunteers. Courtney gets him drunk and flies off in his stead. He shoots down von Richter returning from the successful mission but is killed by another German pilot. Scott becomes squadron commander and reads orders to his new replacements.


  • Richard Barthelmess as Dick Courtney.
  • Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as Douglas Scott.
  • Neil Hamilton as Major Brand.
  • Frank McHugh as Flaherty.
  • Clyde Cook as Bott.
  • James Finlayson as Field Sergeant.
  • Gardner James as Ralph Hollister.
  • William Janney as Gordon Scott.
  • Edmund Breon as Lieutenant Phipps.


  • Principal photography began in February 1930 with exteriors shot at the Metropolitan Airport in Van Nuys, Newhall, and Sherwood Forrest in Southern California.
  • The Dawn Patrol won the Academy Award for Best Story for John Monk Saunders.
  • Refer to Hell’s Angels (1930), whose director went to court to get this film stopped.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Howard Hawks.
  • Producer(s): Robert North.
  • Writer(s): Dan Totheroh, Howard Hawks, Seton I. Miller, and Ewart Adamson (uncredited).
  • Music: Rex Dunn (uncredited).
  • Cinematography: Ernest Haller.
  • Editor(s): Ray Curtiss.
  • Production: First National Pictures.
  • Distributor(s): First National Pictures.
  • Release Date: 10 July 1930 (New York City) and 20 August 1930 (US, general release).
  • Running Time: 90 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.


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