Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William H. Pine|
|Produced by||William H. Pine|
William C. Thomas
|Written by||Maxwell Shane|
|Based on||an idea suggested by Jack F. Dailey|
|Music by||Daniele Amfitheatrof|
|Cinematography||Fred Jackman Jr.|
|Edited by||William H. Ziegler|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|9 May 1943|
Aerial Gunner is a 1943 American World War II film directed by William H. Pine and starring Chester Morris, Richard Arlen and Jimmy Lydon. It was the first feature directed by Pine, who produced movies through his company, Pine-Thomas Productions.
Policeman Jon Davis (Richard Arlen) informs "Foxy" Pattis (Chester Morris) at his shooting gallery, that his criminal father has died. Foxy blames all policemen, feeling they harassed him all his life and were responsible for his death. John Davis enlists and "Foxy" Pattis is drafted into the United States Army Air Forces where Foxy becomes the instructor at an aerial gunnery school. He makes life miserable for Jon, now a "Flying Sergeant" student, trying to force the former policeman to resign.
Despite Foxy's hostility, Jon is able to pass the course. He later befriends a young Texas boy, Sandy (Jimmy Lydon), whose father was an airman killed at Hickam Field during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sandy invites Jon and Foxy to his family's ranch, where both men fall for Sandy's sister Peggy (Amelita Ward).
After graduation, Jon is commissioned as a lieutenant and is assigned as a pilot of a light bomber, with many of his classmates now his crew. A belligerent Foxy serves as his gunner and is not accepted as a team player by the others. During a bombing mission against the Japanese, however, he makes the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect the other crew members when the bomber is shot down behind enemy lines.
- Chester Morris as T/Sgt. "Foxy" Pattis
- Richard Arlen as T/Sgt, later Lt., Jonathan "Jon" Davis
- Jimmy Lydon as Pvt. Sanford "Sandy" Lunt
- Amelita Ward as Peggy Lunt (credited as Lita Ward)
- Dick Purcell as Pvt. Lancelot "Gadget" Blaine
- Keith Richards as Sgt. Henry "Jonesy" Jones
- William 'Billy' Benedict as Pvt. Jackson "Sleepy" Laswell
- Olive Blakeney as Mrs. Sanford Lunt
- Robert Mitchum as S/Sgt Benson (uncredited) [Note 1]
The film was announced in August 1942, being based on an idea by army lieutenant Jack Dailey, who used to work in public relations for Paramount, then after joining the services worked in public relations for Harlingen Air Force Base. It became a vehicle for Richard Arlen and Chester Morris, who were the two top stars of Pine-Thomas Productions.
In October, Jimmy Lydon, who played Harry Aldrich in a series of B movies for Paramount, joined the cast. William Pine directed to direct - it was his first feature, although he had directed several wartime propaganda shorts. (Thomas announced he would direct Alaska Highway - he ended up not doing it but made his directorial debut shortly afterwards.)
Principal photography for Aerial Gunner by the Paramount Pictures Pine-Thomas Productions unit took place over a period from October 21–mid-November 1942. Location work was done at the air gunner training school at Harlingen Air Force Base, Texas. Many of the real AAF trainees there appear in the film as extras.
Lita Ward made her film debut as the main female. She living in Texas and was cast while the film was on location.
With the assistance of the USAAF, aerial scenes featured North American T-6 Texan and Beech AT-11 Kansan trainers at Harlingen Air Force Base, and Lockheed B-34 Lexington bombers. The use of operational aircraft lent an air of authenticity to the low-budget B film feature, although a number of ground scenes that were later added, which had to rely on studio rear projection work, looked amateurish.
The film was very popular in army camps, despite being a relatively low budget film.
The critical reception was mixed, with Kate Cameron of The New York Daily News describing the film as the "most ambitious picture" that Paramount producers William Pine and William Thomas had turned out.
Bosley Crowther completely disagreed in his review for The New York Times; he dismissed the effort as nothing more than "... heroics for the bumpkins in one-syllable clichés. There are a few interesting sequences in it of training at an aerial gunnery school and some routine, but always pretty pictures of planes climbing up and setting down. But never do they rise above the ceiling prescribed by a normal B-film. This is strictly a picture for the shooting-gallery trade."
The Chicago Daily Tribune called it "a forthright little number very well acted and directed".
The Los Angeles Times called it "well acted... perhaps it is a little too grim."
Pine-Thomas were so impressed with Morris' performance they signed him to a new three-picture contract which began after Tornado.
- Aerial Gunner Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 10, Iss. 109, (Jan 1, 1943): 62.
- "Cast: Aerial Gunner (1943)." IMDb. Retrieved: August 27, 2014.
- "Aerial Funner Starts Shooting at Texas Field". Variety. 28 October 1942. p. 20.
- SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paramount Will Make 'Night Plane From Chungking' -Chester Morris Cast New York Times 6 Aug 1942: 23.
- DRAMA: Cesar Romero to Play 'Coney Island' Threat Los Angeles Times 15 Sep 1942: 13.
- Film Assignments The Christian Science Monitor 27 Oct 1942: 14
- Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 51.
- "Original Print Information: Aerial Gunner (1943)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 27, 2014.
- Orriss 1984, p. 72.
- DRAMA: Texas Again Supplies Photogenic Beauty Another Sister Debuts Male Stars Get 'Breaks' Naval Officer 'Find' 'Cyclone' Much Astir Hitler Satire on Way Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 2 Nov 1942: 18.
- "Inside Stuff". Variety. 24 February 1943. p. 21.
- "Aerial Gunner Preem". Variety. 12 May 1943. p. 17.
- Take Part in Texas Premiere The Washington Post 12 June 1943: B4
- Orriss 1984, p. 73.
- "Stage Door Canteen Fave in Camps". Variety. 14 July 1943. p. 4.
- Crowther, Bosley. "Aerial Gunner (1943): The screen." The New York Times, June 26, 1943.
- 'Aerial Gunner' an Interesting Little 'B' Film: AERIAL GUNNER" Tinee, Mae. Chicago Daily Tribune 10 Oct 1943: E8.
- Paramounts Pair Music, War Films Scott, John L. Los Angeles Times 18 June 1943: 15.
- DRAMA AND FILM: Young Producer Plans Hollywood Invasion Chester Morris Wins Three-Picture Contract With Pine and Thomas Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 16 Mar 1943: 13.
- Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
- 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.