Series: Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly

Director: Gus Meins
Producer: Hal Roach
Photography: Kenneth Peach
Editor: Bert Jordan
Sound: Harry Baker

Stars: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, Don Barclay, Billy Bletcher, Wilfred Lucas
Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Released: 23 December 1933
Length: 2 reels
Production No.: A-19
Filming dates:
Rating: 4/10

Air Fright


The superintendent of Continental Air Lines (Wilfred Lucas) summons stunt man Billy Bletcher to his office to explain the dynamics of a new experiment he is wanting to try. His aim is to showcase a chair which can be released from an aircraft which will automatically open up a parachute attached to it. With every director of the company being invited along on the plane for the demonstration, there is no room for failure. Enter Thelma Todd who is training to be an air hostess and eager to impress. Unfortunately for her Patsy is there to 'help'. They are assigned to accompany the V.I.P's on the plane and after greeting them at the air field the inventor Don Barclay introduces himself and offers a demonstration of his parachute chair. He pulls the lever which drops the chair from the plane with Patsy sitting on it.
They eventually get going with the plane about to take off and Patsy clinging to the side of it before being pulled onboard by Thelma. As the aircraft climbs higher into the skies above Los Angeles, Patsy becomes more aware of their height and starts to feel giddy and cross-eyed. Thelma gives Patsy some food trays and instructs her to give them to the passengers. As she does so she accidentally knocks a cigar out of Billy Bletcher's mouth and it falls down his top. In his quick-thinking effort to put out the burning sensation he immediately dives out of the plane through a hatch! [see favourite bit] The girls are reprimanded by the superintendent and are blamed for ruining the success of the important trip due to their incompetence. Thelma is furious with Patsy!
Thelma disappears into a small kitchen area to prepare sandwiches for the passengers whilst Patsy pinches one and tries to conceal it (in her mouth) from Thelma. Thelma dismisses Patsy from the kitchen but has enough heart to later give her a sandwich. With the stunt man having lept out of the plane, a new persons is required to pull off the demonstration. Inventor Barclay talks his way out of it so that just leaves one choice! It is unanimously agreed upon by the men that Patsy will do the fall. She is invited to sit up front with the other passengers and told to sit in Barclay's seat, whilst he goes to the back ready to rig the chair for her to fall out of. When she is in place, Barclay pulls a lever to collapse her chair but it drops Robert McKenzie instead.
Patsy stands up just at the point where her chair falls through the plane, followed in quick succession by the superintendent. The other passengers aren't spared either. One falls and lands on a bee hive, another lands in the water and another lands on somebody's roof. With just the girls and the inventor left it doesn't take long before all three are struggling to stay onboard when Thelma, then Patsy fall through a hole. Despite his best efforts, Barclay also gets himself into a mess, tangled up in the ropes of his parachute. He takes a saw (something you should always have on an airplane of course) and starts to cut himself free. The girls eventually fall whilst sitting in the same chair and land on some railroad tracks. Conveniently a train is heading their way at the exact same time.... Nobody knows what happened to Barclay!

Favourite bit
Billy Bletcher exits the plane!

Copyrighted December 22, 1933.
This was the third film in the series to be released.
The airport scenes were filmed at the Glendale airport, then known as Grand Central Airport Terminal. This was the main terminal for Los Angeles for transcontinental flights. The tower and terminal building are still around and not much changed although it hasn't been used as an airport since 1959. The terminal and tower were built in 1929 and are now on the National Register of Historical Places. Every famous aviator of the time used this airport (Lindbergh, Earhart, Wiley Post), plus plenty of film stars, producers, etc. On the hangars you can see the names of several air services of the time: American Airways (still around), Gilpin Air Lines (ran service in California and just over the border into Mexico), and Transcontinental Air Western, which later became TWA when Howard Hughes acquired the company later in the 30s and was the major air carrier on the New York-Los Angeles run. There's also a hangar for the Stinson Aircraft Co. The aircraft seen in the film is a Ford Trimotor, model 5-AT-C, registration NC-405H. Records indicate this plane entered service on July 31, 1929, and went into service with Southwest Air Express (still around as Southwest Airlines), and later as a company transport plane for EP Halliburton, probably for taking company personnel to various oil properties of the company. (This is the same Halliburton that former US Vice President Cheney was affiliated with and it's now a multinational company, still in the oil and gas development field). This plane was sold to the Honduran government about a year after it was used in this film, on August 1, 1934. No idea what happened to it after then or how long it stayed in Honduras. The mock-up of the plane interior as a film set is very close to the actual interior of a Ford trimotor. Hal Roach's interest in flying probably served as inspiration for the film, but there was also a film called AIR HOSTESS released in January 1933, that costarred Thelma Todd, and which this film might be spoofing. [observations by Robert Winslow]
It is very obvious that the exterior of the airport as seen through the "window" in the superintendent's office is actually a projected movie being shown on the wall and being made to look like a window.
"My device operates from either end." - Don Barclay.

What the experts say
"Thelma looks dull, Patsy over plays her part and the film is slow. The standout performance is Don Barclay who mumbles and comically makes his way through the fleeting scenes he appears in with hilarious oddity. Overall it's a pretty dull film that outstays its welcome towards the mid-way mark." ~ Lord Heath.

Thelma Todd
Patsy Kelly
Don Barclay
Mr. Barclay, the inventor
Billy Bletcher
Stunt aviator
Wilfred Lucas
Mr. Lucas, airline superintendent
Gladys Blake
Lucas's secretary
Sydney Jarvis
Robert McKenzie
Isabelle Keith
Gladys Gale
Buddy Roosevelt



(click any image to enlarge)

(click any image to enlarge)

The Hal Roach Comedy Shorts of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly by James L. Neibaur (book) (still)
Brent Seguine (identification of Gladys Gale)
Robert WInslow (trivia)

This page was last updated on: 15 November 2019