20,000 Men a Year (1939) Poster

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Decent Aircraft film with plenty of stunts
gordonl563 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
20,000 Men a Year 1939

Not really a war film, this 20th Century Fox production is more of a war preparedness film.

The film headlines Randolph Scott, Preston Foster, Margaret Lindsay and Maxie Rosenbloom.

Foster is an official with the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Authority. Foster is involved with an investigation into airline pilot, Randolph Scott. Foster suspends Scott for not following set Government guidelines. Scott is not amused with the suspension and quits the airline.

Scott takes his savings and buys a small air service and airfield. The purchase comes with Maxie Rosenbloom who is the mechanic for the air service aircraft. Scott soon discovers that being his own boss is not what it is cracked up to be. He is soon in hock up to his eyeballs to the bank.

The only thing that saves him is that the government has started a program to train 20,000 pilots a year. War clouds gathering in Europe suggest there might be a need for trained pilots. Scott's outfit is soon training young men from the local college to become some of these pilots. One of the young men, Robert Shaw, is the young brother of Preston Foster. Foster is of course the Government man who suspended Scott at the start.

Anyways, there are several crashes and some flying heroics needed to prove to the audience the need for lots of pilots.

The film features plenty of flying stunts and the like from crack stunt pilot, Paul Mantz. There is some real seat of the pants work here as Mantz flies up and down various mountainsides and the like. There is one particular bit where he lands a trainer on one wheel. Mantz started out as a stunt pilot on HELL'S ANGELS in 1930. His other film work includes, FLYING DEVILS, WEST POINT OF THE AIR, CELING ZERO, MEN WITH WINGS, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, 12 O'CLOCK HIGH, FLYING TIGERS, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX. Mantz was killed during the production of the last film.

The story was by aviation writer, Frank Wead. Former pilot Wead was crippled in a crash while with the U.S. Navy. He took to writing and proved rather successful at it. Films based of his work include, SEA DEVILS, HELL DIVERS, AIR MAIL, WEST POINT OF THE AIR, CHINA CLIPPER, TEST PILOT, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, DIVE BOMBER, INTERNATIONAL SQUADRON and BLAZE OF NOON. John Ford made a bio of Wead called, THE WINGS OF EAGLES with John Wayne playing Wead.

The film was directed by veteran helmsman, Alfred E. Green.

Fans of early aircraft will see several shots of the Douglas DC-4E. There was one of these aircraft ever built.
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Airborne bildungsroman, but I like it
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre26 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I'm tempted to make a joke that '20,000 Men a Year' is a movie about a woman I dated once. Actually, this is an impressive low-budget film, based on a story treatment by Frank 'Spig' Wead. (If anybody knows how Wead got that nickname, please let me know.) Wead was a career military officer who logged many hours of flight time in combat, without a scratch, only to cripple himself off-duty in a bizarre accident: he got drunk, fell downstairs and broke his neck. Remarkably, Wead made a partial recovery and (although severely handicapped for the rest of his life) he went on to a prolific civilian career writing screenplays with aviation themes.

SPOILERS COMING. In the late 1930s, with another world war in the offing, the Civil Aeronautics Authority (precursor to America's Federal Aviation Authority) instituted a training scheme intended to produce 20,000 civilian pilots annually. This movie offers a fictional plotline devised to bring attention to that real-life programme. Randolph Scott plays a military pilot who (for principled reasons) disobeys an order and is cashiered out of the service. He starts a civilian pilot school in the Midwest, near a college campus ... at just the right time to get involved in the CAA programme. One of his first students is Skip Rogers, a bright teenage orphan. Skip's older sister (and guardian) is Ann, a prissy schoolmarm who disapproves of the flight school because the 'planes are unsafe. Of course, she changes her mind ... but not before Skip has to prove his mettle in a daring flight through a narrow canyon, with two other men's lives at stake.

This film's intentions are in the right place. I'm especially intrigued that one of the student pilots in this white-bread movie is an Asian-American, played by Victor Sen Yung. Far too often, Sen Yung was typecast in stereotypical 'Chinaman' roles, but in this film he gives an intelligent performance as a realistic human being. Less welcome here is 'Slapsie Maxie' Rosenbloom, in one of those sledgehammer-subtle comic-relief turns that bears no resemblance to a plausible human. Expert character actor Matt McHugh, in a brief appearance as a wise-cracking Brooklynite, lifts his role out of stereotype.

The flying sequences (which are the main point of this picture) are impressive and genuinely exciting, relying on stunt pilots (notably the great Paul Mantz) more than usual, and process photography to a lesser extent than usual. Also, it's a pleasure to see a movie devoted to civil aviation for once, rather than the more obvious (and more hackneyed) theme of military pilots. I'll rate this movie 7 points out of 10.
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Rescue In The Grand Canyon
bkoganbing17 August 2011
20,000 Men A Year refers to the number of new pilots expected to be turned out annually with a new program that the Civil Aeronautics Agency has authorized certain schools. This film was one of the first of the preparedness films that the studios were starting to turn out though no name of a potential enemy is specified.

To give the film a ring of real aeronautical authenticity it was written by the legendary Frank 'Spig' Wead who certainly captures the love of aviation among the veterans and the eager young kids learning the ropes.

There are three components in the plot of 20,000 Men A Year. The first is the rivalry between by the CAA administrator Preston Foster and veteran flier Randolph Scott. Foster grounds Scott after disobeying orders, in fact I thought Scott used good judgment. The second component is the rivalry, but possible romance developing between Scott and Margaret Lindsay as Scott tries to persuade her to let younger brother George Earnest learn to fly and join the school program he has now become the head of.

Lastly though is a hair raising rescue of some of the principal players in the Grand Canyon. Some really nice aerial sequences are done here. All the elements mix nice to form a nice and entertaining film.

The film seems to have been done a disservice in the editing department. Still 20,000 Men A Year deserves to be better known than it is.
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Filming location
sharpe0418 December 2007
Although I have never seen this movie I can confirm that the flying sequences were shot at Monrovia Airport near Pasadena. This airport closed in 1953, according to the website "Abandonned and little known airports", which details many airports in California and elsewhere which were used as movie locations. Interestingly very close to the airport was the site of the very first Macdonalds restaurant. There is now no sign whatsoever that there ever was an airport there, like many old airports in the LA area the unstoppable tide of housing and commercial development has erased all memory. Laurel and Hardy also filmed at the airport on occasion, and I have seen amateur colour footage of a Boeing 247 being used during the filming of a scene at Monrovia from an unknown "gangster" movie.
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