Lafayette Escadrille (With You in My Arms; Hell Bent for Glory) (1958)

 

 

 

Director:     William A. Wellman.

Starring:     Tab Hunter (Thad Walker), Etchika Choureau (Renée Beaulieu), Marcel Dalio (Drill Sergeant), David Janssen (Duke Sinclair), Paul Fix (U.S. General), Veola Vonn (The Madam), Will Hutchins (Dave Putnam), Clint Eastwood (George Moseley), Robert Hover (Dave Judd), Tom Laughlin (Arthur Blumenthal), Brett Halsey (Frank Baylies), Henry Nakamura (Jimmy), Maurice Marsac (Sgt. Parris), Raymond Bailey (Amos J. Walker), William Wellman Jr. (Bill Wellman Sr.).

a young American joins the French Air Force early in the war

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"A half-forgotten corner of France in a wholly forgotten war in memory of the heroes of the Lafayette Escadrille who died in defense of right and of liberty.  This monument, this patch of foreign sky, belongs to a handful of Americans who flew for France and died for France in the First World War.  They came with an air of adventure or a sense of impatience in the days before American entered the war.  They wore French uniforms,  they fought in French planes and they fell in love with French women.  These weren't just names in 1917.  They were headlines.  But this story is about a man whose name isn't carved in stone with the other young men of that old war.  He ran away to war for reasons of his own.  His name is Thad Walker."

Thad Walker steals a car and whizzes by the local cop, who yells out:  "Walker!  Stop!"  Walker crashes into a newspaper boy on his bike.  Thad jumps out of his car and runs for it.  The policeman shoots several shots at him but the shots all miss.   Thad runs into his house. 

Thad's father slaps him hard three times across the face.  "My son stealing cars.  Do you realize what the newspaper will do to me?"   Thad asks if the boy is dead?  "The son of Amos J. Walker a prominent New England manufacturer."  Did the boy live?  "By the grace of God, he'll live."  Father smacks Thad hard two more times. 

A steam liner pushes past the Statue of Liberty.  Thad is on the ship, laying in his bed in his room.  He throws the newspaper to his buddy Bill asking if he wants to read about Thad Walker in the headlines?  As the buddy starts looking at the paper, Thad points to the red marks on his face saying they were a parting gift from his father.  At least Thad says that he did deserve them.  His friend wads up the paper and throws it out through the porthole

Thad asks if his buddy thinks the French will take him?  Sure.  Thad is looking forward to the new adventure.  Two men come into the room.  Bill introduces Duke Sinclair and Tommy Hitchcock to Thad.  The buddy tells the guys that Thad is a stowaway.  Thad anxiously watches the two men for their next move, but they just extend their hands to shake Thad's hand. 

In Paris the four young men report to the Recruitment Agency of the Foreign Legion.  The agent tells the guys that joining up with the French does not mean that they will be giving up their American citizenships.  They will remain Americans.

The four Americans go to a bar and have some drinks.  They see two well-known pilots, Lufbery and Guynemer, talking about air duels in the sky while three pretty women stand around them.  Thad looks over at them and then notices the sad-looking woman there by the two flyers.  She looks up and sees Thad looking at her.  For a short while, the two of them look at each other until the woman drops her eyes to the floor again.  She stares at Thad again and he smiles a couple of times at her.

Thad gets up and walks over to her at the bar.  As Thad speaks to her, she speaks back to him in French.  Lufbery hears English being spoken and he's curious to hear more.  Thad introduces himself saying that he's from Massachusetts.  Lufbery says he's from Connecticut.  Thad explains that he and his three buddies are waiting for flight training in Avalon.  Thad's girl just keeps staring at him  The two pilots agree that this is an occasion for a drink.  They bring the liquor and go with the two women to sit down at the table with the four buddies.  But Thad and his girl have already left the bar and are holding hands as they walk the streets of Paris. 

Ten days later.  The three buddies get on the troop train.  They look around for Thad.  They see him and his girl just staring at each other.  They yell for Tad to come on, but the couple acts like they are in a trance.  Thad says to his girl:  "I'm coming back.  Remember that."  Thad has to run to catch the train as it pulls out of the station. 

