Flight Command

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Flight Command
Flight Command FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Frank Borzage
Produced by J. Walter Ruben
Frank Borzage (uncredited)
Written by Harvey S. Haislip (story and screenplay)
John Sutherland (story)
Wells Root (screenplay)
Starring Robert Taylor
Ruth Hussey
Walter Pidgeon
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by Frank Borzage Production
Release dates
  • December 27, 1940 (1940-12-27)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $837,000[1]
Box office $2,292,000[1]

Flight Command is a 1940 American film about a cocky U.S. Navy pilot who has problems with his new squadron and falls for the wife of his commander. It stars Robert Taylor, Ruth Hussey and Walter Pidgeon. Flight Command has the distinction of often being credited as the first Hollywood film glorifying the American military to be released after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, a year before the U.S. entered the conflict.[2]


Hotshot Ensign Alan Drake (Robert Taylor), fresh from the flying academy at Pensacola, Florida, wants to be accepted by the pilots of an elite service corps, nicknamed the "Hellcats", to which he has been posted. He gets off to a bad start, being forced to ditch his aircraft in heavy fog and mistaking Squadron Commander Billy Gary's (Walter Pidgeon) wife Lorna (Ruth Hussey) as a possible date. She is attracted to the young man, which leads to friction in her relationship with her husband.

The squadron is reluctant to accept someone who was just recently a trainee and brand him derisively as "Pensacola". The constant taunts lead to Drake reconsidering whether he should stay or resign his commission. One fateful night, however, he undertakes a desperate rescue mission using untested homing equipment. In the end, Drake proves himself and the new system. The near-breakup of the squadron commander and his wife's marriage is also averted.

Although operational in 1940, the Grumman F3F series was obsolete by the time the US entered World War II.[3]



Flight Command had impressive aerial scenes due to the full cooperation of the US Navy, with the loan of VF-6 squadron, flying Grumman F3F biplanes.[4] Noted film pilot and aerial sequence director Paul Mantz was the "air boss" on the production, in charge of all the flying scenes.[5] The USS Enterprise based in California and operating during maneuvers off Hawaii, also featured prominently in the production.[6]

Taylor was especially busy in 1940, with three films in production. He also starred in MGM's Escape and Waterloo Bridge.[7][N 1]


Flight Command was received as a mild attempt to bolster patriotic spirits, but as Bosley Crowther of The New York Times observed, the film had some obvious strengths as well as annoying encumbrances."... as usual in these big flying pictures, the actual air shots are beautiful— the scenes of planes flying in tight formations above the majestic clouds, dropping away in screaming power dives, taking off and landing on a carrier's deck. Then you feel it really has wings. Otherwise, 'Flight Command' is just a routine adventure film— exciting for the youngsters, no doubt, but rather pulpy for a grown-up's taste."[8]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records, the film earned $1,445,000 in the US and Canada and $847,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $707,000.[1]


A. Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.[9]



  1. ^ Taylor was caught up in the excitement of flying and obtained his own flying license as a result. During World War II, he served as a US Navy flying instructor.[4]


  1. ^ a b c "The Eddie Mannix Ledger." Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study (Los Angeles). Retrieved: August 3, 2014.
  2. ^ Eames 1982, p. 158.
  3. ^ Crosby 2002, p. 77.
  4. ^ a b Nixon, Rob. "Articles: Flight Command (1940." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 3, 2014.
  5. ^ Wynne 187, p. 161.
  6. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 15.
  7. ^ Malkin 1994, p. 869.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Flight Command (1940); Emphasis on defense in "Flight Command" at the Capitol." The New York Times, January 17, 1941.
  9. ^ "Nominees and Winners: The 14th Academy Awards (1942)." oscars.org. Retrieved: June 21, 2013.


  • Crosby, Francis. Fighter Aircraft. London: Lorenz Books, 2002. ISBN 0-7548-0990-0.
  • Eames, John Douglas. The MGM Story: The Complete History of Fifty Roaring Years. London: Octopus Books Limited, 1982, First edition 1979. ISBN 978-0-51752-389-6.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
  • 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.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.

External links[edit]