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HISTORY

After the opening credits, a written dedication reads: "Dedicated to the United States Navy without whose cooperation production of this picture would not have been possible." According to a 3 Jan 1931 MPH news item, the picture cost $1,000,000 to produce and consisted of 28 reels before editing, including "125,000 feet shot at the naval air base at Lakehurst, N. J." Dirigible was Capra and Columbia Pictures' first film to open at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, a new sign of prestige for the studio. In the program for the premiere, photographer Victor Scheurich's name is spelled Sherick. The Var review states that this was Columbia's most expensive production to date. According to contemporary sources, a French version was directed by Robert Harari, who also wrote the adaptation and dialogue, and a German version was directed by Egon Goltzen. A 1930 NYT article mentions that Howard Hughes was working on a film to be called Dirigible , scripted by John Monk Saunders. It is possible, however, that the article was referring to one of Hughes' aviation films, such as Hell's Angels or Sky Devils , as he did not make a film entitled Dirigible . In a modern interview, sound engineer Ed Bernds states that a grip named Harry was killed in the hangar used for the dirigible when he fell from the rafters. According to Frank Capra's autobiography, the scenes of the South Pole were shot in the San Gabriel Valley, CA. Capra also states that the mooring used by the dirigible Los Angeles during the filming was ... More Less

After the opening credits, a written dedication reads: "Dedicated to the United States Navy without whose cooperation production of this picture would not have been possible." According to a 3 Jan 1931 MPH news item, the picture cost $1,000,000 to produce and consisted of 28 reels before editing, including "125,000 feet shot at the naval air base at Lakehurst, N. J." Dirigible was Capra and Columbia Pictures' first film to open at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, a new sign of prestige for the studio. In the program for the premiere, photographer Victor Scheurich's name is spelled Sherick. The Var review states that this was Columbia's most expensive production to date. According to contemporary sources, a French version was directed by Robert Harari, who also wrote the adaptation and dialogue, and a German version was directed by Egon Goltzen. A 1930 NYT article mentions that Howard Hughes was working on a film to be called Dirigible , scripted by John Monk Saunders. It is possible, however, that the article was referring to one of Hughes' aviation films, such as Hell's Angels or Sky Devils , as he did not make a film entitled Dirigible . In a modern interview, sound engineer Ed Bernds states that a grip named Harry was killed in the hangar used for the dirigible when he fell from the rafters. According to Frank Capra's autobiography, the scenes of the South Pole were shot in the San Gabriel Valley, CA. Capra also states that the mooring used by the dirigible Los Angeles during the filming was the same one used by the Hindenburg zeppelin, which exploded in 1937 at Lakehurst, killing 36 people. Modern sources say that Boris Karloff had a bit part as a member of the dirigible expedition which fails, although this could not be confirmed in the print viewed.
       Dirigible was the first of many films for which Commander Frank Wilber Wead wrote the story. Wead, an ace Navy pilot in World War I, led the fight to strengthen the Navy's air power once the war had ended. After he was paralyzed in an accident in the 1920s, Wead turned to writing and became a well-known novelist and screenwriter. Wead died in 1947 after visiting Pacific battle sites to implement reforms he had suggested to the Navy. In 1957, John Ford directed John Wayne in M-G-M's The Wings of Eagles , a biography of Wead based on his writings.
       The plot of Dirigible bears a strong resemblance to the 1929 Tiffany-Stahl production The Lost Zeppelin (see entry). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
EHW
15 Nov 30
p. 43.
Film Daily
12 Apr 31
p. 32.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 31
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 31
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald
3 Jan 31
p. 26.
Motion Picture Herald
31 Jan 31
p. 34.
Motion Picture Herald
14 Mar 31
p. 45.
Motion Picture Herald
9 May 31
pp. 32-33.
New York Times
27 Jul 1930.
---
New York Times
6 Apr 31
p. 24.
Variety
8 Apr 31
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Frank R. Capra Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITERS
Story
Adpt and dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Photog
Photog
Photog
Photog
Aerial photog
ART DIRECTORS
Settings
Settings
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
MUSIC
Mus arr
Mus arr
SOUND
Chief sd eng
Sd asst
Sd asst
Sd asst
Sd asst
PRODUCTION MISC
Chief elec
Asst grip
Tech eff
Tech eff
Gen studio mgr
Unit mgr
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 April 1931
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 3 April 1931
Production Date:
12 August--24 November 1930
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
24 March 1931
Copyright Number:
LP2077
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
93, 100 or 102
Length(in feet):
9,495
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Rear Admiral John S. Martin informs Jack Bradon, commander of the Navy's dirigible fleet, that famous explorer Louis Rondelle is seeking the Navy's help with his expedition to the South Pole. Rondelle wants to use airplanes, but Jack is determined to impress him with the dirigibles, so he and his crews perform a demonstration on Navy Day at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Rondelle is impressed, but the daredevil antics of Lt. Frisky Pierce, an ace airplane pilot who is both Jack's rival and best friend, steal the show. Frisky's celebrating makes him late for dinner with his wife Helen, who is lonely because she spends most of her time alone. Jack is with Helen when Frisky arrives home, and when Jack asks if he wishes to join the Rondelle expedition, Frisky eagerly accepts. Helen overhears and is so distraught at the thought of Frisky leaving again that she begs Jack, who is in love with her, to take Frisky off the roster without letting him know she is responsible. Jack agrees, even though it costs him his friendship with Frisky when he tells Frisky that he cannot go. Jack's dirigible sets off soon after, but is torn apart in a storm. Frisky pilots the lead rescue plane, and after he returns Jack to Washington, D.C., Frisky resigns from the Navy to become Rondelle's partner in a new expedition. Helen writes Frisky a letter, to be opened at the South Pole, stating that she is tired of his treatment of her and is going to divorce him to marry Jack. Frisky takes the letter with him and soon reaches Antarctica. On a clear day, ... +


