Red Tails (2012)

 

 

Director:     Anthony Hemingway.

Starring:     Terrence Howard (Colonel A.J. Bullard), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Major Emanuelle Stance), Nate Parker (Marty 'Easy' Julian), David Oyelowo (Joe 'Lightning' Little), Tristan Wilds (Ray 'Junior' Gannon), Ne-Yo (Andrew 'Smokey' Salem), Elijah Kelley (Samuel 'Joker' George), Marcus T. Paulk (David 'Deke' Watkins), Leslie Odom Jr. (Declan 'Winky' Hall), Michael B. Jordan (Maurice Wilson), Kevin Phillips (Leon 'Neon' Edwards), Andre Royo (Antwan 'Coffee' Coleman), Method Man (Sticks (as Cliff Smith)), Bryan Cranston (Colonel William Mortamus), Lee Tergesen (Colonel Jack Tomlinson).

Tuskegee Airmen

 

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

"Blacks are mentally inferior, by nature subservient, and cowards in the face of danger. They are therefore unfit for combat."

1925 U.S. Army War College Study

A squadron of German fighter planes buzz right through the formation of American bombers that are supposed to be their protection. All the American fighter planes go after the Germans, leaving the bombers without protection other than from their own guns. The bomber crews are not happy about this. "Damn those glory-grabbing bastards!"

And now the main group of German fighters drops down on the bomber formation and starts picking off one bomber after another. Some bombers are torn up, but don't go down. The damaged planes turn around and start heading back to base.

A black pilot named Easy calls over to another black pilot named Lightning. Lighting partied a bit too hard last night and Easy is making sure he's alright. Easy tells him: "Wouldn't want you to miss this war."

Easy now checks on Junior. He's okay. Joker says he doesn't feel alright, saying: "I feel like I'm flying my grandfather's Buick." One of the fliers says: "Another P-40 from Uncle Sam's junkyard." [The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was a single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. Most Allied powers during World War II used this aircraft until the end of the war. The only fighters better were the P-51 and P-47. In all, 13,738 P-40s were built at Buffalo, New York.]

The pilots spot a truck with German markings on it. The leader Easy says it's Junior's turn to go down. Junior is happy to oblige. He hits the truck many times and it explodes. Easy says congratulations: "You got yourself a truck."

Now a train is spotted below. They check it for anything indicating that it's a German train. The order is to attack the train from the rear forward. But Lightning has other ideas. He sees the train heading for a long tunnel and just knows it will stop inside the tunnel. So Lightning attacks from the front. He flies really low so the anti-aircraft crews can't see him. Very close to the train he opens up on it. A huge explosion goes off and a piece of the train smashes a part of his cockpit.

Lightning is very cocky, but it's pointed out that his airplane has been shot up and now he's trailing black smoke. Easy asks Lightning how is Lightning going to explain that to the head of the mechanics, Coffee?

An Italian woman is hanging her clothes on the line. Lightning tells the men to go ahead while he checks up on something. The woman blows him a kiss and he sends a kiss to her.

Lightning lands and Coffee, on a motorcycle, drives up to the plane. He says to Lightning: "How about one time you bring my plane home without wrecking it?" He adds that Lightning is a clown and he better grow up quickly.

Coffee spots a piece of iron lodged in the underbelly of the plane. Coffee's assistant Stick pulls the piece of metal out, looks at it and then asks if anyone threw a train at him today?

Flight officer Maurice Wilson reports for duty. Three of the black fliers in a jeep stop for the officer. They tell him he can lay off all the saluting when he's at home with them. Wilson is looking for two buddies of his, but one man left the unit and the other man was killed on take-off.

The guys get together to look over the film footage from the day's action. After the film a fellow asks Major Emanuelle Stance does it matter whether they do a bad job? The fellow has heard that they are going to shut down the Negro unit. Some newspapers say that the great Tuskegee Experiment has failed completely.

