|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||15 reviews in total|
"Flight Command" was shown as part of the TCM Memorial Day series, and it
deserves to be remembered for its excellent performances by the leads and
all the supporting players, as well as the air scenes of single-engine
planes flown by the squadron of Navy pilots. There is a lesson in their
comraderie which is all the more moving when one considers the 1940 date
the skilful stuntwork of the planes for its time. Walter Pidgeon gives a
classic performance, both strong and vulnerable, for which he will become
better known in later films, and Ruth Hussey, usually in a secondary
puts in a sensitive and generous performance as the "skipper's" stalwart
wife in a part that could have been given to Myrna Loy. I am not a fan of
Robert Taylor, but I felt he gave one of the more honest of his
performances, and his good looks did not for once detract. Ruth's brother
the film, Shepperd Strudwick, hardly a known name, was well-cast as the
outgoing, daring inventor working on a fog-navigating device. Between
Pidgeon's Apollonian personality and Taylor's Dyonisian charm,
relaxed and interestingly handsome face reminded me of Joseph Cotton in
having a natural sense of gravitas in his manner.
Even though the plot was not a complex one, the different character relationships, whether between the pilots themselves, or of the perceived triangle of Taylor, Hussey and Pidgeon, was sensitively handled, and the several tricky maneuvers demanded of the pilots kept me glued to the screen. Credit should be given to the director, Frank Borzage, for coaxing such balanced performances from the cast. As for the supporting roles, Paul Kelley and Red Skelton (apparently in his first film appearance) both deserve mention, as do the script writers. The situations and dialogue appear routine, but nothing that is said or done is hackneyed or banal.
Of four ****, I would give it a highly recommended three***.
The Hell Cats, a group of Navy pilots are the subject of the film.
These men showed a tremendous amount of courage in those early days of
aviation before WWII. It's amazing what they could do, given the state
of the technology. Basically, the film shows how the cliquishness of
the more experienced pilots do to a newly arrived ace whose presence
threatened the way they did things up to the time when Alan Drake, aka,
Pensacola joins the group.
The director, Frank Barzage, did marvelous things with what must have been a difficult task to photograph some of the scenes from the planes commanded by the Hell Cats. For having been made in 1940, the film must have been a ground breaker in showing some incredible stunts, like the landing in the aircraft carrier in formation is seen from one of the landing planes.
The film showcases Alan Drake, an eager young pilot who joins the squadron. In joining the unit, he almost dies and has to eject from the plane he is commanding. That is when he meets Lorna Gary, who unknown to him is married to the base commander. "Pensacola", as he is known to the other men in the base, proves to be popular until his best friend dies trying to perfect a technique not approved by the Navy. The company sensing he and Lorna are having an affair quickly join ranks against him.
Robert Taylor makes a good contribution as Drake. Ruth Hussey is wonderful with her Lorna Gary. Walter Pigeon plays her adoring husband Bill. Paul Kelly, Shepperd Strudwick and Red Skelton also make good appearances as some of the pilots.
"Flight Command", although dated, proves to be a pleasant time at the movies.
This is a typical, professionally made, enjoyable though unremarkable film using the "hotshot cadet needs to prove himself" formula. Robert Taylor joins a Navy pilot program and both has to prove himself as a professional team member and extricate himself from the reputation of having had a perceived love affair with the Commander's wife. He also has to validate a fog landing radar invention willed him by a dead and valiant pilot. It all resolves itself in just under two hours. Special Effects earned an Oscar nom - they were well done but not extraordinary in any way. Trivia buffs will notice in Ruth Hussey's scene in her bedroom following dinner with Taylor that the music begins with that used for the scene in which Scarlett discovers her dead mother in GWTW. Franz Waxman is credited with the score - who stole from whom?
Aviation buffs will love Flight Command. The special effects are
outstanding for 1940, very much like Howard Hughes's classic Hell's
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.
One of the top fighter plane squadrons is the Hellcats. When the film
begins, they have just lost one of their pilots in an accident. His
replacement is an extremely cocky new Ensign (Robert Taylor) just out
of flight school at Pensacola. On his way from the academy in Florida
to the Hellcat base in San Diego, he gets in trouble--everything is
fogged in and he can't possibly safely land. Ignoring orders, he tries
to land and is nearly killed. Soon after this, he also screws up during
gunnery practice and nearly kills himself for the second time!!
Clearly, Taylor has a long way to go to fit in with the Hellcats!
In addition to this plot early on in the film, Ruth Hussey plays an interesting part. She's the wife of the group's commander (Walter Pidgeon). The stress of seeing her husband and other men she cares about risking their lives is simply too much. Keeping a 'stiff upper lip' is getting tougher and tougher and unless something changes, she's headed for a breakdown.
