Air Cadet (film)
|Directed by||Joseph Pevney|
|Produced by||Aaron Rosenberg|
|Music by||Joseph Gershenson|
|Edited by||Russell F. Schoengarth|
Air Cadet (aka Jet Men of the Air in its UK release) is a 1951 American drama film directed by Joseph Pevney and starring Stephen McNally, Gail Russell and Richard Long. Air Cadet featured United States Air Force (USAF) pilots in training along with actors mixed into the training courses. [Note 1] The film had a small early role for 26-year-old Rock Hudson and a scene with future astronaut Gus Grissom.
In 1951, Walt Carver (Robert Arthur), Russ Coulter (Richard Long), Jerry Connell (James Best) and former U.S. Army Sgt. Joe Czanoczek (Alex Nicol) join a group of cadets beginning air force pilot training. Each of the cadets have their own reasons for being in the United States Air Force with Carver attempting to overcome his privileged background, Coulter wanting to emulate his brother who had died in World War II, Connell trading on his prior background as a civilian pilot, and Sgt. Czanoczek vying to make his wartime military experience count.
Besides flying, the trainees have to contend with Upper Classmen who are intent on hazing the newcomers. After primary training at Randolph Field, on North American AT-6 Texan aircraft, the group loses one of their group, with Connell "washing out" and opting to become a navigator. All the others successfully solo and await their next assignment.
The rest of the group of trainees including Czanoczekas, who wanted to fly North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, move on to advanced training on jet aircraft at Williams Air Force Base. There cadet Coulter meets and falls in love with Janet Page (Gail Russell), the estranged wife of one of the instructors, Major Jack Page (Stephen McNally), the leader of a Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star jet aerobatics team based at Williams AFB. His job is to identify and wash out unsuitable candidates and with the turmoil at home, Page hones in on Coulter.
The rivalry between the two puts Coulter's future as a fighter pilot in jeopardy. Janet realizes that Coulter has aggravated some of Page's former demons. He had been tormented by the guilt of sending men to their deaths in wartime. After being branded a coward by Page, Coulter's brother had committed suicide, a secret that had been gnawing at the trainee.
The pressure to solo erodes Coulter's confidence, and after an accident on his solo flight, he has to confront Page during the accident investigation. Coulter is cleared and allowed to continue training but both rivals are pitted against each other in the air when Page takes over Coulter's training. Page picks Coulter, Carver and Czanoczek as his wingmen in a new "Acrojets" flying team, but is sure that his rival will not be up to the task.[Note 2]
In a check flight the commander and Coulter fly together in a two-seat trainer, to see whether the young cadet will remain on the team. When his oxygen supply fails, Page loses consciousness and it is up to Coulter to bring the two of them home safely in a risky desert landing. Finally able to deal with his guilt, Page realizes that Coulter is not to blame. Janet finally reconciles with her husband, who is asked by his former rival, to pin aviator wings on, signifying Coulter's graduation as a fighter pilot.
- Stephen McNally as Major Jack Page
- Gail Russell as Janet Page
- Alex Nicol as Sgt. Joe Czanoczek
- Richard Long as Russ Coulter
- Charles Drake as Captain Sullivan
- Robert Arthur as Walt Philip Carver
- James Best as Jerry Connell
- Rock Hudson as Upper Classman
- Peggie Castle as Pat
- Parley Baer as Major Jim Evans
Production of Air Cadet began at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas on October 4, 1950. The scenes at Randolph Field were filmed in five days and the cast and crew transferred to Williams Air Force Base near Mesa, Arizona where the majority of the film was shot, with filming wrapped mid-December 1950. Some sequences were hot at Tindel Field and Panama City, Florida. Before he became widely known as an astronaut, Gus Grissom was an extra who was briefly seen early in the film as a U.S. Air Force candidate for the Randolph flight school.
The aerial sequences which were the highlight of Air Cadet were shot by cinematographer de Vinna who shot from a B-25 bomber, converted into a camera platform. He had to lie on his stomach using a film camera bracketed onto the tail assembly of the B-25. Choosing high-contrast sky backgrounds meant when the sky was clear or blue, photography was not possible. Much of the flying was "done at an altitude at which G-forces were in effect, making everything, including the 60-pound camera and the photographers' own bodies, feel seven times heavier." 
Although a B-movie, Air Cadet was rolled out with some flair. At the Fox West Coast Theater in Losa ANgeles, where the western premiere was held, a jet engine and cutaway aircraft were featured in a lobby display. Leonard Maltin's review was typical, "Familiar account of Air Force recruits training to become fighter pilots; McNally plays their tough but troubled flight commander. It's fun to see (Rock) Hudson barking orders at the recruits."
Aviation film historian Stephen Pendo in Aviation in the Cinema, characterized Air Cadet as routine fare. He did note that: "The aerial shots are the only bright lights in the whole film, and the best of these are the aerobatic sequences in which the men fly in a four-ship diamond formation with their wingtips 18 inches apart." Michael Paris in From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema, reviewed Air Cadet, saying, "The feature offered little that was new, and, indeed, owed a considerable debt to the earlier I Wanted Wings (1941)."
- In a screen credit, a written foreword reads: "This picture was photographed on the actual locations which appear upon the screen. Except for the principal players, all Air Force personnel are shown as themselves, in the actual roles and duties they perform in real life. To the officers, cadets and airmen of the United States Air Force, Air Training Command, this picture is gratefully and respectfully dedicated."
- During the production of the Air Cadet, the Acrojets flew many of the flying sequences led by base commander Col. Leon W. Gray with Lt. Michael Smolen, the team leader, serving as the technical advisor for the film.
- "Air Cadet (1951)." Aerofiles. Retrieved: May 3, 2016.
- "Notes: 'Air Cadet' (1951)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 3, 2016.
- Haralambiev, Alexander. "Acrojets"." Aerobatic Display Teams, 2014. Retrieved: May 3, 2016.
- "Original print information: 'Air Cadet' (1951)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 3, 2016.
- Thompson 2002, p. 37.
- Boomhower 2004, p. 57.
- Melikian 2010, p. 28.
- Maltin, Leonard. "Leonard Maltin Movie Review." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 3, 2016.
- Pendo 1985, p. 254.
- Paris 1995, p. 182.
- Boomhower, Ray E. Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 2004. ISBN 0-87195-176-2.
- Melikian, Robert A. Vanishing Phoenix (Images of America). Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7385-7881-1.
- Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-7190-4074-0.
- Pendo, Stephen. Aviation in the Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8-1081-746-2.
- Thompson, Frank. Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio Since 1910. San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 978-1-893271-20-3.