At he Pentagon a very negative white officer, Col. Mortamus, says to the black Colonel A. J. Bullard: "To this point, I don't believe your boys have scored a single aerial kill." Bullard retorts: "Because you have not assigned us a single forward mission." He asks that his men be assigned to be bomber escorts. The white officer ignores that and just says there are many reports of discipline problems with the Negroes.

Basically Col. Bullard says that their handlers have always given the Negro fliers every damn distasteful task that the white fliers don't want to do. In essence, the army and air force are deliberately trying to make this program fail. But, says Bullard: "We will not go away." He adds that: "We have a right to fight for our country, the same as every other American. So you shut us down, or you let us fly."

Lightning goes and finds the girl he saw hanging up clothes. It takes him awhile to get through to her, Sofia, that it was he up in the sky to whom she threw a kiss. He has to act it out. Now she knows who he is.

Sofia introduces Joe to her mother. Joe acts out going for a drive in a jeep. There's one hitch to the proposal. Mother has to accompany the two of them.

Maurice says he wants to learn new tricks about how to dogfight with the Germans. The problem, however, says his buddies, is: "The white boys are the only ones to get to tangle it up with the Jerries around here." And the white pilots don't talk too much to the black pilots.

Junior tells Easy that he doesn't like being called Junior. He wants to be called Ray Gun. He also tells Easy that he had two years at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Col. Mortamus, the obstructionist, was the one who leaked the report dealing with the Tuskegee project. In doing so, he embarrassed the higher ups, because the press made them look bad. And in his doing this, it bought more time for the Tuskegee project.

Tomlinson tells Bullard that he can get Operation Shingle for his men. The assignment is to cover a beach landing. This will give the black pilots the chance to go up against German pilots. It's a chance for them to prove they are as good as white pilots. Bullard is thrilled at the opportunity.

Major Stance reads the information on Operation Shingle. He wants the information checked and verified.

Major Stance talks to his flight leaders. He says they have an opportunity. They will be protecting a land off the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea at Nettuno. [Nettuno is a town and comune of the province of Rome in the Lazio region of central Italy, 60 kilometers south of Rome.] Their assignment is to cover the landing. Now the guys really get excited. This will be their opportunity to prove themselves.

Early the next morning the guys make fun of Lightning saying that he'll probably stop off for some girl. Lightning says there will be no more pickups for him. He's in love.

January 22, 1944. The pilots take off. At Nettuno and Anzio they see a huge flotilla of ships. The men are just landing now on the beach.

German planes are heading to the beach. The flight leader says: "These pilots are rookies! Make quick work of them." The two groups go straight at each other. The fight is on!

Captain Easy is the first to shoot down a German plane. Joker knocks another German plane out of the sky. Junior suddenly realizes that there's a German plane right behind him. He calls for help to Joker, who gives him instructions on the plan he has. Junior will buttonhook right and Joker will go left. Joker gets behind the German plane and knocks it down.

Lightning goes after the German squad leader. But the squad leader does a wrap around while firing at Lightning. Lightning shouts: "Holy crap! How'd he do that? Get him off me." Easy tells Lightning to get out of the way. Easy gets behind the German and hits him.

The German starts heading for home. Lightning suggests that they follow him to their airdrome. So five American planes follow the German plane. Their first priority is to take out the anti-aircraft guns. Then they take two German fighter planes out while they prepare to take-off. And now the target is the stationary planes on the tarmac.

The German squad leader is on the ground after a crash landing at the airport. He really looks angry as he watches the destruction going on all around him. Lightning buzzes over the head of the German squad leader and blows him a kiss. The German can't believe that those pilots are "Africans".

Everybody gets away from the airport, but Junior got hit and is now trailing oil. Easy calls him and Junior says he got hit in the leg and the head. The lead planes do rolls over the airport and the ground crews wave their hats at them.

Junior makes it back to the airport. The other pilots shout words of encouragement for Ray Gun (Junior) being brought in on a stretcher.

In the Pentagon with Bullard in attendance an officer says: "I think we can cautiously declare the landing a victory." The ground troops are holding. Bullard's pilots had eight kills in the air with and additional 63 aircraft destroyed on the ground. "Outstanding!"

