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.