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A rookie flyer, Ens. Alan Drake, joins the famous Hellcats Squadron right out of flight school in Pensacola. He doesn't make a great first impression when he is forced to ditch his airplane and parachute to safety when he arrives at the base but is unable to land due to heavy fog. On his first official outing, his poor shooting skills results in the Hellcats losing an air combat competition. His fellow pilots accept him anyway but they think he's crossed the line when they erroneously conclude that while their CO Billy Gray is away, Drake has an affair with his wife Lorna. Drake is now an outcast and is prepared to resign from the Navy but his extreme heroism in saving Billy Gray's life turns things around. Written by
Aviation buffs will love Flight Command. The special effects are outstanding for 1940, very much like Howard Hughes's classic Hell's Angels.
If this were made at 20th Century Fox, Tyrone Power would have been cast as the lead. Power had a patent on hero/heel types over at that studio. Robert Taylor who plays the lead here usually played straight up heroes in his films. Taylor played hero/heels, but not as often as Power did. Taylor debuted in that kind of part at MGM with A Yank at Oxford and wouldn't play one again until his classic Johnny Eager.
Taylor is a wiseacre fresh naval cadet straight out of the flying school at Pensacola, hence the nickname the others give him. Because of deaths an opening occurs at the elite Hellcats fighter squadron and Taylor is brash enough to think they requested him personally.
His attitude doesn't make him too many friends, among them being the squadron leader Walter Pigeon, his wife Ruth Hussey, and her brother Sheppard Strudwick. Strudwick is working on an instrument that will enable planes to land in fog, but gets killed trying to test fly it.
That opens all kinds of complications and misunderstandings among the men of the squadron and Taylor gets to feel mighty unwelcome. But he gets a chance to redeem himself in the end.
A few days earlier I did a review of another aviation picture Ceiling Zero and commented how Warner Brothers played on the cheap with the special effects. MGM did just the opposite, Flight Command got two Oscar nominations for visual special effects and sound, both well deserved.
Carrier based aircraft was still an unproven tactic for war, although aircraft carriers had been developed since the early twenties. But it hadn't yet been shown to be effective in war. It's almost quaint to watch the cast using ancient World War I era biplanes as training vehicles. But that's what the United States Navy had available back then. It was two years until the battle of Midway and less than two years until Pearl Harbor when Flight Command came out. A whole lot of aviation progress was made in that period, it had to be.
Flight Command out of necessity has to be dated, but it is still a good film to watch bearing in mind what these men were training for.
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