After the meeting is over, Col. Mortamus says to Bullard that this still does not change his attitude to the colonel and his pilots. Bullard says: "We don't care."

Ray Gun (Junior) says he can see perfectly out of one eye and mostly out of the other eye. He asks Easy to talk to the flight surgeon and get him to go easy on old Ray Gun. He virtually begs his "best friend" to get him back into the air.

General Luntz calls Colonel Bullard over to his office. He says the situation is bad. His bombardier crews and planes are getting cut to shreds. The general read the action report about Bullard's group and was very impressed. At Bullard's request, the two men go over films of the air cover the bombers are getting now. Luntz says: "We need to change the way we fight. I need pilots who will fly close and tight to the heavies all the way." At present the fighter support takes off after the German planes to get more kills, but this leaves the bombers exposed to the German fighter planes. He needs pilots that will put the bombers ahead of themselves and their search for glory.

Bullard is extremely confident his men can do the job. He even says he thinks he can decrease the loss of bombers from 70 to 80% per cent. The general says Bullard is arrogant. Bullard laughs and says if that's all they call him, he thinks he has made substantial progress.

The general gets very serious and asks him, man to man, can he help him save lives? Bullard says yes, but they need new planes, not hand-me-downs.

In the mess hall the guys are teasing Lightning saying that he saves all his money, foregoing liquor and cigarettes, to buy his gal some nice lingerie. He drives out in the jeep to see his girlfriend. They kiss. She says in English: "I love you."

Lightning goes into the U.S. Armed Forces Officers Club. As soon as the white officers see him they stop talking. A fellow comes up to Lightning and tells him: "This is a whites-only officers' club. Another pilot says: "Hey, go home nigger!" Lightning starts walking out, but stops and turns around. He goes back and socks one of the officers. Of course all the other officers jump on Lightning.

Easy comes to speak with Lightning, who defends his actions. Easy says to him: ". . . you put a minute's worth of righteousness ahead of a whole war! . . . Still getting into the wrong fights for the wrong reasons." Lightning, however, does not change his tune. He is still filled with anger for the white officers and defends his actions. Easy leaves.

Col. Bullard is back. There to welcome him is Major Stance. Bullard says: "Bomber escort. New P-51s." Stance says: "You did it! You really did it, sir!"

Joe Little (Lightning) stands before Major Stance and Col. Bullard. Bullard says that everything is a fight with Joe. He calls him a "punk". The colonel points to Joe's head telling Joe to try to use his brain next time.

Back with Easy, Lightning says he said something to Easy that maybe he shouldn't have said. Easy lets him off lightly saying: "Yeah, we're good." Now Lightning says he figured out how to do that stunt the German squad leader did on him. Easy says that trick flying will only get Lightning killed.

Col. Bullard tells his men about their new assignment. Under every circumstance, they are to protect the bombers. Lightning, of course, objects. Bullard tells the men that one downed bomber leaves ten men dead. One downed German fighter means only one dead. "We count our victories by the bombers we get to their targets. By the husbands we return to their wives. By the fathers we get back to their children. What has not changed, what will never change, from the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man, we fight."

They are getting new P-51s, the best plane the air force has available. The men are excited about that.

The planes come in and the major has the ground crews paint all the airplane tails red, like the Red Baron.

Easy tells Ray Gun that he twisted the flight surgeon's arm and got him back on the flying list. Ray Gun gives Easy a big hug. Then he runs to tell the guys.

Easy has his own troubles. Before a flight he downs some liquor from a flask. The men are now stationed at Ramitelli. [Ramitelli Airfield, near Termoli, on the Adriatic coast. From Ramitelli, the 332nd Fighter Group escorted Fifteenth Air Force heavy strategic bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.]

The Red Tails head out to hook up with the bombers. They find them. A co-pilot looks out the window with binoculars. Their fighter escort are the Red Tails. And the pilots are "colored". The pilot doesn't believe his co-pilot, but the co-pilot reassures him that the pilots are definitely colored. The squad leader says that everyone has to be on watch because their fighter escort this time won't be of much assistance to them.

