Air Force (film)
1943 film poster
|Directed by||Howard Hawks|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis
Jack Warner (executive producer)
|Written by||Dudley Nichols|
|Music by||Leo F. Forbstein|
|Cinematography||James Wong Howe|
|Editing by||George Amy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||124 minutes|
Air Force is a 1943 war film directed by Howard Hawks. It starred John Garfield, John Ridgely, Harry Carey, and Gig Young as crew members on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress named the Mary-Ann. An uncredited William Faulkner wrote the emotional deathbed scene for John Ridgely, the pilot of the bomber. Made in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, it was one of the first of the patriotic films of World War II, often characterized as a propaganda film.[N 1]
Master Sergeant Robbie White (Harry Carey), the Mary-Ann's crew chief, is a long-time veteran in the Air Corps, whose son is an officer and pilot. The navigator, Lt. Monk Hauser Jr. (Charles Drake), is the son of a famed World War I aviation hero of the Lafayette Escadrille. The pilot is Michael Aloysius "Irish" Quincannon Sr. (John Ridgely), and the co-pilot is Bill Williams (Gig Young).
The crew also includes a disaffected gunner, Sergeant Winocki (John Garfield), who washed out of flight school at Randolph Field, Texas in 1938 as an aviation cadet after a mid-air collision in which another cadet was killed. Quincannon was the flight instructor who requested the board dismiss Winocki. Later, in the Philippines, Major Mallory recalls training Quincannon at Kelly Field, Texas. The navigator and bombardier also washed out of pilot training.
With the United States still at peace, the Mary-Ann and the rest of its squadron are ordered to fly without ammunition to Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Before the bombers depart, Quincannon's wife arrives to give him a "good luck" gift, a toy pilot from their infant son, Michael Aloysius Quincannon, Jr. Young Private Chester asks Captain Quincannon to meet his worried mother and tell her it is a standard flight to Hawaii.
But, as it happens, Mary-Ann arrives right at the beginning of the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.[N 3] In the aftermath, the beleaguered crew is taxed to the limit, as they are sent on with little rest first to Wake Island, then to Clark Field in the Philippines, with both locations under Japanese attack. (While en route, the crew listens to President Franklin D. Roosevelt ask Congress for a declaration of war.) They take along fighter pilot Lt. Thomas "Tex" Rader (James Brown) and a small dog from the Marines on Wake named Tripoli.
When they arrive in the Philippines, White receives the news that his son was killed on the first day trying to lead his squadron into the air. Quincannon has to give Robbie his son's effects. Soon after, Quincannon volunteers for a one-aircraft mission against a Japanese invasion fleet, but the Mary-Ann is attacked by enemy fighters and forced to abort. After the wounded Quincannon orders his men to bail out of the stricken bomber, he blacks out. Winocki checks up on him and manages to guide the bomber in for a belly landing. Having told the dying Quincannon Mary-Ann is ready to fly, the crew work feverishly through the night repairing the bomber, as the Japanese close in. Private Chester volunteers to fly as a gunner in a two-seat fighter aircraft. When the pilot is killed, Chester bails out of the fighter and is killed in his parachute by a Japanese fighter pilot. Winocki and White shoot down the Japanese aircraft. After the Japanese pilot emerges from his burning aircraft, an angry Winocki kills the pilot for murdering the defenseless Chester. The crew manages to finish repairs on the "Mary Ann" with the help of U.S. Marines and U.S. Army soldiers and the ship takes off just before the airfield is overrun.
As the Mary-Ann heads for the safety of Australia, with Tex as a reluctant bomber pilot and a wounded Williams as co-pilot, they spot a powerful Japanese fleet below. The crew radios the information to all nearby airbases and aircraft carriers, then lead the attack when reinforcements arrive. [N 4] As a mission against Tokyo is announced and the aircraft take off, President Roosevelt is heard giving a patriotic speech.