The sort of character Robert Taylor played in this film is nothing new for him, as he'd played a similar cock-sure guy in "A Yank at Oxford" a couple years earlier. And, by formula, you know that the character's cockiness will eventually change to make him the team player and all-around swell guy by the time the credits roll at the end of the film. But, because it's all handled so well, the film is a lot of fun. Excellent acting, an interesting script (it's more than just airplanes and Taylor's adjustment to the Hellcats) and direction by one of the era's better directors, Frank Borzage, make this a very good film--even if you aren't into airplane films.
By the way, the biplanes used in this film were the Grumman F3F-3. These dated looking planes were retired from service in 1941 and were pretty much outdated by the time the US entered WWII. It's odd, then, that the Hellcats (a crack fighter squadron) would STILL be using this plane by the time this movie was made in 1940. Top Navy squadrons would have been using more modern monoplanes like the Brewster Buffalo or F4F Wildcat. MGM would probably not had access to these other planes, as the Navy would have been a lot more protective of their newer planes. Of course, few people on IMDb are plane nuts like me, so most of this hardly matters to the average viewer!
And, for ship nuts out there, Miss Hussey reads a newspaper article about the navy going on maneuvers with three aircraft carriers--including the USS Virginia. There never was a carrier with this name and the battleship Virginia was deliberately sunk in 1923.
By the way, I did a little checking and found out some things which are interesting. This is one of Red Skelton's first films. Soon after finishing this film, he and his wife split up...and she married the director, Borzage! Wow...now that's pretty sensational and weird! And, if you are in the mood for more dirt, try reading up on the life of one of the principle actors in the film, Paul Kelly--it's pretty sensational.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I gave this movie a look during TCM's Memorial Day Weekend marathon.
I'm not sorry. There's nothing new in the plot: it's a typical "cocky
kid screws up but finally proves himself" story with one interesting
twist -- among the kid's (Robert Taylor, in a decent performance) many
screw-ups is a friendship with his boss' wife which others perceive the
By the way, the "boss" in question is his CO -- did I mention the "cocky kid" has just become a Navy Hellcat? -- and the "others" are his fellow officers.
The flying footage -- and there's a lot of it -- is okay but somewhat pedestrian since it's mostly training and search-and-rescue stuff. The movie was made in 1940 and several references are made to the war in Europe, but America had not yet joined in, so there's no combat flying. Still, there are interesting moments including a training and competition mission where the new pilot compounds an error and ends up tangled in a cloth target sleeve which nearly causes him to crash yet another plane.
Taylor is okay as the new pilot, although I'm not one of his biggest fans. The first couple of scenes between Pigeon (the CO) and Ruth Hussey (the CO's wife) seem a little awkward and the banter seems forced, but they get better. Pigeon excels in playing "nice guy without a clue about women" roles, whether he's the father or the husband. I wasn't familiar with Hussey before but will correct that mistake as she turned in a very nice performance. Likewise the performance of Shepperd Strudwick as her unfortunate brother -- inventor of a navigational device he hopes will enable planes to land in fog. Red Skelton's role as "Mugger" seemed artificial and forced -- unusual, I thought, as he usually seems very relaxed in front of the camera, but I have heard this was his first movie.
It won't win any awards, but it's a fun way to spend a couple of hours, with a likable story & performances.
Flight Command is a wonderful look into a Navy Fighting Squadron a year
before the U.S. entered World War 2. Starring Robert Taylor as Ensign
Alan Drake, a fresh graduate of the Navy's Flight School in Pensacola,
he's an eager young pilot assigned to a veteran Squadron, Fighting 8,
better known as the "Hellcats". Walter Pidgeon is his CO, Lt. Commander
Bill Gary and Ruth Hussey plays Pidgeon's wife, Lorna Gary. All three
put in a fine performance. The supporting cast does a fine job as well,
making it believable that they were a very tight knit group of fliers.
The movie had full support of the U.S. Navy and it shows. The attention to detail is excellent, giving the viewer a great inside look into what the pilots did in and out of the cockpit. The aircraft featured is the Grumman F3F-2, the last biplane fighter ever flown by the Navy on their aircraft carriers. It's great to see these pudgy fighters going through their paces. At the time this movie was filmed, Fighting Squadron 8 actually didn't exist. It wouldn't be formed for another year in the fall of 1941.
The story line is quite touching at times, especially between the three main characters. Ruth Hussey plays the outwardly tough but inwardly unsettled wife of the squadron commander very well. There isn't a bad portrayal by any of the actors in the film. Hats off to the production team for keeping this film on the level. There's a realism to Flight Command that is very well done. I can imagine that this movie had an effect on recruitment of Navy pilots just like Top Gun did back in the mid 80's.
I really couldn't recommend this movie enough, I feel it's that entertaining in so many ways. The story line, the acting and the look back at Naval Aviation at the end of its Golden Era make Flight Command a great choice.
