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  Cloud Dancer Fly Too High
Year: 1980
Director: Barry Brown
Stars: David Carradine, Jennifer O'Neill, Joseph Bottoms, Colleen Camp, Albert Salmi, Salome Jens, Arnette Jens Zerbe, Norman Alden, Nina van Pallandt, James T. Callahan, Jorge Cervera Jr, James Giese II, Woody Chambliss, Hoyt Axton, Richard Ellman Kennedy
Genre: Drama, Action, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bradley Randolph (David Carradine) is a stunt flyer who makes his living at aerobatic shows, and he is renowned as probably the finest pilot of his generation, always cleaning up at the awards ceremonies since his peers have nothing but respect for him. What they do not know is that Brad might be doing damage to his health by pushing himself so far; this afternoon when he is soaring above the Arizona crowds he performs his usual repertoire, looping the lioop, going upside down, sending his plane into vertiginous dives and so forth, his nose starts to bleed and he briefly blacks out. With a young pretender to his crown, Tom Loomis (Joseph Bottoms) waiting in the wings, how long can Brad keep this up?

Although there are a plethora of movies which use aerial stunts, stretching back to the likes of Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels in the early nineteen-thirties if not further, there are not many concentrating on the life of such a flyer, though the Robert Redford cult movie The Great Waldo Pepper was probably the highest profile, released a handful of years before this one. Unlike that, Cloud Dancer was not a period film set in the early days of daredevils, it was a modern day (for 1980) yarn which had director Barry Brown seeking to elicit the thrill of living the dream of taking to the skies, with all the danger and excitement that entailed, though as it turned out most, if not all of that was relegated to the stunts.

When Brown's characters were on the ground, it was as if gravity was dragging them down with all their issues and frequently joyless demeanours: once Brad is in the cockpit it's time to be upbeat again, even if the experience is doing him more physical harm than good. Should anyone ask, whenever they notice the streams of blood on his face after he's been performing, he tells them he bumped his head on the canopy, but he can only say that so often before he's going to have to admit this occupation is taking its toll on him. This becomes a running theme, the damage Brad can do to himself in pursuit of as much flying as he can, and if Brown had kept to this he may have had a stronger and more enduring work that would resonate further.

As it was, the melodrama was leaden, what with Brad's old flame showing up in the form of Helen St Clair, played by Jennifer O'Neill, an actress whose offscreen exploits were quite often more "interesting" than anything she got to play in her films. Here she was landed with a rather dull, stock suffering romantic partner role, not realising Brad had rejected her because he was worried about having children with her seeing as how he believes he carries a gene which would result in disabled offspring. Offspring like his older brother Ozzie (Albert Salmi) who is in a wheelchair as well as being mentally handicapped; Brad loves his brother and dotes over him, winning trophies for him, but always in the back of his mind is the worry that his condition brings with it.

As if that were not enough, he has to tackle Tom who is brash and reckless in a different manner to Brad, and the older man becomes resentful of the younger, going as far as dragging him from his cockpit a couple of times, once when Tom terrorises his new girlfriend Colleen Camp when she takes a ride with him. Seemingly with one eye on the upcoming action movie market as the eighties dawned, Brown additionally included a subplot - another one - about Tom smuggling drugs in his plane but being forced to ditch his transport when a fighter craft appears and tries to shoot him down, a message courtesy of a Mexican cartel. In a hard to believe latter sequence, Brad comes to the rescue with his heretofore unmentioned Vietnam War experience and manages to combat the fighter without the use of guns, all very well but surely not the sort of thing the average stunt flyer had to deal with. Yet the film returned again and again to the aerial scenes, wonderfully shot to make it look as if Carradine really was competing, and you tended to forgive the excesses. Music by Fred Karlin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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