Now there was me thinking this was going to involve some bi-planes… My hopes weren’t high and the lower quality of the version I watched (the Alpha DVD) lowered them still further but even the inappropriate cadences of some-other film’s soundtrack didn’t spoil my interest: this was Colleen Moore and King Vidor after all.
Even in fuzzy monotone Colleen’s energy shines through and the grand sweep of Vidor’s vision too: cattle rustling on a grand scale, an authentic bar-room brawl filmed from close quarters and more scenery than you could shake two cameras at. How would this play with a decent 35mm print and a proper accompaniment?
|Vidor's symbolism: The Sky Pilot arrives on donkey-back|
Based on Ralph Connor’s novel of the same name The Sky Pilot tells the tale of Arthur Wellington Moore (John Bowers) a preacher who, appropriately enough arrives on a donkey to bring the good word to the town of Swan Creek.
He strides from his unwieldy steed straight into The Stopping Place, where gather “those who rode the wild trail to the cut-bank of destruction”. He is greeted by the seemingly-friendly locals led by ranch hand, Bill Hendricks (David Butler) who is aghast when he realises that the new arrival is a “Sky Pilot” (sailor's slang common in the West) a preacher sent to elevate the townsfolk to a higher plane.
|The Pilot fights his corner|
|David Butler and John Bowers|
The scene shifts as we meet Old Timer (Harry Todd) a man who is still cursing God for the death of his wife and his young daughter Gwen (Colleen Moore) who looks to have been raised in the saddle. Miss Moore had already been in westerns with Tom Mix and there are some impressive scenes of what looks like her riding a horse and trap at speed. This unexpected physicality aside, one is also reminded of the vitality of a Mary Pickford character.
|Is that Colleen on the horse too?|
Duke’s men scope out the terrain and feeling that Arthur is getting too close, shoot and cause his horse to buck, throwing him into a deep ravine. As he is swept along by the white water, Gwen comes to the rescue and pulls him out using a rope and her horse: a handy gal!
|Gwen to the rescue!|
|Gwen overhears the plot...|
|No humans were harmed in the making of this film...just!|
But Arthur cares for Gwen and manages to lift her spirits to face her new situation and the two grow closer just as the Pilot’s best buddy is secretly building him a proper church in town. All will be revealed on Christmas Day in a series of exciting events that will change the course of all their lives…
OK… there’s not much here that wasn’t covered better in Hell’s Hinges but this is still an entertaining film with heart. Colleen Moore – here 22 years old – already has the uninhibited energy of her more famous roles and she steals all of her scenes as the believable girl-woman. In their book,King Vidor, American, Raymond Durgant and Scott Simmon describe how Vidor used her with a "knowing sophistication" with an "intermittent sexuality" unusual for the time and the genre's typical heroines.
|Those Irish eyes are smilin'|
The Sky Pilot is available on the aforementioned Alpha DVD either from Oldies.com or through Amazon: it is an un-restored bootleg of a film in the public domain and one I’d like to see in better circumstances!
King Vidor, American is still available through Amazon - a good read about an iconic director.
|A river runs through Truckee|