Travel with me now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, and experience the exciting exploits of Tailspin Tommy Tompkins, his sidekick, Peter ‘Skeeter’ Milligan and Tommy’s girlfriend, Betty Lou Barnes. Ah, (long exhale), the smell of burning fuel, the whirring of the propellers, the splash-down of a Fairchild “71;” landing-strip-romance, grease, mystery, comedy, and daring-do galore! Who can ask for anything more?
Mystery Plane starred John Trent as our hero Tommy, Milburn Stone as Skeeter and Marjorie Reynolds portrayed Tommy’s love interest. Unlike the first two celluloid entries (12 chapter serials, produced by Universal Pictures, Tailspin Tommy, 1934 and Tailspin Tommy in The Great Air Mystery, 1935) of Tommy, there would be no cast change of the main characters for the Monogram Pictures releases. Mystery Plane was directed by George Waggner (The Wolf Man, 1941, Operation Pacific, 1951), scripted by Paul Schofield (Wells Fargo, 1937) and Joseph West (AKA George Waggner), photography by Archie Stout (Fort Apache, 1948, The High and the Mighty, 1954), with Fred Jackman taking the helm of the Special Effects, he having especial experience with films featuring airplanes: The Dawn Patrol, 1930, The Last Flight, 1931, Ceiling Zero and China Clipper, 1936, Riding on Air, 1937, and he would follow up Mystery Plane with Forced Landing in 1941.
Tailspin Tommy was an adventure-comic-strip (illustrated by Hal Forrest), that began in the spring of 1928 (carried by as many as 250 newspapers at its zenith) and saw its run end in 1942; Monogram Pictures released 3 additional Tommy films in 1939: Stunt Pilot, Sky Patrol and Danger Flight followed in July, September and November of 1939, respectively.
A very successful aviation series, Tommy had its fingers in nearly every slice of the promotional-pie: radio, books, magazines, gift-able items such as buttons, Movie Jecktor strips and collectable cards; in the last decade we have seen Tailspin Tommy knockoffs open across our country, an airport eatery in Fresno, California, a pizza joint in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (now closed) and a fuel and an aircraft maintenance service business, northwest of Seattle, Washington.
All of the Tailspin Tommy filmed adventures are available on DVD; here is the link for your purchase of Mystery Plane. Enjoy the ride, and remember (for the those with motion-sickness problems) you may want to keep a paper-bag close beside!
By C. S. Williams