Rear Admiral John S. Martin informs Jack Bradon, commander of the Navy's dirigible fleet, that famous explorer Louis Rondelle is seeking the Navy's help with his expedition to the South Pole. Rondelle wants to use airplanes, but Jack is determined to impress him with the dirigibles, so he and his crews perform a demonstration on Navy Day at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Rondelle is impressed, but the daredevil antics of Lt. Frisky Pierce, an ace airplane pilot who is both Jack's rival and best friend, steal the show. Frisky's celebrating makes him late for dinner with his wife Helen, who is lonely because she spends most of her time alone. Jack is with Helen when Frisky arrives home, and when Jack asks if he wishes to join the Rondelle expedition, Frisky eagerly accepts. Helen overhears and is so distraught at the thought of Frisky leaving again that she begs Jack, who is in love with her, to take Frisky off the roster without letting him know she is responsible. Jack agrees, even though it costs him his friendship with Frisky when he tells Frisky that he cannot go. Jack's dirigible sets off soon after, but is torn apart in a storm. Frisky pilots the lead rescue plane, and after he returns Jack to Washington, D.C., Frisky resigns from the Navy to become Rondelle's partner in a new expedition. Helen writes Frisky a letter, to be opened at the South Pole, stating that she is tired of his treatment of her and is going to divorce him to marry Jack. Frisky takes the letter with him and soon reaches Antarctica. On a clear day, Frisky, Rondelle and their companions, Hansen and Sock McGuire, take off in Frisky's plane to complete the final 900 miles of the trip. Frisky insists on landing once they reach the Pole, but it is too difficult and the plane crashes. Helen and Jack read a newspaper article about the crash, and Helen's hysterical reaction makes Jack realize that she still loves Frisky. The injured explorers begin their torturous march back to camp, but the exertion and cold take their toll on Rondelle, who dies. Back in Washington, Jack convinces Martin to let him take his new dirigible to rescue Frisky. Days later, Frisky must amputate Sock's foot, after which Sock realizes he is a burden on the others and drags himself off into the frozen wasteland. Later, Hansen must lead snow-blind Frisky, but Hansen dies of exhaustion when they arrive back at Rondelle's grave and realize they are lost. Just before Frisky is about to succumb, Jack's dirigible arrives and Frisky is saved. On board the dirigible, when Frisky asks Jack to read him Helen's letter, Jack makes up a loving note of congratulations before he tosses the real letter out the window. They arrive in New York, where a huge parade is thrown for them, and while Jack rides in the parade, Frisky is reunited with Helen, whom he promises never to leave again. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.