Friday, May 24, 2002

AIR FORCE (1943)

This WWII movie follows the crew of a B-17 bomber heading to Hawaii from San Francsico on the morning of Dec. 6, 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor happens en route, and the plane gets diverted to Maui, then sent to Wake Island, Manila, and Australia. For a "soldiers in isolation" movie, the group dynamics are remarkably functional. There is a brief conflict involving one man's sister, who is injured at Pearl Harbor due to what seems at first to be the negligence of another, but that's resolved quickly. The only dysfunctional element on the crew is John Garfield as a man who couldn't cut it as a pilot and has become a disillusioned tail gunner. Early on, he wants to quit the Army and is a pain in the ass to the whole crew but, of course, he has a change of heart not long after witnessing the destruction of Pearl Harbor (a pretty good special effect scene). There's even a dog on board for a while that has been trained to bark menacingly when someone says "Mr. Moto."

John Ridgely, a handsome supporting player in lots of Warners movies (most notably as a bad guy in THE BIG SLEEP), gets his only leading role here as the pilot and does a fine job. I've seen his face in lots of tiny parts in the 30's and 40's--according to IMDb, he was in 23 movies in 1940 alone, mostly in uncredited bits; I remember him specifically in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and LITTLE MISS THOROUGHBRED. Harry Carey is the old, salty crew chief; Gig Young, Arthur Kennedy, George Tobias (Abner Kravitz on "Bewitched"), and Charles Drake (another handsome guy with lots of background bits in Warners movies) are also in the cast. The actors work well together and the latter half has some good action scenes, especially the climactic air battle on the way to Australia, but it's also interesting on a propaganda level as well, as it puts a lot of blame on local Hawaiians as fifth columnists (which is apparently not historically accurate). William Faulkner did an uncredited rewrite on the death scene of one of the crew members--it's a little hokey, but I'm sure it pushed all the right buttons back then. I don't typically go out of my way to see war action movies, although I do like WWII homefront films like MRS. MINIVER and SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. This, however, is definitely worth catching. The 2 hour length goes by quickly.

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