As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):
|John Ridgely||Captain Michael Aloysius "Irish" Quincannon, Sr., Pilot|
|Gig Young||Lt. William Williams, Co-Pilot|
|Arthur Kennedy||Lt. Thomas C. McMartin, Bombardier|
|Charles Drake||Lt. Monk Hauser, Jr., Navigator|
|Harry Carey||Master Sergeant Robert "Robbie" White, Crew Chief|
|George Tobias||Corporal Weinberg, Assistant Crew Chief|
|Ward Wood||Corporal "Minnesota" Peterson, Radio Operator|
|Ray Montgomery||Private Chester, Assistant Radio Operator|
|John Garfield||Sergeant Joe Winocki, Aerial Gunner|
|James Brown||Lt. Thomas "Tex" Rader, 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 (as Edward S. Brody)||Sergeant J.J. Callahan, USMC|
|Richard Lane||Major W.G. Roberts|
|Bill Crago||Pilot P.T. Moran at Manila|
|Faye Emerson||Susan McMartin - Tommy's Sister|
|Addison Richards||Major Daniels|
|James Flavin||Major A.M. Bagley|
Director Howard Hawks credited the concept of the film to Lt. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, based on the experiences of a flight of B-17s that left Hamilton Field, California, on the night of December 6, 1941, and literally flew into the war the next morning at Pearl Harbor. Executive producer Jack Warner was adamant that the film be ready for release by December 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. To that end, miniatures for battle sequences were filmed in May and June 1942, before completion of the script and storyline.
Although pre-production work had already taken place, the official start of the production on May 18, 1942 was tied to the War Department approving the script. Development of the film was concurrent with script-writing by Dudley Nichols, with some characters based on Air Corps personnel Hawks met while traveling to Washington, D.C. to confer with Arnold and the War Department Motion Picture Board of Review. Nichols's script, submitted June 15, was 207 pages in length (twice that of the normal feature-length film), had its initial 55 pages devoted to "character development," and was not finished.
Principal photography consisting of aerial shots and exteriors took place at Hendricks Army Airfield, Florida, MacDill Field, Florida; Randolph Field, Texas; and Santa Monica Bay, California, the latter for water scenes and miniatures. Shooting began June 18, 1942, using a rented mock-up of a B-17 interior, in which the 10 principal characters performed for a month. The company then moved by train to Drew Army Air Field, Florida, at the end of July, to spend the next month shooting aerial sequences coordinated by Paul Mantz, chief pilot and aerial technical coordinator [N 5] for the production. Drew was selected because of fears that use of aircraft marked as Japanese might cause panic on the West Coast.
At the end of August, Hawks returned to Hollywood and engaged William Faulkner to rewrite two scenes, including the death of the Mary-Ann's pilot. By then, the film, scheduled to be completed by September 17, was three weeks behind schedule and only half completed. Production featured a celebrated clash between producer Hall Wallis and Hawks over the latter's constant changing of dialogue as scenes were shot. Hawks was briefly replaced on October 4 by Vincent Sherman, but returned from "illness" on October 10 to take back primary direction. Sherman remained as second unit director to assist with completion of the picture, which wrapped on October 26, 1942, failing to shoot 43 pages of script and 33 days over schedule, too late to meet its December 7 release date.
Wallis wrote that AAF Captains Sam P. Triffy and Hewett T. Wheless were technical advisors to the film, and that Triffy in particular made significant contributions to storyline, dialogue and sets. "Shorty" Wheless had previously been a B-17 aircraft commander in the Philippines with the 19th Bomb Group and had been one of the survivors evacuated to Australia in December 1941. He was at Randolph Field, Texas, in the process of appearing as himself in the Academy Award-winning short film Beyond the Line of Duty when he assisted on Air Force.[N 6]
The US Army Air Forces provided the aircraft that appear in the film:
- Ten Boeing B-17B/C/D Flying Fortresses from Hendricks Army Airfield at Sebring, Florida, the majority of which had been B-17Bs upgraded to B-17C standards, as was the "star" of the film. The serial number 05564 is shown on the film credits for the Mary Ann.
- North American AT-6 Texans and Republic P-43 Lancers painted as Japanese fighters, and Bell P-39 Airacobras and Curtiss P-40C Warhawks from Drew Army Airfield, Florida.
- Six Martin B-26C Marauders from MacDill Field, painted as Japanese bombers.
