Released in 1932, The Lost Squadron, is one of the classic aviation films dealing with America's World War I fliers and is also a great behind-the-scenes look at how aviation movies were made in the early 1930s. Captain Gibby Gibson (Richard Dix), Lt. Red (Joel McCrea), and their mechanic, Fritz (Hugh Herbert), are veterans who are unable to adjust to a peacetime existence and cannot find regular employment. Traveling to California as hobos, they meet their old comrade Lt. "Woody" Curwood (Robert Armstrong) at a premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater. He works as a stunt flier. "Fifty bucks a flight and it's easy money, all you have to do is a couple of outside loops, tear off a wing and land upside down," he says and gets his old friends hired on Arnold von Furst's (Erich von Stroheim) new picture. Two problems arise: Woody's heavy drinking affects his flying, and the sadistic von Furst is married to Folette Marsh (Mary Astor), once Gibby's lover. Von Furst puts acid on the control wires of Gibson's plane. But Woody takes the ship up and crashes to his death. Once Red and Gibby learn the truth behind the "accident" Von Furst is a dead man.
Several things make this movie interesting. The dilemma of the veterans, who upon their return are told, "Your services to your country will never be forgotten" and find themselves at loose ends, unable to cope in peacetime. This issue would be touched upon and expanded in The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, but the theme is already being developed here. And you've got a warm and natural performance from Joel McCrea. Dix is wooden and Armstrong is hammy but McCrea's star is already starting to shine. Then there's von Stroheim as the murderous director barking directions to the extras on his bombed-out World War I village set. "Be sure to keep them in camera, we might catch a nice crack-up," he tells the cameramen. Plus, you've got some great stunt flying and staged crashes from Dick Grace (who wrote the original story published in Liberty magazine), Frank Clarke, Leo Nomis, and Art Goebel. Finally, if you're a fan of pre-Code moves, (those made before the censorship codes were enforced) there's the fun scene of Woody giving Gibby "the finger" when he's being warned to land his acid-sabotaged biplane. The Lost Squadron is currently not available on VHS or DVD but does air on Turner Classic Movies.