The four buddies go the the School of Military Aviation.  When they go into the barracks they find everyone already sleeping.  Thad takes a cot and the other three fellows have to sleep on the floor.  The members of the outfit include: Dave Putnam, who only had another year to live, and 13 victories to his name; George Moseley, an All-American end who played for Yale; Arthur Bluthenthal,  an All-American Princeton center, killed in combat; Rankin Drew, son of Sidney Drew, a famous actor, and killed on his first flight into battle; Chuck Kerwood, a POW killed by a sentry when Chuck tried to escape from prison; Jim Connelly with eight victories; Austen B. Crehore, one of the toughest of the pilots; Alan Winslow, who lost his left arm;  Vernon Booth, killed in combat; Landram Ovington, killed in combat;  Stuart Edgar, killed in combat; Wally Winter, killed in combat; Dudley Tucker, killed in combat; Cy Chamberlain, killed in combat; and Frank Baylies from New Bedford, who became an ace many times over and was killed in combat.

A small Asian fellow comes into the barracks and wakes everyone.  He has brought a large container filled with tea.  When he turns on the light about 10 or 12 shoes come flying at him.  He hides his upper torso behind the tea container.  He then says:  "Good morning, American bums."

Dave Putnam sees Thad and his buddy Bill Wellman together and he jumps for joy.  He goes over to the two guys and gives them a hardy welcome.  Bill now introduces Dave to Duke and Tommy.  Dave recognizes Tommy as the champion polo player.  Bill asks if Dave has started flying?  The answer is:  "Just started." 

Dave in the plane BL170 takes off from the airfield.  The guys go introduce themselves to the commander of the air squadron.  As they talk, Davy's plane develops engine trouble as he returns to the airfield.    Dave makes the landing safely. 

The flight instructor teaches the Americans using the French language.  Only Duke knows French and he is not helpful with his stingy translations.  The guys are supposed to run their airplanes straight down the airfield.  Both of the starting trainees tip their planes onto one side.  There's not much to the planes.  They look like they would be torn up by the wind as soon as they got off the ground.  In short, they look flimsy. 

A comrade picks a photo of Thad and Renée off the ground and Thad wants it back immediately.  The guy, however, thinks he knows the girl.  Thad tells him he is looking for a sock in the nose.  The guy suddenly remembers and says it's Renée and she is a hustler.  Thad punches the fellow, knocking him out. 

Thad talks to Bill and tells him that Renée told him that she was a hustler before the guys left for aviation school.  The guys are being taught to march together, but they think they don't need to march.  They want to fly, not to march.  The instructor has  no luck getting the guys to march in unison. 

Thad gets a letter from Renée but it's all in French.  Bill tells him to get Duke to translate it.  Thad doesn't seem to care.  Bill tells him not to.  Not to what?  Don't even think about going to Paris. 
Thad is surprised that his face was so readable to Bill.  Bill asks when is he going?  Over the weekend.  Bill tells him that he is going to get himself thrown out of the Lafayette Flying Corps. 

The Americans play baseball and the workers and the French flyers watch them.  Only the Americans seem to know how to play the game.

Thad looks over his letter from Renée.  She says in it that she has left the Madame's employ.  She is now living in another place and she gives the address.  Bill sees Thad leave the barracks at night. 

Thad goes to the address he was given.  The desk clerk lets him into Renée bedroom.  Thad sees that she has an  English to French dictionary on her bed. 

Renée returns from her work on the subway.  The desk clerk doesn't say anything, but she is tipped off when she sees him dancing around and singing a happy song.  So she suspects that Thad is in her room.  Thad is sleeping on her bed.  She goes over to him and starts blowing air on him.  She then rubs her face against his face. 

Thad gets in trouble when he slugs the French marching instructor and knocks him down.  The Frenchman calls for three soldiers to arrest Thad.  Thad is put into the stockade.

The Americans decide to stage a riot and when all the Frenchies come running to stop the riot, Duke and three others will get Thad out of jail.   The guys in the barracks divide into two teams and at the designated time, they start fighting each other.  The band of four led by Duke get Thad out.  Now Thad heads to Paris. 

Thad subdues a French guard after a vicious fight and gets into the Frenchman's French military outfit.  This way he will be less likely to be caught while he's in Paris. 

Thad is in Renée's room.  This time when Renée comes into her apartment she sees Thad fall over from exhaustion.  Thad tells her he struck a French officer and deserted.  He warns her that if they catch him, they will shoot him.  She tells him in English that she loves him.  Thad goes unconscious.  Renée calls for the desk man to come up to her room fast.   He comes up and looks over the deserter.  He says that they should call a doctor, but Renée says no doctors.  So the two of them bandage up Thad as best as they can.  Thad goes back to sleep and Renée rests next to him. 

Thad rips off the bandage on his face and knows from the look on Renée's face that something is not quite right.  He goes over to the mirror and takes a look.  He has a  big scar on his face running from his right eyelid down to the cheek at about the level of the upper lip.  He says to Renée:  "My face is a little loused up isn't it?"  She tells him in broken English that she loves his loused up face.  He asks her if she will marry him?  Yes. 

