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Tail Spin
1939 Jump to Synopsis and Details
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Flyer Trixie Lee (Alice Faye) enters a cross-country aerial derby, becomes rival to a wealthy society flyer, Gerry Lester (Constance Bennett), competes in parachute jumps and has love affairs.


The exploits of female pilots are followed in this high-flying drama. These women are extremely competitive and will stop at nothing to win their cross-country races. The story centers on one such determined pilot who is forced to leave the race circuit after her plane crashes. To become re-airborne she convinces several people to sponsor her. One wealthy socialite refuses because she is a pilot too. The two women end up competing in the air and on the ground for the love of the same fellow. Because the heroine is so well liked by the other racers, they help her win. ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide

Review from NY Times

By Frank S. Nugent
Published: February 11, 1939

Though history may not consider his contribution equal to that of Orville Wright. Mr. Darryl Zanuck may ultimately be remembered as the man who brought sex to aviation. In Tail Spin, which took off yesterday at the Roxy, Mr. Zanuck asks us to accept Alice Faye, Constance Bennett and Nancy Kelly as girl fliers, Miss Faye as a girl flier who has to enter transcontinental air derbies to make a living — with that voice, too. Although we actually seem to see the Misses Faye, Bennett and Kelly alone in single-seater planes, against backgrounds of shifting clouds, it strikes us that this basic concept may well be too much of a flight to expect of some people's imaginations.

On the other hand, it would be unfair to suggest even by innuendo that Tail Spin should in any sense be construed as a cinematic nose dive or, for that matter, anything short of a thoroughly competent job of movie-making. It is constructed on a simple formula: every time the picture is about to crash, Mr. Zanuck crashes a couple of planes instead. And, though in retrospect the story seems to be strewn with the wreckage from these artistic emergencies, what possible solution to any dramatic imbroglio could be quicker and cleaner to the participants, more exciting or more spectacular to the onlookers than a good old-fashioned airplane crash? (They don't happen nowadays, of course.)

Then, there's the matter of girls: if there is anything nicer than girls in a movie — any doggone movie at all — it ought to be girls in an airplane movie, looking so cutely inadequate (for flying, that is) in their helmets and jodhpurs and trimly tailored flying jackets. A clever producer, like Mr. Zanuck, would, of course, subdivide the feminine charm into social strata: Miss Faye would represent the great army of working girls (it seems she checks hats in order to support her plane and her aged mother), Miss Bennett would represent the economic aristocracy, and Miss Kelly would go down gallantly and true-heartedly flying the banners of middle-class wifeliness and domesticity.

Put three comely girls like that together and you would have a movie, even if you didn't smash a single plane. But when you smash a dozen planes, of course, it is so much the better. The male portion of Tail Spin isn't important, but here's how it is: Charles Farrell gets Alice, Kane Richmond gets Constance, and Nancy and Edward Norris (already married) are reunited in death. As for Joan Davis, well, she's just a comedian; for her, it seems, life is going to be a solo.


Alice Faye as Trixie Lee

Constance Bennett as Gerry Lester

Nancy Kelly as Lois Allen

Joan Davis as Babe Dugan

Charles Farrell as Bud

Jane Wyman as Alabama

Kane Richmond as Lt. Dick 'Tex' Price

Wally Vernon as Chick

Joan Valerie as Sunny

Edward Norris as Speed Allen

J. Anthony Hughes as Al Moore

Harry Davenport as T.P. Lester

Mary Gordon as Mrs. Lee

Robert Allen as Charlie

Murray Alper as Mechanic

Irving Bacon as Storekeeper

James Conaty as Nightclub Extra

William B. Davidson as Sales Manager

Eddie Dunn as Eddie, Mechanic

Ralph Dunn as Mechanic

Fern Emmett as Matilda, Gerry's Maid

Jonathan Hale as Starter

Sam Hayes as Announcer

John 'Dusty' King as Undetermined Role

Robert Lowery as Sam, Mechanic

Eddie Marr as Mechanic

Jack Pennick as Mechanic

Renie Riano as Chick's Friend

Harry Rosenthal as Harrison, Cafe Manager

Edwin Stanley as Doctor

Larry Steers as Nightclub Extra

Milburn Stone as Mechanic

Emmett Vogan as Powder Puff Derby Starter

Billy Wayne as Mechanic


Directed by
Roy Del Ruth

Writing credits
Frank Wead - screenwriter

Produced by
Harry Joe Brown - associate producer
Darryl F. Zanuck - producer

Original Music by
Louis Silvers

Cinematography by
Karl Freund

Film Editing by
Allen McNeil

Art Direction by
Bernard Herzbrun
Rudolph Sternad

Set Decoration by
Thomas Little

Costume Design by
Gwen Wakeling

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Booth McCracken - assistant director

Sound Department
Eugene Grossman - sound
Roger Heman Sr. - sound

Audrey Scott - stunt double

Music Department
Mack Gordon - composer: song "Are You in the Mood For Mischief?"
Harry Revel - composer: song "Are You in the Mood For Mischief?"
Louis Silvers - musical director

Other crew
Clifford W.S. Henderson - technical director
Paul Mantz - technical director


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