Hell Divers (1932)

Hell Divers is a 1932 American film starring Wallace Beery and Clark Gable as a pair of competing chief petty officers in early naval aviation. The film, made with the cooperation of the United States Navy, features considerable footage of flight operations on board the Navy’s second aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga, including dramatic shots of takeoffs and landings filmed from the Curtiss F8C-4 Helldiver dive bombers after which the movie was named.


Hell Divers was officially Gable’s first “starring” role and filmed before he grew his trademark mustache. Gable had appeared in a minor supporting role in another Beery film, The Secret Six, earlier the same year.. For Gable, Hell Divers was not a pleasant experience since he was again billed beneath Beery, an actor he personally disliked.Three years later, Gable would be billed over Beery in the lavish epic China Seas, one of only four films during the sound era in which Beery did not receive top billing. Other actors appearing include Conrad Nagel, Dorothy Jordan, Marjorie Rambeau and Marie Prevost. An uncredited Robert Young appears near the end of the film in a speaking role as Graham, a pilot.


completely formulaic and STILL worth seeing!

18 March 2006 | by planktonrules (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

Okay, I know that most Wallace Beery films are pretty formulaic and superficial. However, this doesn’t mean they were bad. Very few of his films were bad, though many fall in the average category. However, occasionally, his films rose above the mundane, such as DINNER AT EIGHT, GRAND HOTEL, MIN AND BILL and this film. While I will admit this movie isn’t up to the standards of the three films I listed, it does approach them in quality and is a decent effort for him and new-comer Clark Gable. In particular, if you are a Gable or airplane buff, like me, you will love this film. It features a lot of great flying sequences you just won’t see in many films of the era. Our aircraft carriers and dirigibles just weren’t seen as being very important and weren’t shown in many films during the Depression era. So, from a purely historic point of view, this is an important film. When you add good acting and dialog and an exciting script, you have an excellent film well worth your time.


Beery hams it up in sentimental Navy film

Author: BoYutz (steveduff@earthlink.net) from Seattle, WA
19 November 1999

Wallace Beery hams it up mercilessly as a ‘loveable slob’ of a Navy Chief Petty Officer on the USS Saratoga. His lofty position is soon challenged by a hard-nosed and far more competent young chief played by Clark Gable. Beery, rather than bring his own standard up, seeks to sabotage Gable, leading to several confrontations where Beery is ultimately outclassed. The film concludes with a sentimental but well-played ending.

The movie has many charms to offset its drawbacks. There is a lot of footage of the USS Saratoga, the Navy’s first big carrier, built on the hull of a cancelled battlecruiser. The Saratoga footage alone, along with that of other circa-1932 warships, makes this a must-see for naval buffs.


This is also an early starring role for Gable, who plays his part well and looks every inch the young, dashing, competent CPO. Beery himself exudes charm despite overplaying his part. Look also for the ex-Mack Sennett bathing beauty Marie Prevost as the worldly Lulu.

Despite its uneven mix of comedy and drama, not to mention a boatload of Navy cliches, this movie is well worth watching, especially for Navy buffs.

Dated But Valuable Time Capsule Of early 1930’s US Navy

Author: verbusen from Fahaheel, Kuwait
8 October 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I guess I was more in joy watching this movie to see the hardware involved in this movie than the actual acting. I am a huge Gable fan, I don’t think there is a movie with him that I have not liked. However, this one was very early in his career and he does have a bad monologue moment that really surprised me that it made it into the script. Now I’m the first to defend a movie like Mask of Fu Manchu that seems to have been labeled as racist (by reviewers here) because of the portrayal of evil Asian characters out to get the White race, because that is a plausible storyline (because history has shown constant clashes of cultures, IE Imperial Japan). In this movie however, Clark Gable actually says in an argument with Berry’s CPO character that if he were to take over being the Leading Chief to the squadron that he first would “fumegate so a White Man could move in”


. Now this movie has the US Navy’s hands all over this, the script had the leads as senior enlisted (which I love because I am Navy Enlisted and tired of all the Officer portrayal’s), they did that so the leads could get by with the off color happenings off of the ship, but a remark like that should never have gotten into any movie that the Navy approved. I looked up Gables filmography and it shows he made 12(!) movies in 1931 alone about 1/5 of his total talkies made! That said, and I’m sorry to point that out, the rest of the film is very entertaining. One reviewer here said Gable landed a plane while holding a bomb on a wing. If the reviewer was paying much attention, Gable did not land the plane he was the Rear Gunner/Radio Operator, doh! Berry is a real louse in this one, I really hate his guts cause he’s such a dirt-bag but I guess you gotta do what the script says (totally plausible character, I just hated it) I love most of Berry’s roles as a lovable dunce, but when he plays a heavy I’m not as entertained. Other characters of interest for me was a Jack Pennick sighting (getting socked by Berry for smoking while fueling a plane), the very familiar face in all the John Ford (and thus many John Wayne) westerns, I remember him most from being the old CPO in the Phillipino bar at the beginning of “They Were Expendable”, just reading his bio here at IMDb.com it says he was a WW1 AND WW2 vet and got a silver star at the age of 50, now thats a man’s man (thanks IMDb for such great info)!


The planes used are I believe Vought O2U biplanes and these things when they are landing are going just barely over the speed of the carrier (USS Saratoga), and they have such a light weight and large wing surface area that they are like floating kites when they land (compared to the modern heavy jets that land with a THUD!). The carrier flight operations look extremely dangerous as these planes are ALL OVER THE PLACE! It was extremely exciting and interesting to watch. Other great footage that really entertained me was some great broadside shots of a row of battleships blasting off their 16″ guns, some very impressive shots with great audio! Highly recommended movie mainly for the archival evidence of US carrier operations in the infancy of the US Navy’s air wing. It would have been even cooler had the Saratoga steamed to Haiti or Nicuragua or a similar place where our Marine forces were conducting actual military battles, but in all likelihood this was not meant to show a really serious side of the Navy. Still, my kind of way to get entertained, good stuff!


Lots To Recommend

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
16 December 2011

For years and years Hell Divers was not available and the only bit we saw from this film occurs in Wings Of Eagles where a clip from this is shown as some of the characters there remarked about that new young actor with the big ears who was proving to be a sensation. Ironic as all get out since Clark Gable had been let go three years earlier from MGM after being the franchise star that studio was built around. I certainly did want to see all of Hell Divers and I have to say I was not disappointed.

Wings Of Eagles was about Frank Wead who wrote the original story for Hell Divers and MGM spared no expense on the budget in bringing this one to the big screen. Some nice navy footage is integrated well into Wead’s story about two navy CPOS who are constantly at war with each other on and off duty. This was Clark Gable’s best role to date and he had to keep on his toes lest Wallace Beery steal the film. Which Beery certainly tries.

It’s really bad between the two of them as Beery hires Marie Prevost to come on to Gable in front of Dorothy Jordan who Gable wants to marry. Gable doesn’t take that lying down, but he doesn’t really have to do too much because Beery fouls up all on his own quite nicely. He even loses a grade in rank. In the end though Gable, Beery, and pilot Conrad Nagel are all in a tight spot and the navy comradeship comes through in the end.

Look also for a very nice and understated performance by Marjorie Rambeau who is Beery’s long suffering gal pal. She tries to smooth out some of the rough edges in Beery without success.

Naval aviation buffs will get a real treat looking at Uncle Sam’s Navy in 1930 and the Saratoga one of our earliest aircraft carriers. Lots to recommend with Hell Divers.



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