Dawn Patrol sparkles because of vigorous performances of the entire cast and Edmund Goulding’s sharp direction. Story [by John Monk Saunders] is reminiscent of previous yarns about the flying service at the front during the World War. Yet it is different in that it stresses the unreasonableness of the ‘brass hats’ – the commanders seated miles from the front who dispatched the 59th Squadron to certain death in carrying out combat assignments.
Picture emphasizes the routine of the ‘dawn patrol’, as day after day new replacements, each time consisting of younger men, come up to take the place of those killed in action.
Director Goulding maintains an even pace, alternating the happier, drinking scenes in barracks with the ill-fated takeoffs at dawn and battle gyrations in the sky.
Errol Flynn is Courtney, squadron flight commander. It is a character made to order for him. Even where he deliberately gets his junior officer intoxicated to take his place on a daring single-handed exploit, he makes the action appear life-like.
David Niven makes the character of Flynn’s great friend stand out. Basil Rathbone is superb as the aviator who suffers inwardly the loss of every man while he is forced to remain in command on the ground.
1930/31: Best Original Story