Monthly Film Bulletin - Dec 1980 - vol 47 no 563 - by Richard Combs

Flying Padre

U.S.A., 1951

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Dist-Kingston. p.c-Stanley Kubrick. For RKO. p-Burton Benjamin. sc/ph-Stanley Kubrick. ed-Isaac Kleinerman. rn-Nathaniel Shilkret. sd. rec-Harold R. Vivian. narrator-Bob Hite. with-the Reverend Fred Stadtmueller. 306 ft. 9 mins. (16 mm.).

An account of two days in the life of Reverend Fred Stadtmueller, who covers his parish of 4,000 square miles and eleven mission churches in Harding County, north-eastern New Mexico, in a single-engined Piper Cub aeroplane, the "Spirit of St. Joseph". The priest is seen officiating at a funeral in an outlying mission, then holding a service for his largely Spanish-American congregation at his main mission, St. Joseph's, in the village of Mosquero. He goes to the aid of a little girl being bullied by a playmate, Pedro; his hobbies - raising canaries, shooting and hunting - are detailed; finally he flies to the aid of a mother and her sick baby in an isolated farm, ferrying them to hospital.

Kubrick's second short, made with the sponsorship of RKO after they had bought Day of the Fight, is by far the more conventional of the two. Not that Kubrick is invisible in the film, merely that the film-maker-to-be so startlingly asserted in Day of the Fight seems here to have contracted himself into an uncongenial corner. This is the documentary tribute of the almost unwatchably naive, rose-tinted Look at Life variety, treating the good reverend's every activity-including shooting and hunting and raising canaries for profit - as if they would earn him merit badges in some celestial scout movement. The quaintness and artificiality seem at times more than the inexperienced director can contain: witness the weird tableau of the priest wagging his finger at the pertly penitent Pedro. Things to come, however, are undeniably signalled in the mise-en-scene: the almost impossible-seeming low-angle of the priest in his plane (see front cover), turning the cockpit into an indefinable space, some mysterious temple; the Eisensteinian close-ups of peasant faces round the funeral in the desert. And if the subject of Day of the Fight is a slight pretext for its mood of doom and determinism, then the artificiality here, in a perverse way, is grist to a developing narrative instinct. There is the two-day time structure and the coyly contrived emergency at the end, in which the 'suspenseful' orchestration of detail-baby crying/the plane being readied for flight; mother scanning the skies for salvation/the plane looking down on her farm in the middle of nowhere-testifies to a boldness, clarity and even dialectical sense of spectacle.

Copyright - The British Film Institute