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to aug. 26

If the goal of the film program coordinators at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center was to keep as many children as possible from ever wanting to become a jet pilot, they deserve a gold star. Wait, make that four gold stars—one for each film in the series, any one of which provides more than enough death, destruction, and mayhem to permanently shatter any kid’s dream of hopping into a cockpit and flying the not-so-friendly skies. Take the series opener, Howard Hughes’ (pictured) classic 1930 war drama Hell’s Angels: For adult viewers, the scene of German soldiers voluntarily jumping to their deaths from the deck of an airborne zeppelin might elicit a powerful sense of human empathy—an understanding of the overwhelming madness and tragic consequences of war. For a child, however, the image is more likely to result in tear-lined cheeks and piss-stained trousers. Later entries in the series—including Howard Hawks’ 1939 nail-biter Only Angels Have Wings (at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12), in which Cary Grant and Thomas Mitchell have just enough time to contemplate their impending death before it happens, and Billy Wilder’s box-office-failure The Spirit of St. Louis (at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26), which features an aging and laughably miscast Jimmy Stewart as the American hero/Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh—are even less likely to inspire any potential future U.S. Air Force recruits. The series’ best film is also the one least suitable for children: Twelve O’Clock High (at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19), Henry King’s gritty 1949 World War II flick starring Gregory Peck as a brigadier general in charge of a bomber group pushed to the psychological breaking point. Although the film’s central question—How much can a man take?—may remain unanswered, one thing is for damn sure: He can take more than his 8-year-old son can. Leave the kiddies at home with a copy of PBS’s Jay Jay the Jet Plane when the films show at the Udvar-Hazy Center, 14390 Air & Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Matthew Borlik)