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Alternate History: Memphis Belle

Nov 12, 2007
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Action in second half

Cons:Fictional; slow moving first half

The Bottom Line: WWII bombing with the Memphis Belle - from a fictionalized standpoint.


Memphis Belle (1990)

We'll drop it right in the pickle barrel." Captain Dearborn

This is a late entry in the WWII movie genre with a story about the least depicted branch of the service: the Army Air Corps.

The movie purports to tell the story of the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle and her 10-man crew, headed up by Capt. Dennis Dearborn (Matthew Modine). This crew was noted as the first to complete 25 missions, the magic number set by the Department of Defense after which they would rotate home. DOD had found through bitter experience that most men would crack if pushed further than 25 missions. The movie shows the last day of their tour of duty, including the preflight hours and the final mission.

As a tribute to the many unsung fliers of WWII, Memphis Belle is a decent movie but is hindered by a slow pace and many cliches that will be apparent to those who have seen their share of WWII movies.

The buildup to the mission encompasses the night before when the crew are feted at a dance put on by Army public relations officer John Lithgow, a guy you could easily learn to hate. The superstitious crew is afraid the celebration is premature but Lithgow only cares about his photos destined for Life magazine. Apart from the tension provided by Lithgow's heavy-handed PR man, the puppy-faced crew of the Memphis Belle serve well to depict the real life characters but with little differentiation, despite being introduced a couple of times by the voiceover.

The mission is delayed because of clouds in the target area and the men wait patiently until the weather clears. Then it's off into the wild blue yonder for their final mission which we ride along with them through hell and high water, proverbially speaking.

The movie drags and seems to go nowhere until the mission begins and that is one of the major flaws of the production. About half the running time is spent introducing the ten crew members who are firstly cliche characters like you’ve seen too many times before (scared, religious, superstitious, etc.) and secondly too many to be able to do justice to in the movie. Once they don their flight gear and scrunch up into their stations in the drafty old war bird you will not recognize them for the most part. Incidentally, they mentioned it was 30 below zero at the altitude they were flying but I saw no breath, steam, or any indications of cold.

The movie has some decent action but director Michael Caton-Jones rarely colors outside the lines so you end up with a fairly well executed but boring and derivative story, overall.

Incidentally, this is a labor of love from Catherine Wyler, the daughter of director William Wyler, who served in WWII and made a documentary about the Memphis Belle in 1944.

The Warner Bros DVD is presented in double side; flip over for either theatrical 1.66:1 or full screen format. There are several text based special features concerning the making of and some of the choices made for this fictional version of the Memphis Belle.


Recommend this product? Yes

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