Lots of fun. Wells Root and Commander Harvey Haislip penned this screenplay from an original story Haislip also co-authored about an eager Naval Flight School cadet (Robert Taylor) in Pensacola flying solo out to Southern California to join Hellcat Fighters who have just lost one of their beloved teammates; he makes a colorful entrance (having to ditch his plane and parachute into the ocean because of fog!) and finds an early friend in a somewhat-emotional woman...the Skipper's wife! Camaraderie between the pilots on the ground is enjoyably written and played, with Taylor's charming self-assurance an interesting dynamic within the group (he isn't cocky, he's careful--though anxious to fit in). Subplot with Ruth Hussey's lonesome wife is soapy yet surprisingly skillful, while the aerial maneuvers are nicely photographed. An extra bonus: Red Skelton as a joshing lieutenant...and Walter Pidgeon looking younger than I have ever seen him. **1/2 from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I kind of enjoyed most of it. Robert Taylor, freshly out of Navy flight
school at Pensicola, is assigned to the famous Hellcat fighting
squadron in San Diego. He's an eager young boot. Like most, he tries
too hard at first and receives various reprimands. When one of his
mates is killed in a flying accident, Taylor tries innocently to
comfort his sister, Hussey -- who happens to be the wife of the
Hellcats' commander, Walter Pidgeon.
The other Hellcats can't help but notice that Taylor is squiring around the commander's wife. He does things like fly her around upside down. It looks more than ordinarily suspicious because Pidgeon is conveniently off somewhere on duty. The other Hellcats get ideas and give Taylor an even rougher time. In a high dudgeon, Taylor initiates his resignation from the Navy.
Well, things look pretty gloomy. Taylor and Hussey are guilty of nothing but Hussey has been made to question the kind of relationship she has with Pidgeon. ("Keep the flag flying," he always tells her.) And Taylor is being what the Old Order Amish call "shunned." This is 1940 and not yet wartime, but the moment has come for Taylor to perform some heroic deed and prove himself -- his flying skills and his moral stature -- in the eyes of his comrades. He does so.
The triad of Pidgeon, Hussey, and Taylor is more textured and nuanced than it usually is in these routine stories. Hussey and Taylor, with a little less effort, could have fallen in love. That would require Pidgeon to die a hero's death. But Hussey and Taylor DON'T fall for each other, and the marital relationship is subject to some subtle questioning that almost resembles real life.
The flying scenes, and there are three or four big ones, are exciting. They cry out for color. The pre-war paint schemes on these airplanes were really exuberant -- bright yellows, reds, and greens. When war came they got rid of the flamboyance and gave them colors with names like "sea gray" and "dull blue." A terrible loss.
And you ought to see these stubby little biplanes. They're Grumman F-3-Fs. They're as unstable as inverted pendulums and they wobble all over the place when they fly in formation off the San Diego coast. The film misrepresents them slightly. They were armed with one .50 caliber and one .30 caliber forward-firing machine guns, whereas the movie gives them two guns of the same size. And when the aviators talk about "cruising at 350 miles an hour" they're dreaming. Two fifty was about it. Ugly suckers, they were quickly replaced by Grumman's single-wing Wildcat, and a good thing too.
The performances are about what you'd expect in a more or less routine story about pilots, love, and the challenge of flight. No one stands out, except maybe Walter Pidgeon who, as always, stands out for not standing out. He always reminds me of some iron statue in the park. That's not necessarily bad. We need statues. Red Skelton is in the cast but has little to do. Paul Kelly, as "Dusty" Rhodes, is on hand to provide intensity.
Robert Taylor plays a flier assigned to the famous "Hell Cats" in
"Flight Command" from 1940. Taylor plays Alan Drake, who excitedly
joins the Hell Cats and then realizes he has a lot to learn from his
commander, Billy Gary (Walter Pidgeon) - Alan met Lorna when he landed
off-course en route to join the Hell Cats. Though he feels left out by
the guys, he finds acceptance at a party given at Gary's house by Gary
and his wife Lorna (Ruth Hussey) and blends in well. He helps Gary's
brother-in-law Jerry (Shepperd Strudwick) with a device he's working on
that allows one to fly in the fog; unfortunately, Jerry is killed
testing the device, leaving his sister Lorna devastated.
While Billy is out of town, Alan does what he can to cheer Lorna up. She starts to fall for him, and in a panic, she leaves Billy. The Hell Cats assume that Alan was having an affair with her and turn on him.
Pretty routine with some wonderful flying sequences and some lovely performances, particularly from Pidgeon and Hussey. Strudwick, a young man here, was a Broadway actor who went on to continue on Broadway and also prime time television and soap operas, best remembered as Victor Lord in One Life to Live. He gives an energetic performance.
Taylor is handsome and debonair and does a good job as Alan. He was a solid actor, not given to introspection, and capable of better work than he was often given. He loved being at MGM, took the pathetic money the studio gave him (he was supposedly the lowest paid contract player in history), and played whatever parts he was handed. The parts got better after the war. We lost so many of these leading men way too young, thanks to the habit of smoking. Taylor was a three-pack-a-day man who died at the age of 57.
Pretty good, nice performances, great effects for 1940.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|