And here comes the Germans fighter planes! The squad leader, our old buddy, tells his men that there are about 100 Flying Fortresses. He gives an order to the decoy section to go in close and draw the fighters away from the bombers.

That doesn't work so the German squad leader says they will do it the hard way. Junior with one eye providing only partial vision can't see and a German plane is able to cripple his plane. Junior has to bale out. He lands near the Germans and they take him prisoner.

The bomber squad people are amazed. They didn't lose a single one of their planes.

Deke is trailing fuel. Easy calls him and asks his status. Deke says he's okay but he has fuel oil spraying out into the cockpit. He feels a bit dizzy. Easy says he will guide Deke down. Lightning is not so sure Easy can do it because of his drinking. He volunteers to stay with Deke. Easy tells Lightning to obey orders and go back to base.

Lightning decides to break away from the squadron and take a short cut. Easy goes with Deke. Deke passes out and his plane starts diving downward. He wakes up and is able to get control of the plane again. Lightning and Smokey spot a German destroyer. They both dive at the destroyer. Lightning now goes in for another pass at the ship. Then he leaves.

Deke tries to get his canopy open, but it's stuck. So he has to try to land his plane on the runway. Deke crashes and his plane starts burning. Someone gets Deke out of the canopy. A little later the burning plane explodes with a huge fireball.

Lightning basically tells Easy that he has been drinking and that's why Deke crashed. Easy gets very upset and screams at Lightning not to blame this crash on him. Lightning just runs back to the barracks.

Lightning visits Deke in the hospital. The Major tells Bullard that Deke survived the crash, but he has 60% per cent third-degree burns. So Deke is being sent home.

Meanwhile, Ray Gun is in a prisoner of war camp. The camp commander is surprised to have an African as a prisoner. He says Ray Gun is the first of his kind here.

The American POWs are not sure what to make of Ray Gun. They look at him as if he were an alien creature.

Then an officer tells Ray Gun to come to the back of the barracks where the officers' section is. The ranking officer tells Ray Gun that he picked him deliberately because of his skin color. There are near the end of a critical project and they can't afford to have the Germans throwing a spy into their midst. Ray Gun's skin color means he's definitely not a German spy.

Spanking fresh pilots arrive at Ramitelli to be with the 332nd Fighter Group.

The pilots watch films of Lightning's attack on the German destroyer.

Lightning visits his girlfriend. She notices that he is somewhat out of it and asks him what's wrong? He tells her that his best friend almost caused the death of one of their pilots. Lightning tells her that he's so glad he found her.

Back at base, Lightning asks Easy to stop drinking liquor. "You can't drink on duty." Easy is not going to do it, so Lightning makes him a deal. If Easy will stop drinking on the job, he (Lightning) will stop giving Easy a hard time when they are up in the air. He will follow Easy's orders. So they make the deal.

The guys have some time in the town and walk by the white officers' club. A fellow yells out to them to stop. The guys figure the white fellow just means trouble for them. But the white guy keeps insisting that they come over and speak to him. Now the black guys are really irritated by this man who just keeps yelling at them. They turn around and start walking fast and determined over to the pilot. It looks like they are ready for a brawl.

Deke is usually the calmest of the men, so he asks ". . . who's asking?" The white man salutes them and says he is Chester Barnes, 98th Bomb Group. He says the Red Tails ran cover for them on a bombing mission over Ploiesti (Romanian home of the oil industry taken over by the Germans. The allies repeatedly attacked Ploieşti to slow down the production of oil and gas.) He wants the guys to come into the officers' club.

Chester starts walking back, but the black pilots are still a little shocked at this warm reception. And they are probably a little wary of the white fliers. Hey, maybe it's a trap? But Chester calls out to them again, saying the drinks are on the men in the bar. So the Red Tails go into the bar club.