The actual Mary-Ann was reported "lost in the Pacific" shortly after the production wrapped, according to information attributed to the production's technical advisor, but in actuality none of the early model Fortresses served in combat with the AAF. Another claim, attributed to a newspaper article, was that "the real Mary Ann" went on tour to promote the film, then was assigned first to Hobbs Army Air Field, New Mexico, then to Amarillo Army Air Field, where it was assigned to a ground school. Two B-17B aircraft most likely to have played the part of Mary Ann, army serial numbers 38-584 and 39-10, were reclassified as instructional airframes in late 1943, and scrapped in January 1946. [N 7]
Historical accuracy 
The basic premise of the film, that a flight of B-17s flying to reinforce the defense of the Philippines flies into the attack on Pearl Harbor, reflects actual events. From that point on, however, all of the incidents are fictitious. No B-17 reinforcements reached the Philippines, the survivors of those already based there retreated to Australia less than two weeks after the war began, and the major mission depicted at the film's climax most closely resembles the Battle of the Coral Sea five months later. Miniature shooting for its battle scenes was filmed in May and June 1942, concurrent but probably coincidental with Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.
Anti-Japanese propaganda in the film included scenes in which the crew is forced to land on Maui Island and is shot at by "local Japanese," and the assertion by the Hickam Field commander that vegetable trucks knocked off the tails of parked P-40 fighters as the attack began. As detailed in Walter Lord's book, Day of Infamy, later investigations proved no Japanese-American was involved in any sabotage during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Critical acclaim followed the film's premiere as it echoed some of the emotional issues that underlied the American public psyche at the time including fears of Japanese Americans. In naming it one of the "Ten Best Films of 1943," Bosley Crowther of The New York Times characterized the film as "...continuously fascinating, frequently thrilling and occasionally exalting..." When seen in a modern perspective, the emotional aspects of the film seem out-of-proportion and although it has been wrongly dismissed as a piece of wartime propaganda, it still represents a classic war film that can be considered a historical document.
Later reviews noted that this was a prime example of Howard Hawk's abilities; "Air Force is a model of fresh, energetic, studio-era filmmaking."
When initially released, Air Force was one of the top three films in commercial revenue in 1943.
Air Force editor George Amy won an Oscar in the 1944 Academy Awards in the category of Best Film Editing, defeating Casablanca, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Five Graves to Cairo, and The Song of Bernadette. The film was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. Elmer Dyer, James Wong Howe and Charles Marshall were nominated for an Academy Award in the Cinematography - Black and White division.
- The finale of the movie features a patriotic statement on screen indicating victory is still to be won followed by the standard World War II motion pictures ending: a request for the theater audience to buy War Bonds.
- Excerpts from the Gettysburg Address precede the film's action scenes.
- This is based on a true incident.
- Although using wartime combat footage sparingly, the eventual missions portrayed in the Coral Sea sequences mirror real-life events.
- The aerial technical coordinator was typically considered the "air boss." Besides flying, Mantz operated as a third director or assistant director on the staged aerial sequences.
- Wheless rose to the rank of lieutenant general and was Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force at the time of his retirement in 1968.
- Stills from the film have indicated that B-17B 38-269 may have actually played Mary-Ann.
- Orriss 1984, p. 67.
- "Credits: Air Force (1943)." IMDb. Retrieved: June 24, 2011.
- McCarthy 2000, pp. 336–337.
- Orriss 1984, p. 68.
- Orriss 1984, p. 64.
- McCarthy 2000, pp. 337–339.
- McCarthy 2000, pp. 341–342.
- Wallis, Hal B. and Charles Higham. Starmaker: The Autobiography of Hal Wallis. London: MacMillan Publishers, 1980. ISBN 0-02-623170-0.
- Orriss 1984, p. 69.
- "Tampa in the 1940s." tampapix.com.. Retrieved: July 25, 2011.
- Crowther, Bosley. " 'Air Force' (1943)." The New York Times, February 4, 1943.
- Macdonald, Daniel. "Air Force." DVD Verdict, August 31, 2007.
- Anderson, Jeffrey M. "Wing Men." Combustible Celluloid, June 8, 2007.
- Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
- Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
- Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Buff's Guide to Aviation Movies". Air Progress Aviation Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1983.
- McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. New York: Grove Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8021-3740-7.
- Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.