RedEye

1926's silent 'The Flying Ace' displayed a hidden America, and Americans

With its "entire cast composed of colored artists," the 1926 silent film "The Flying Ace" was photographed in the sunny scrub and swampland of Jacksonville, Fla., produced by the Norman Film Manufacturing Company. The outfit delivered "race films" to African-American audiences starved for images of themselves on the big screen.

It's a fascinating curio, more from a historical than a cinematic perspective. But as Northwest Chicago Film Society head Rebecca Hall said on the way out of a preview screening the other day: "It's charming. It's the 'Be Kind Rewind' of its era."

The aerial sequences are faked in the simplest ways, with a couple of off-screen fans and an amusingly unconvincing backdrop. No matter: By the end of the story (something to do with stolen payroll money and a body buried in a swamp) the romantic element takes over, winningly.

"The Flying Ace" takes place in a parallel-track America of the Jazz Age, imagining a country wherein a black man could serve as a military pilot (not until 1940, he couldn't) and prosper on the winds of his own success in aerial combat. In the film Lawrence Criner plays Capt. Billy Stokes, a heroic figure in the Great War, and never out of uniform years afterward. His crime-solving acumen proves no less sharp.

The film tells its story straightforwardly, without visual flair but with complete and ardent conviction in its framing of a world blessedly free of racial animus or societal limitations. Plus, the ace gets the girl.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'The Flying Ace'
No MPAA rating
Running time:
1:05
Plays: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Portage Theater

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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