Inside the club the music being listened to is by the Andrew Sisters about the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B. The Red Tails line up and each man in the bar gets in line to go down the line shaking hands with the Red Tails.

Chester tells the Red Tails that the Germans have a new airplane, a jet. "Those babies go so fast you can't even see them."

Lightning walks his girlfriend into a chapel. He asks her to marry him? She says she needs some time to think. Lightning is disappointed but he says "okay".

Ray Gun (Junior) is going to try to escape with the other guys, but Ray Gun says with the white guys he would stick out like a sore thumb and they all would be re-captured. So they say Ray Gun can go first and then go his own way.

Ray Gun goes. The barracks commander goes next. When the commander pops up, he immediately sees a German officer standing there with his pistol in his hand. Ray Gun sees the problem and shouts out to the German officer. This distracts the officer who starts shooting at the fleeing Ray Gun. This give the barracks commander time to make a dash for freedom. We don't know for sure, but it looks like both men got away.

The guys at base talk about going up against the new jets. Lightning says he's not afraid of any jet. He adds that he will be the first to down one.

The next bombing raid will be on a tank factory on the outskirts of Berlin. But the Red Tails are not going along as escort. This, of course, disappoints Bullard and Stance.

Girlfriend tells Lightning that she wants him to stay in Italy. He asks if that means she will marry him? She says yes. They both are very happy about this.

The POW barracks commander comes into the barracks to say hello to a fellow named Easy. Easy identifies himself. The captain says he was in a POW camp with Ray Gun. "He asked me to give his [dog] tags to you." The captain praises Ray saying he was the best soldier he ever met.

Easy gives Ray Gun's tags to Col. Bullard. He confesses that Ray Gun should never even have been flying because of a bad eye. He convinced the flight surgeon to let Ray Gun fly despite the bum eye. He adds that he doesn't feel fit to be the squadron leader. The colonel tells Easy that he should stop feeling sorry for himself. He must realize that every decision he makes is not always going to be a correct one. So, man up, fellow.

Major Stance says this time will be the first time the bombers are going all the way to Berlin. They will have to face the jet fighters. The bad news is that the Red Tails are only going to escort the bombers on the first leg of the trip.

Easy is nervous about the trip. He sneaks around a garage and takes a big swig of liquor from his flask.

The relief force never rendezvoused with the bombers, so the Red Tails will have to take the bombers all the way to Berlin and back. All of a sudden the jets make their appearance. Maurice is shot down. Deke knocks one of the jets down.

A bomber gets hit and has to turn around. Lightning shoots down one of the jets, but he in turn is badly wounded. Easy tells Lightning that was a crazy move that almost got him killed. Lighting responds: "I think I did get myself killed."  He looks at a photo of Sofia and says: "I love you. I'm sorry, Sofia." Lightning dies. His plane crashes.

Easy has to tell the others that Lt. Joe Little is dead. Later Easy goes to tell Sofia what happened. Easy hugs her as she falls forward onto him.

Lose one, gain one. Ray Gun returns to the unit. The guys run over to him and give him a hug.

The 332nd Fighter Group is given a Distinguished Unit Citation for outstanding performance of duty in conflict with the enemy.

"The highly decorated Red Tails compiled one of the best records of any air fighter group in WWII, including 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. 66 Tuskegee Airmen were killed in action."

 

Good film. This film is more about the combat flying of the black pilots in WWII than the recruiting and training of the black men.  The squad usually are restricted to mop-up operations after the battle has been won by the white pilots.  They have to fight hard to get better assignments and this is not easy matter, because there are Rednecks on the Pentagon committee dealing with the black units.   Colonel A.J. Bullard has a hard time trying to keep his cool when facing blatant racism, no matter how mildly it might be said. 

The whole unit was working hard to earn the respect of everyone, including themselves.  They had to do this while constantly being discouraged by the low quality of planes, the poor assignments and the insults that were hurled at them.  There were many whites that didn't want the blacks to succeed. 

There are lots of action scenes of dog fighting and strafing/bombing. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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