Two French policemen pay a visit to the desk clerk.  After they leave, the desk clerk runs up to Renée's apartment and tells her about the policemen.  She, in turn, tells Thad that they can't go out because of the policemen.  So Thad takes a Bible.  Renée puts her hand on it and Thad clasps the Bible and Renée's right hand between his two hands.  He asks the desk clerk to be their witness.  Thad says a few words about marriage.  He then takes one of two earrings off of Renée and puts it on the wedding finger of her left hand.

Bill takes off on his test flight.  He covers about 350 miles on his flight.  Bill lands his plane. 

By night Duke is still up in the air.  When his friends hear his plane up in the air, they pour oil in a straight line on a border of the airfield and light it.  Duke comes in for a landing.  He gets out of the cockpit and runs into the building, shouting to his friends he will be back soon.  

Thad is getting stir crazy being cramped up in the little apartment.  He tries to tell Renée that he goes crazy in the apartment when she is out working at night on the subway.  After Renée  leaves for work, Thad paces about in his apartment.  He puts on his hat and goes out. 

Thad pays a visit to Renée's one time madam.  He asks her for a job.  He says:  "I need the money to get Renée to South America where we can start being happy again."   She gives him a job. 

Renée tells Thad to quit the job.  They argue.  He says it will only take him one or two months to make the money and then they can go to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Hearing that the job won't be longer than two months, Renée is satisfied with the job Thad has taken.  And so Thad starts work as a pimp seeking out new customers. 

The fliers now move down south to Pau to learn how to fly by the seat of their pants.  Then they go to Plessis-Belleville in the outskirts of Paris to wait for the death of a flyer at the front.  "They didn't wait long."  For the Americans the front was Alsace-Lorraine, their plane was the French Newport and their squadron's name was Black Cat.  "After three months of flying, they were veterans." 

One day the Americans learn that the United States has decided to join in on the fighting of World War I.  The men are happy about the news, but Bill wonders what must Thad must be feeling now that his country is in the war? 

In a car, Thad talks to an American general for a chance to let him finish his flight training and fight in the war at the front.  The general doesn't say anything until they both get out of the car.  Then the general tells Thad to come to his office and he will see what he can do for him.  Then he tells Thad to rush on home and tell his gal the good news.  Thad runs off. 

Aviation School, U.S. Air Service. A.E.F., Issoudun.  Thad was back in the air.  He was a natural at flying.  He gets back together with his old friends:  Bill, Duke, Tommy and Dave.  The five pilots have a portrait taken at a studio. 

Thad and Renée lay in the grass.  He tells her that he has been assigned to Eddie Rickenbacker's squadron and is leaving tomorrow.  They kiss. 

In the morning Thad takes off to head to his new squadron.  A German pilot spots him and goes after him.  Luckily for Thad, the German's machine gun jammed.  Thad lands on an airfield used by many of his old friends.  They invite him to fly with them.  They run into some German planes and the fight is on.  A couple of American planes are shot down.  Thad takes out a German plane. 

The pilots get 10 days leave in Paris for every German plane they shoot down.  So Thad gets to see Renée again.  He takes her to a church wedding.  His old friends are there as witnesses.  The guys all get to kiss the bride and then the newlyweds are off on their honeymoon.  They kiss in the car. 

On the stone monument to honor the American dead it says:  "In memory of the heroes of the Escadrille Lafayette who died in defense of right and liberty."

"It stands an aging splendor on the outskirts of Paris.  A war turned to stone in the broad museum of Europe.  To the Americans who wore French uniforms, who fought in French planes and fell in love with French women, history has reserved two words:  Lafayette Escadrille."

 

Pretty good movie, but a rather simple one.  The film doesn't give much history because it is based on a fictitious American flyer flying with the Lafayette Escadrille for the French against the Germans. 
The film concentrates a bit too much on Thad Walker, spoiled son of a a wealthy New England manufacturer.  We watch as the hot head Thad falls in love with a French woman and then slowly starts breaking all the military rules and gets into some big trouble.  The love story is good, but again the story seemed more about Thad than the Lafayette Escadrille.  Probably a better film would have concentrated more on an ensemble of characters working together as a unit to bring honor to their squadron.  That would have been better than concentrating on a spoiled brat who has to learn to behave himself the hard way:  through the school of hard knocks.

The pretty boy Tab Hunter did a good job.  He made a good playboy type of high-roller.   It was especially pleasing to see David Janssen (as Duke Sinclair) and the young Clint Eastwood (as George Moseley) in the film.  Etchika Choureau (as Renée Beaulieu) was good in her role of Tab Hunter's future wife. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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