In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote about the 1937 film Non-Stop New York, and how that film had been influenced by real-world events, namely the first commercial transatlantic roundtrip, made by pilot Dick Merrill.
Merrill became something of a hero and celebrity after his flight, and Non-Stop New York was not the only film based on his trip. In fact, Merrill starred in the film Atlantic Flight. Not only did he play the pilot Dick Bennett on a mission which is suspiciously similar to his own celebrated flight, but his real-world co-pilot played his fictional co-pilot as well, and they even used the same plane for some scenes. The character Bennett was perhaps named after the airfield Floyd Bennett Field, where Merrill landed after his return flight.
Merrill actually made several transatlantic flights, and the first two are often confused with one another. The first was called the Ping-Pong Flight, because thousands of ping-pong balls had been crammed into empty spaces in wings and fuselage in order to make the plane float if it had to land on water. The balls were later sold as memorabilia. The second flight, Coronation Flight, was that first commercial roundtrip flight. The cargo was news photos of the Hindenburg disaster (going east) and George VI’s coronation (going west), allowing newspapers on both sides to scoop their competition, since photos could not be sent by cable back in those days.
As far as I understand, the flight dramatized in the film is a mashup of the two flights, using dramatic elements from both. The purpose of the movie flight, however, is entirely original, involving bringing back a serum to save a person’s life. The film’s rather thin plot centers around this achievement.
It has often been stated as a fact that actual in-flight film from Merrill’s real flight was used in the making of the movie, but even if that is true, it is only a matter of a few seconds of film from the take-off and/or the landing. The rest is mostly model and studio shots, along with some stock footage. All in all, the flight scenes must be considered to be acceptable considering the film’s budget and production time, but they would not be reason by themselves to watch the film.
This film is best enjoyed for its connection with historic events. Frankly, it is not a good film, and Frank Merrill is terrible in his role, acting with the entire repertoire of a brick. Non-Stop New York, while also a B movie, is a far better movie, but Atlantic Flight remains an interesting film because it is much more closely interwoven with Merrill’s real flight. If you want even more of the real historical connection behind the film, the Internet Archive contains a Pathé news reel which not only covers the George VI coronation and the Hindenburg disaster, but also news about Amelia Earhart’s fateful last flight. Earhart went missing around the same time that Atlantic Flight was produced, and she used the exact same model aircraft (Lockheed Model 10E Electra) as Merrill did for Coronation Flight, though both planes had been considerably altered.
Running time: 59 min
Director: William Nigh
Stars: Frank Merrill
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)