More convincingly heroic than Sergeant York and more character driven than Air Force, Howard Hawks’ Flight Commander is a masterful look at British airmen fighting in Germany during WWI. This war film shy’s away from the battles, preferring moments of brutal decision-making by commanding officers concerning when to send men to their deaths. Hawks sets up the relationships between these aviator’s with keen attention to sacrifice, past experience, and a revolving cycle of death which inevitably and tragically promotes characters into roles of power, forcing them to better understand the pressures their predecessors felt. It’s a war film bent on genre traits, but one which doesn’t adhere to them universally, sliding in deft action scenes highlighting the characters themselves as opposed to strictly focusing on the impressive scope of the set pieces. Flight Commander, like all of Hawks’ masterpieces, puts the character into tense situations with the greatest attention to atmosphere, and Richard Barthelmess’ tortured commanding officer Courtney exemplifies this mood perfectly as he makes the ultimate sacrifice to salvage his friend’s life. But the cycle continues, as when Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s Scott takes the reigns Counrtney leaves behind, fully understanding the horrors of bureaucracy in war.