AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Flying Ace
Release Date:   1926
Premiere Information:   Nashville, TN opening: 5 Nov 1926; New York state license: 19 May 1928
Production Date:   at Norman Studios, Arlington, Florida
Duration (in feet):   5,600
Duration (in reels):   6
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Cast: [In order of appearance:] Boise De Legge (Blair Kimball)  
    George Colvin (Thomas Sawtelle)  
    Sam Jordan (Dr. [A. G.] Maynard)  
    Harlod Platts (Finley Tucker)  
    Lyons Daniels (Jed Splivins)  
    Kathryn Boyd (Ruth Sawtelle)  
    Dr. R. L. Brown (Howard MacAndrews)  
    J. Lawrence Criner (Billy Stokes)  
    Steve Reynolds (Peg)  

Summary: On a sunny morning, Blair Kimball, paymaster of the M. N. & Q. Railroad, gets off the train at Mayport, Florida, the station at which passengers can change to the Eastern branch local. Finley Tucker, an aviator with a mysterious source of income, watches with Dr. A. G. Maynard, the local dentist, and Jed Splivins, the constable. Knowing that Kimball is not due to arrive until the next day, Finley wonders if he is carrying the payroll for employees of the Eastern branch in his satchel. After ascertaining that the connecting train will be late, Kimball waits in station master Thomas Sawtelle's office. Jed learns that Kimball is carrying $25,000 for the payroll and reports this to Finley and Maynard. Thomas' attractive daughter Ruth brings him lunch, and when Finley greets her, she asks him to take her for a ride in his new airplane. After the ride, he asks her for the hundredth time to marry him. She refuses, as usual, saying she is not certain she loves him. Alone, Finley vows that he will ask the next time in the plane, and she will say "yes" or "get out and walk on a cloud." At the railroad home office, Captain William "Billy" Stokes, known as the "Flying Ace" for his exploits in France bringing down seven German planes, visits the general manager, Howard MacAndrews, for whom he used to work as a detective. When Howard learns through a wire from Thomas that Kimball and the payroll have vanished, Billy accepts the offer of his old job back at double the pay, as the railroad tugs at his heart. Before flying to Mayport, he sends his one-legged mechanic "Peg" to hop a freight disguised as a tramp and arrive there later. In Mayport, Thomas explains to Billy that while he was getting a wire, Kimball answered a knock. At the second knock, Thomas went to the door, and the next thing he remembers is waking up on the floor. Finley warns Ruth that Kimball's disappearance looks bad for Thomas, but says he will keep Billy occupied until Thomas can collect his wits. Finley offers five hundred dollars to stop his work for a day or two. When Billy refuses, Finley struggles with him, then asks why he will not arrest him for the murder. Billy says he has no proof, and Finley advises him to go to the swamp and look for buzzards swarming around Kimball's body. Billy finds Peg and tells him to stay around the station. At the railway express room, Billy finds a box sent from a book company to Maynard and discovers it has been freshly packed and made up to look like it just arrived. Billy then matches part of a vial he found outside Thomas' office with the spout of one that Peg found in a furnace and realizes they were part of a drug vial in which ethyl chloride was stored. Billy surmises that when the spout was broken, a whiff of the drug made Thomas unconscious. Billy finds cuts on Thomas' hands and believes they could have been caused by the broken vial. At the swamp, Peg shows Billy that buzzards have congregated in trees in the distance, and Billy learns from Maynard, who has come by in a wagon, that Thomas, who makes deliveries for extra money with a horse wagon, came there that morning. Seeing swamp mud on his back, Billy slaps handcuffs on the doctor, who admits he planted a hog in the swamp to throw guilt on Finley, who is trying to protect Thomas for Ruth's sake. Billy, however, accuses Maynard of hiding the payroll money in the book box. Meanwhile, Jed arrests Thomas, saying he found some of the missing money in his house with blood on it from the cut on his hand. Billy reveals to Finley that when they briefly fought, he smelled paper money clinging to his finger. He now accuses him of planning the murder and packing the money. As they brawl, Maynard escapes, but Peg runs him down and Billy subdues Finley. In the office, Billy handcuffs Jed, saying that when he sprayed the drug on Kimball, he spilled some on his finger. Peg brings in Finley and Maynard, then goes to get Kimball, and when he arrives, Billy explains the crime: Jed put the drug in Kimball's face when he answered the knock, and Maynard and Finley carried Kimball to a wagon and drove him to Finley's airplane, where Maynard placed him in a secret compartment he used to haul bootlegged liquor. Jed also knocked Thomas out with the drug, and Finley then substituted the money for the books. As Billy talks, Jed unlocks his handcuffs with an extra key, while Maynard passes a vial to Finley. Jed shoots out the light, and during the subsequent struggle in the dark, Finley drugs Ruth with the vial, then carries her to his plane. Jed and Maynard escape in a car, and while Peg follows them on a bike, using his crutch to pedal, Billy pursues Finley. They fight, and Finley knocks Billy out with a log. He flies off with Ruth, but Billy revives and chases Finley in his plane. Peg, using a rifle he stuffed into his crutch, shoots the tire in the getaway car, forcing Jed and Maynard to stop in a field. Finley orders Ruth, who has revived, to kiss him, or "get out and walk on a cloud," but the plane catches fire. Billy drops a rope ladder to Ruth, who climbs into his plane. Failing to put out the fire, Finley dons a parachute and jumps. Peg tricks Jed and Maynard into attacking a bush on which he has put his hat, and they fight each other. After landing, Billy captures Finley, while Peg gets the others. Billy then plans to leave town until Peg sings a love song. Ruth looks at Billy shyly, and he says he'll stay and see if he can detect a way to make "Miss Sawtelle" let him call her "Ruth." She smiles demurely and turns away. 

Production Company: Norman Film Mfg. Co.  
Country: United States
Language: English

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: African American
Subjects (Major): African Americans
  Air pilots
  Railroad detectives
Subjects (Minor): Chases
  False arrests
  Impersonation and imposture
  Missing persons
  Proposals (Marital)
  Railroad agents
  Railroad stations
  Railroad workers
  War heroes

Note: The opening credits for this film state: "Entire Cast Composed of Colored Artists." According to a pressbook for the film, a special "dummy" plane patterned after the Curtiss J.N.D. 4 was designed by Richard E. Norman, Sr., the owner of the company, for use in the production. The pressbook stated that the cost of the production went 75% over the original estimate and that Lawrence Criner and Ruth Sawtelle were in the Lafayette Players, Sam Jordan was from the vaudeville team of Jordan and Jordan, and Lyons Daniels was better known on stage as "Skunkum Bowser." The pressbook also made the following claim: "No Company making colored pictures have attempted and successfully made a picture like The Flying Ace . It even has situations in it which HAVEN'T BEEN SHOWN IN A WHITE PICTURE." 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
The Afro-American   6 Nov 1926   p. 13.

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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.
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