Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Interlude: WWII Erupts

On December 6, 1941, a group of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers leave San Francisco on a routine run to Hawaii.  As they arrive, they discover that Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field have been virtually destroyed by the Japanese attack of December 7th.  In that instant, the lives of the crew of the Mary Ann change as they attempt to get their plane first to Wake Island, then to the Philippines, to fight in the newly declared war in the Pacific.  This is Air Force, a Howard Hawks film from 1943. 

We had the opportunity to see this interesting film on a big screen at the AFI Silver Theatre, as part of a Howard Hawks retrospective.  Hawks, a member of the U.S. Army Air Service during the first World War, had already demonstrated his interest in aviation with his prior films, Ceiling Zero (1935) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Here, as the war rages on in Europe and Asia, with no end in sight, Hawks looks at an event that would have been very much in the memory of his audience.  The film is careful in sticking to the facts, with only a few liberties taken.  In fact, a group of Fortresses was en route to Hawaii just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, and one of the ships was, in fact, the Mary Ann

My companion, who is quite familiar with the history of World War II, pointed out to me some of the liberties taken in the film.  For example, were a ship like the Mary Ann to be sent from Hawaii to the Philippines, it would have flown via Midway, not Wake Island. It's apparent that Hawks wants to reference the events that occurred on Wake Island, as it was attacked and captured by the Japanese (and perhaps tip his hat to the film Wake Island, that had been released the previous year). Towards the end of the film, we see the Mary Ann's crew involved in a battle - it appears to be the Battle of the Coral Sea, but that didn't happen until 5 months AFTER Pearl Harbor (not a few days as portrayed here).  And there is no way a B-17 could hover over a convoy of battleships to mark the way for oncoming planes. It just would not work!

You'll be treated to some fine performances here: a young John Garfield as tail gunner Joe Winocki; George Tobias as New Yorker and gunner Weinberg, Harry Carey - always wonderful - as crew chief Robbie White, Arthur Kennedy as Bombardier Tommy McMartin. and Gig Young as co-pilot Bill Williams.  We even have a cameo by Ann Doran as pilot Irish Quincannon (John Ridgely)'s wife.

Though I'm not usually a fan of war movies, this one was certainly worth seeing, and I hope to view it again. It had a sympathy for the men and an understanding of what they were facing that is not always apparent in World War II propaganda films.  Is it propaganda? Of course, but propaganda of the best kind.

For your enjoyment, the trailer from the film is below:

Our next Constance Bennett movie will be up in a few days.

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