Lilac Time (1928 film)

Lilac Time is a 1928 American silent romantic war film directed by George Fitzmaurice and starring Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper.[1] The film is about young American aviators fighting for Britain during World War I who are billeted in a field next to a farmhouse in France. The daughter who lives on the farm meets one of the new aviators who is attracted to her. As the flyers head off on a mission, the young aviator promises to return to her.[2]

Lilac Time
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced byJohn McCormick
Written by
Based onplay by Jane Murfin and Jane Cowl based on Lilac Time (novel) by Guy Fowler
StarringColleen Moore
Music by
CinematographySidney Hickox
Edited byAlexander Hall
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 18, 1928 (1928-10-18) (US)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish intertitles
Vitaphone (music score and sound effects)

Lilac Time was produced by John McCormick (Moore's husband), and distributed by First National Pictures. The film is based on a 1917 Broadway play written by Jane Murfin and actress Jane Cowl, who adapted the story from a novel by Guy Fowler.[3] Lilac Time offers several phases, beginning with slapstick comedy elements, becoming an intense romantic film, then segueing into a spectacular aerial showdown. This was followed by a duel in the sky between Cooper's character and the "Red Ace" before returning to romantic complications.


Seven young English aviators are billeted at the Berthelot farm near the French front. One of the flyers, Philip Blythe (Gary Cooper) is a replacement pilot who falls in love with the farmer's daughter, Jeannie (Colleen Moore), She loves Philip, and on the morning before a dangerous mission he also declares his love for her.

Philip is shot down, and Jeannie helps an ambulance crew to extricate his apparently lifeless body from the wrecked aircraft. The crew will not allow Jeannie to accompany Philip and cannot tell her where they are taking him.

Jeannie obtains an address for the military army hospital where he is. When she visits, she is told that he has died from his wounds, based on incorrect records. Jeannie sends a bouquet of lilacs to his room in remembrance, and Philip, recognizing the flowers as her gift, painfully drags himself to his window in time to call her back to him.



Lilac Time was shot on sets at First National's Burbank studio and on location in El Toro, California, where a working airstrip, full-sized French village and farm serving as a base for a fictional Royal Flying Corps squadron, were built. For some scenes, the deserted village in Allaire, New Jersey were used for backdrops.[4] In addition a portable machine shop serviced the seven Waco 10 biplanes purchased and leased by aerial coordinator Dick Grace for the production.[5]

The crash scenes in Lilac Time turned out to be particularly difficult and hazardous. One scene called for Grace to crash and flip upside down in an aircraft. The second crash scene involved a crash-landing where the aircraft pirouetted on its nose and nearly hitting Opal Boswell, Moore's double, who scampered out of the way at the last moment. The third crash pitted a Waco 10 against a stand of eucalyptus trees that tore off the wings of the taxiing aircraft. [6]

Looking for realism, many extras cast as soldiers in the film had been actual World War I soldiers, in the ranks they portrayed. The chief stunt pilot, Dick Grace, had only finished doing stunt work on the Paramount film Wings (1927) nearly two months earlier. Grace sustained a severe neck injury in a stunt crash while making Wings but recovered in time for Lilac Time.[5]

Among those in the cast were Colleen Moore's brother Cleve (billed as "Cleve Moore") and her cousin, Jack Stone. Eugenie Besserer had played "Mrs. Goode," a mother figure in Colleen's earlier film Little Orphant Annie, the first film to bring Colleen a measure of fame.[7]


Lilac Time had its opening in Los Angeles at the Carthay Circle Theatre where, in the lobby, among other promotional materials on display, was the wrecked fuselage of one of the aircraft that had been destroyed during the filming. The film cost one million dollars to produce, an amount equal to Moore's previous two films. The studio recouped the cost of the film within months. By the end of 1928, the film had out-performed Moore's earlier star vehicle Flaming Youth (1923).[N 1]

Lilac Time was released with a Vitaphone score and music effects, featuring the song "Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time," but there was no spoken dialogue. The film premiered in New York City on August 3, 1928, and was released in the United States on October 18, 1928.[8]

Aviation film historian James H. Farmer in Celluloid Wings: The Impact of Movies on Aviation (1984), described Lilac Time, as "Overly sentimental; somewhat redeemed by the film's original aerial sequences, including several crashes; all of which were shot specifically for the production."[9]

Aviation film historian Stephen Pendo, inAviation in the Cinema (1985) had similar views about Lilac Time, noting, "of all the aviation films of the period, 'Lilac Time' stands out as one of the most sentimental ..."[10] The same comment about the sentimentality of Lilac Time is echoed by aviation film historian Michael Paris in From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema, (1995).[11]


Lilac Time is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also



  1. A restored 35mm print of Lilac Time was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in September 2014.


  1. "Abbreviated view: 'Lilac Time'." The AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 2019.
  2. "Details:'Lilac Time'." The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog, 2019.
  3. "Production: 'Lilac Time' produced on Broadway in 1917." IMDb, 20190. Retrieved: June 16, 2019.
  4. Sitkus 2002, p. 42.
  5. Wynne 1987, p. 82.
  6. Wynne 1987, pp. 82–83.
  7. "Progressive Silent Film List: 'Lilac Time'."
  8. Codori 2012, p. 204.
  9. Framer 1984, p. 318.
  10. Pendo 1985, p. 82.
  11. Paris 1995, p. 41.
  12. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF)., August 19, 2016.


  • Codori, Jeff. Colleen Moore; A Biography of the Silent Film Star. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-0-7864-4969-9.
  • Farmer, James H. Celluloid Wings: The Impact of Movies on Aviation (1st ed.). Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania: TAB Books 1984. ISBN 978-0-83062-374-7.
  • Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-7190-4074-0.
  • Pendo, Stephen. Aviation in the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8-1081-746-2.
  • Sitkus, Hance Morton. Allaire (NJ) (Images of America). Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-0-73851-083-5.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 978-0-93312-685-5.
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