The Man Who Found Himself

The Man Who Found Himself, also known as Wings of Mercy, is a 1937 American aviation film based on the unpublished story "Wings of Mercy" by Alice F. Curtis. The film marked the first starring role for 19-year-old Joan Fontaine, who was billed as the "new RKO screen personality", highlighted following the end of the film by a special "on screen" introduction.[1] Unlike many of the period films that appeared to glorify aviation, it is a complex film, examining the motivations of both doctors and pilots.[2]

The Man Who Found Himself
Original theatrical poster
Directed byLew Landers
Produced byCliff Reid
Screenplay byJ. Robert Bren
Edmund L. Hartmann
Gladys Atwater
Thomas Lennon
Based on"Wings of Mercy" by Alice F. Curtis
StarringJohn Beal
Joan Fontaine
Philip Huston
Music byMax Steiner (uncredited)
CinematographyJ. Roy Hunt
Edited byJack Hively
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
April 2, 1937 (1937-04-02)
Running time
67 minutes
CountryUnited States


Young doctor, Jim Stanton (John Beal) has two passionate interests in conflict with each other. He is first a conscientious surgeon, but in his spare time, pursues his love of flying, a dangerous hobby that his well-intentioned father abhors. His father is a well-regarded doctor who does his best to curtail his son's flying.

When Jim flies a married woman on a flight that ends in disaster with his passenger killed, the resulting scandal prompts the hospital to put Jim on probation. Believing that he is innocent and wronged, Jim becomes a hobo and is arrested for vagrancy and put to work on a road crew in Los Angeles. When he runs into an old pal, Dick Miller (Philip Huston), he is persuaded to take a job as a mechanic for Roberts Aviation.

On an emergency flight that turns out to be less than routine, nurse Doris King (Joan Fontaine) becomes suspicious of the new employee who not only can handle the controls of an aircraft, but also knows what to do in a medical emergency. Doris finds out the truth about Jim from an inquisitive newspaper reporter, "Nosey" Watson (Jimmy Conlin). Although trying to maintain his anonymity, Jim accepts a position as a pilot and finally at the scene of a train crash, his secret life is fully revealed on board the special "aerial ambulance" aircraft, when Doris and Jim are able to assist Jim's father in saving the lives of crash victims.


As appearing in The Man Who Found Himself, (main roles and screen credits identified):[3]


Although Joan Fontaine, on contract with RKO, had already made her screen appearance in No More Ladies (1935), A Million to One (1937) and Quality Street (1937), opposite Katharine Hepburn [N 1], the studio considered her a rising star, and touted The Man Who Found Himself as her first starring role.[5] A unique "photo-play"-style introduction was placed after the end credit.[6]

The Man Who Found Himself featured a number of Lockheed Model 10 Electras, a Ford Trimotor, and other aircraft, while a Waco also served as a camera plane for the aerial sequences.[7] Prolific director Lew Landers, who had gained a reputation for bringing projects in on time and budget, began the production January 12, 1937 and wrapped up principal photography by February 1937. In 1937 alone, Landers also completed Danger Patrol, Living on Love, Border Cafe, You Can't Buy Luck, They Wanted to Marry and Flight From Glory (another aviation-oriented film).[8]


The Man Who Found Himself received mixed reviews ranging from a caustic comment in The New York Times – "The only thing the industry could possibly do now ... is to administer anesthetic to the audience" – to flattering mentions of the rising new star, Joan Fontaine.[9] Kate Cameron's comment in the New York Daily News was that "Miss Fontaine is as blonde as Miss [Olivia] de Havilland is dark, but she has the same charm and poise which makes her sister one of the most promising younger actresses in Hollywood."[5]



  1. In a modern interview, Fontaine reported that Katharine Hepburn, with whom she had appeared in a small role in Quality Street had recommended her to a "B" movie producer on the RKO lot for the part of "Doris".[4]


  1. Fontaine 1978, p. 77.
  2. Farmer 1984, p. 30.
  3. "Credits: The Man Who Found Himself (1937)." IMDb. Retrieved: October 11, 2012.
  4. "Notes: The Man Who Found Himself." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: October 11, 2012.
  5. Fristoe, Roger. "Articles: The Man Who Found Himself." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: October 11, 2012.
  6. Block, Tom. "The Man Who Found Himself (1937)." Olivia & Joan: Sisters of the Silver Screen, 15 November 2010. Retrieved: October 11, 2012.
  7. Wynne 1987, p. 174.
  8. "Biography for Lew Landers." IMDb. Retrieved: October 12, 2012.
  9. Beeman 1994, p. 9.


  • Beeman, Marsha Lynn. Joan Fontaine: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1994. ISBN 978-0-31328-409-0.
  • Farmer, James H. Broken Wings: Hollywood's Air Crashes. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Pub Co., 1984. ISBN 978-0-933126-46-6.
  • Fontaine, Joan. No Bed of Roses: An Autobiography. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1978. ISBN 978-0-68803-344-6.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.
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