Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Air Force (1943)
Air Force is a film made by Warner Bros to help the recruiting effort in WWII. Howard Hawks was chosen to direct and the cast is generally an ensemble made up of solid unknown actors from the stable to be representative of the real soldiers and sailors fighting in the South Pacific.
The title is actually a play on the words air power - as in "we're going to put some serious (air) force on the enemy," not the service name as you might imagine. This movie was about the US Army Air Forces and those of you who have served in the Air Force may know that the service was known by several names in the early 20th century only becoming known as the Air Force with separate command structure in 1947, quite a while after the war.
The movie concerns the crew of a single B-17 Flying Fortress, one of the workhorses of WWII. The B-17 was a very successful heavy bomber design that despite its limitations dropped more bombs than any other aircraft in the war.
The first half of the movie establishes the players and gives some idea of who they are and why they are there. It is before the war and the crew is ferrying their B-17, named Mary Ann, as part of a squadron of nine B-17s from San Francisco to Hickam Field, Hawaii.
The characters are the usual types with a handful of officers, a top NCO, and the rest a combination various enlisted. The top sergeant (Harry Carey) is like a mother, taking care of the whole crew and babying the bird. He is the crew chief and a veteran NCO with twenty years in the service.
The pilot and copilot are probably the most often seen. John Ridgley and Gig Young are the two drivers of this taxi. The hopes and dreams of the various crew members are told and one guy, John Garfield, is talking about getting his discharge in three weeks. This sounds odd and we suddenly realize that is not happening as the log book is shown and the date December 6, 1941 pops out at us. Uh oh! They said the flight was all day long and now it's night and closing on dawn...
The navigator tries to tune into Hickam Field and hears static. Flipping through the stations he hears Japanese and gun fire and explosions. When they finally get a Hawaiian station they realize Pearl Harbor has been attacked and must proceed to an alternate location - a rough and ready strip in Maui. This is also under attack and they got to vamoose. Meanwhile, fuel is running low! They fly back to Hickam Field and are able to land on the cratered strip. They receive orders to fly to Wake Is, a long way further. Then they are diverted to the Philippines, then to Australia, and so on.
While watching the action it is interesting to note the difficulty of navigating the vast distances over water with very few landmarks and only crude instruments. Audiences today might not appreciate how daring the crew had to be to take off and head out over the Pacific without anything more than maps and maybe a few radio transmitters to home in on. Most of the landing strips are just flat places on the dirt without a lot of paving and that is an eye opener to somebody who has only seen a concrete airport. As far as I know, that was the way it was and the actors and airplane made a great impression on me. They got to fight against the Japanese and the aerial clash was thrilling with the Flying Fortress giving a good account of herself with the half dozen or so 50 caliber machine guns firing in all directions against the enemy. I don't think the actual plane Mary Ann fought in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway which happened about six months after Pearl Harbor, but they did let the actors sink a couple of enemy flat tops and that was where those were sunk.
The movie did have a few sobering moments as certain characters were killed during the various fights and the ending left you with hope that the plane and crew would survive but it cut off without showing after they repaired their bird for the umpty umpth time for another sally into the breach.
The Warner Bros DVD contains a decent copy of 124 minute black and white Air Force in 1.37:1 theatrical format. There are a couple cartoons and a short subject called Women at War as extra features and a radio version of the play as well.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV