Air Force (1943)
Director: Howard Hawks.
Starring: John Ridgely (Pilot), Gig Young (Co-Pilot), Arthur Kennedy (Bombardier), Charles Drake (Navigator), Harry Carey (Crew Chief), George Tobias (Asst. Crew Chief), Ward Wood (Radio Operator), Ray Montgomery (Asst. Radio Operator), John Garfield (Aerial Gunner), James Brown (Pursuit Pilot - Passenger), Stanley Ridges (Major Mallory - Clark Field), Willard Robertson (Colonel at Hickam Field), Moroni Olsen (Colonel Blake - Commanding Officer at Manila), Edward Brophy (Marine Sergeant J.J. Callahan), Richard Lane (Major W.G. Roberts).
crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress sees the action at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, the Philippines, and the Battle of the Coral Sea
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A coded message comes in and is deciphered. It says: "Flight of Nine B 17 s will proceed to Hickam Field, Hawaii. Ships to be ferried fully equipped."
Major Roberts talks to the pilots. They will meet again 30 minutes before take-off to go over the final instructions.
Captain Quincannon goes to see the mechanics working on his Flying Fortress bomber. Everything is proceeding nicely. Private Chester reports to the captain. He will be second radio and will be working with Peterson. Peterson says he will give Chester a little tour of the plane. Joe Winocki, the new gunner, checks in. At night the pilots arrive. Chester's mother has come and wants to meet Captain Quincannon. Chester brings him over to her and she asks that the captain look after her son. They are about ready to board when finally Mrs. Quincannon shows up. She tells her husband that she had a flat tire and had to take a taxi to the airfield.
The pilots turn on the engines of the plane known as the Mary-Ann. There are nine Flying Fortresses headed out from San Francisco for Hickam Field. They take off at thirty seconds intervals. Winocki is a real wisenheimer who doesn't like the Army Air Corps and wants out fast. He meets the crew chief, Sgt. White, who gets mad at the way he talks. He tells the newcomer Chester not to listen to guys like Winocki.
Quincannon already knows Winocki. The captain speaks to Winocki. Winocki wanted to be a pilot but he ran his plane into Driscoll's plane and cut his tail off. Driscoll died. The captain washed Winocki out of the school for that. Quincannon says he didn't wash him out, the board did. Winocki says yeah, on Quincannon's recommendation. Quincannon says he lacked flying ability. He tells Winocki that he's got to shape up and fit in to make a good team. Winocki basically says he doesn't care because his enlistment runs out in three weeks.
The date is December 6, 1941. The night turns to day and it's Dec. 7, 1941. The radio operator tells the guys that Hickam radio went off right in the middle of a weather report. On another frequency they pick up the Japanese pilots speaking to each other and the sound of machine gun fire. The operator informs the pilots and tells them to tune into R-2. Major Roberts calls for landing instructions for the flight of B-17s, but Hickam doesn't answer. Someone finally answers the call and tells them they are under enemy attack and to land elsewhere. Major Roberts tells the pilots they will be landing on different emergency fields.
The bombers starts landing. The Mary-Ann sets down on an emergency field that is very rough and the plane gets a damaged landing gear as a result. The aircraft is fired upon by local Japanese and Winocki goes all Wild Bill Hickok while firing his service revolver. The crew chief knocks him out and then picks him up. They are getting out of there. The B-17 takes off from the emergency field. Winocki is mad at the crew chief, but he tells Winocki that if he had gone into those thick bushes he would have been killed. And his heavy fire would have brought more firing from the other side and the plane could have been hit and set afire. He tells Winocki to start using his head.
The plane is now going to land on Hickam Field. The pilots see Pearl Harbor and its ships burning. They tell the crew to have a good look. Hickam tells the pilots to watch out for bomb craters on the airfield. The plane sets down successfully on the field. The fellows learn that the Japanese attacked Clark Field in the Philippines, Wake, Guam and Midway. Four of the crew go over to the hospital to see McMartin's sister Sue. She is in a hospital bed. She is so tired that she asks them to speak to Lt. Tex Rader who was with her at the time of the attack. They find Rader and he tells them they were headed to a party when the first wave of planes came over. He told Susan to get out and take cover, but she just laughed at him. They proceeded on and a big truck pulled right in front of them. A Japanese fellow took a shot at them from a shotgun. He missed. Rader took the shotgun from him and bashed it over his head. Susan was hurt by a machine gun burst from a Japanese plane. The soldier who was trying to drag her to safety was hit and killed. McMartin and Bill give Rader a hard time by continually asking him where was he all this time while Susan was getting hurt?
The Colonel at Hickam tells the crew they are heading to Manila, Philippines. They will stop to refuel at Wake Island. The Colonel also tells the men they are taking Lt. Rader with them because the Philippines needs all the pilots they can get. He tells the guys that Rader piloted one of the three planes that got off the ground and he knocked out four Japanese zeros before they shot him down.
The crew takes of for Manila with some other B-17s. They are headed 2,300 miles west to find a dot in the Pacific Ocean known as Wake Island. The plane receives a message saying that Susan McMartin is doing well and not to worry about her. The crew listens to the speech by President Franklin to the Congress. He says the Americans will win absolute victory and asks Congress to declare a state of war.
McMartin sees a flash of lights below them. They have reached Wake island. The plane lands on a bet-up airstrip. Major Daniels comes out to greet the crew. He tells the crew that they have to be out of here in twenty minutes. The pilots go to see Major Bagley, head of the air force on the island. He tells the guys that he has now only one operational plane. The crew wants to know what the guys on Wake are going do when the Japs return. Bagley makes a few jokes and they let it go at that.
The marines gives Wineberg their dog Tripoli to take to safety in Manila. The plane takes off. Sgt. White finds out about the dog and is pretty sure that Wineberg did it. But Winocki speaks up and says he brought the dog onboard. The sergeant scolds Winocki for this. The dog runs forward to the pilots. Captain Quincannon puts up a little objection but not much.
The plane sets down on Clark Field not far from Manila. The Colonel at Clark Field tells the pilots to get refueled and get ready for action. The Japanese have been pounding them with 60 bombers at a clip. The crew gets down on the ground. Sgt. White wants to transfer Winocki to another crew, but Quincannon gives him another chance. Winocki is grateful to the captain because he has a different attitude since the start of the war.. Winocki hands off Tripoli to a marine and tells him to take good care of him. The crew loads bombs onto the plane.
The pilots are congratulated on their continuous voyage of three days and three nights. Part of a Japanese fleet are headed their way. Now the fleet is about 40 miles off Lingayen. Quincannon says their plane is ready to go after the Japanese ships. Then, for Sgt. White, Quincannon asks about Lt. Danny White. He finds out that Danny White was killed the first day of action.
Quincannon returns to the plane. He gives Sgt. White a few mementoes that they took from Danny White's body. Danny was trying to get his plane into the air when the Japanese dropped a bomb right in front of the plane. He never got into the air. An air siren goes off and the men scramble for cover. An officers yells to get the plane up into the air. The engines are started and the B-17 heads down the runway. A number of fighters also get off the ground. Everyone has to put on their parachutes just in case.
Thirty miles off the coast the plane heads down to see if they can find the Japanese ships. What they find first are the Japanese zeros. Weinberg knocks one out of the sky with his machine gun. McMartin and Winocki get one each. They are really damaging the zeros. Then the plane gets hit. Quincannon is wounded. The order is given to abandon ship. Quincannon tells everyone to go without him. He will follow. Winocki is the last man to jump, but he rushes to the cockpit to take over from Quincannon. He actually steadies the plane and lands at Clark Field.
The airplane was hit by at least 100 bullets. It is so damaged that they will destroy her. All the men made it back to Clark Field, but Quincannon is hurt bad. The crew go to see him in the hospital. Quincannon thanks Winocki for getting them down in one piece. The crew members lie and tell the captain that their plane will fly again. He dies.
In honor of their late captain, the crew grabs parts from five different B-17s set to be destroyed. They assure the commanding officer that they can have the plane off the ground in 24 hours. And, if, for some reason, the Japs arrive unexpectedly early, they will destroy the airplane themselves. The commanding officer lets the guys go ahead with their project. He does, however, borrow Chester to be the gunner on an observation plane taking off. Rader arrives to help the crew and the marine holding Tripoli also offers his services.
Five Jap planes are seen overhead and the air raid siren sounds. Sgt. White, Winocki and some other crew members grab machine guns and fire at the Japanese planes. They knock several down. The pilot of the American observation plane is shot and killed. Chester jumps out but is hit on the way down by a zero. The zero finishes Chester off while he is on the ground struggling with his parachute. The zero comes around again, but this time Sgt. White, Winocki and some of the other guys shoot the zero out of the sky.
The Japanese are approaching Clark Field. The crew has to hurry and get their plane off the ground. The Japanese reach the airfield. The gunners on the B-17 open up on the Japanese with the machine guns and kill quite a few of them. The plane heads down the runway and off she goes. The plane heads south to Australia. On their way they spot a Japanese invasion fleet headed for Australia. Anti-aircraft shells from the ships explode in the sky near the plane. Their radioman Paterson contacts all the forces in the area about the invasion fleet. Fighters and bombers start taking off to bomb the fleet.
The crew uses their plane to guide other aircraft to the fleet. McMartin gets ready to drop their bombs on one of the Japanese ships. It's bombs away! They hit the ship hard. Japanese zeros attack the plane and the plane's gunners fire back at them. Ship after Japanese ship is hit. The marine aboard the plane gets hit in the leg. Now the crew takes on an aircraft carrier and hits it. Japanese ships start sinking. The Mary-Ann looses half its gas and they have to get out of there. The crew lands the plane near an island beach.
The crew now takes part in a raid on Tokyo. As the planes take off, we hear the voice of President Roosevelt: "We shall carry the attack against the enemy. We shall hit him and hit him again wherever and whenever we can reach him. For we intend to bring this battle to him on his own home grounds."
"This story has a conclusion but not an end -- for its real end will be the victory for which Americans -- on land, on sea and in the air -- have fought, are fighting now, and will continue to fight until peace has been won."
Pretty good movie. The only thing that was a bit disturbing were the three remarks emphasizing sabotaging done by Japanese living on Hawaii (as if to justify the Japanese-American internment camps). Otherwise, it was a good film stressing the good camaraderie and team work between the members of the B-17 bomber crew of the plane Mary-Ann. The crew were super airmen as they went above and beyond the call of duty and did it oh, so cheerfully. Could one crew be so fortunate as to perform so many gallant and important acts? Possible, but with a low probability of actually happening. If you didn't know your Pacific island geography important in World War II, you know by the end of the film because the plane goes to Pearl Harbor, then to Wake Island, the Philippines and south to Australia. The movie resembles many of the other low-budget films dealing with World War II, but this one was done in 1943 which makes it more interesting.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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