Stanley Kubrick’s second news short feels much more formulaic and stagy, but it similarly follows the photo essay structure used in Day of the Fight [M] (1951) with an intro, sample scenes of the subject at work, and a dramatic event which wraps up the profile.
Flying Padre concerns Fred Stadmueller, a New Mexico Catholic priest who pilots a Piper Cub plane to reach congregation members, as well as tend to their needs, be they social or emergency.
At the time, Stadmueller seemed unique for using a plane to maintain active social and spiritual ties within a widespread community, but unlike Fight, Kubrick settled for what feels like blatant ‘dramatic recreations,’ particularly a sequence where a little girl interrupts Stadmueller’s dinner, and the good padre is called out to mediate a dispute where a local boy is being mean to the girl. It’s cutesy, folksy, and cloying, and one wonders if the sequence was conceived by the director, or included to appease RKO, who were bankrolling the short for their RKO-Pathe “Screenliner” brand.
A brief funeral sequence is less contrived – and gave Kubrick a few moments to capture aged, weathered faces in dramatic close-ups – but the doc’s finale feels all made up: a woman with a sick baby calls the good priest for help, and he volunteers to fly her to the nearest town for medical assistance.
The cutaways are typical of fiction film, and the traumatized infant seems awfully fine whenever he’s on camera. Although the 'saved baby' ending feels like an editing exercise, it's punctuated with a final shot where the camera was placed on the rear of the ambulance, and we pull away from the plane and Father Stadmueller before the end credits - the type of slow, wide angle tracking shot typical of the director’s fictional work.
The music score is generic, the writing banal, and one suspects Kubrick realized if he stayed at RKO and apprenticed in their newsreel department (assuming it was still solvent during RKO's final years of active production), this would probably be the kind of format he’d be struggling with project to project, so he gambled on a feature film project – Fear and Desire (1952) – and took a job directing a promotional short for the Seafarers International Union, The Seafarers [M] (1952), his first colour film.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan