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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over this past weekend, ol’ Robbo found himself rereading for the umpteenth time George MacDonald Fraser’s Quartered Safe Out Here, his memoir of his service under Slim in the Burma Campaign of WWII.

At some point in the book – and I’m not going to go hunting for it now because I want to finish this post and go catch the Nats’ game – GMF mentions a scene from an American film called Air Force, a picture actually made during the height of the War, in which a gunner on a B-17 chuckles as he informs his Captain in rayther stark terms that he’s just set a Japanese fighter on fire and it’s going down.  The point of the mention was a comparison of racial attitudes towards the Japanese during the War and what would be acceptable nowadays.

As I read the passage, I thought to myself, “Self, we’ve never seen this film.  It would be interesting to look it up some time and have a dekko.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it?  In honor of Memorial Day, TCM (I think it was) aired that very film on Monday evening.

Ol’ Robbo savors these little grace notes of interconnectedness.  I strongly suspect that if one were to do the math, one would find that there are a great many more of them than one might otherwise have thought.

As for the film itself, it was enjoyable enough once, but I don’t think it’s the kind of thing worthy of inclusion in my general rotation of Netflix repeats.  Filmed in 1943 and directed by Howard Hawks, it’s the story of the crew of one of a flight of  B-17 bombers – the “Mary Ann” – en route from the Mainland to Hawaii, that gets caught up in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  (This really happened, btw.  Happily, all the Flying Fortresses managed to get down safely.)  The “Mary Ann” is sent on immediately to the Philippines, via Wake Island, to assist with the defense there.  (Why the rest of the bomber fleet doesn’t also go, I’m afraid I missed.)

It’s rah-rah propaganda and high-flying action coupled with a depictions of the bonds and rivalries among a small unit of military men, coupled with standard outlier story lines concerning the love interest of the bombardier and the crew chief’s worrying over his officer son stationed in the forefront of the battle.   (Spoiler alert, but I believe both the love interest and the chief’s son cop it.)  There’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film, but if its purpose is to be a statement of American values and perceptions in the early 40’s, then it certainly does its job.

For me, the best parts were, shall we say, probably not what Hawks had in mind.  For one thing, there were some delightful historickal inaccuracies.  Por ejemplo,  in the film, the bombers fly into Pearl and the surrounding fields in the dark, greatly adding to the suspense over their landings.  However, the Japanese attack commenced at 8:00 ack emma, local time, well after the sun had come up.   Then again, in the film we are shown squadrons of Bell P-39 Aeracobras defending the Philippines during their fall in 1941/42.  I am enough of a history geek to know that this is inaccurate.   However, since I liked the film as a whole, I smiled over this rayther than ranting.

For another, there was that curious unevenness of special effects that I have observed in more than one film of the period.  You know, the strange admixture of actual aviation footage and cheap models.  (See Only Angels Have Wings, another Hawks production.)  And in one scene where the “Mary Ann” is being attacked by Jap Zeroes, the fighters hung around just outside the windows so stilly and so long that the bomber crew could have hit them with flung bricks had it had them to hand.

But perhaps my favorite thing about the film was the fact that, although I didn’t recognize most of the cast, several stood out quite plainly.  The feisty Irish crew chief was played by Harry Carey, Sr., who was quite prolific in Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s and whose son, Harry Carey, Jr., seems to have been in just about every damned western ever made.   The bombardier was played by Arthur Kennedy, who was the jackass American reporter in Lawrence of Arabia.   Best of all, the navigator was played by Charles Drake, best known to me as Steve Miller, the lily-livered fellah in Winchester ’73 who nearly throws Shelley Winters to the Comanche and then dies at the hands of the psychotic Waco Johnny Dean.  (It also was not lost on me that Jimmah Stewart, who was of course the hero in that last film, was a genuine bomber pilot during the War, although I believe he flew B-24’s, not B-17’s.)

In short, a good time was had by all, meaning me, myself and I.  There are people in the world who relish cross-linking actors, pointing out anomalies and otherwise pursuing trivia while watching movies.  I am such a one.  Mrs. R, to give but one example, emphatically is not.  (Not that she’d have any interest in a war flick from the 40’s to begin with, but even assuming I could get her to sit down for one, any mention by me of these bits and pieces would be received with a sharp, “Shut UP!”

As Basil Fawlty said, just trying to enjoy myself.


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May 2013