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The real "stars" of this movie are the actual aircraft the US Navy had
in 1940, both old and new. Those aircraft are all in their original
markings and complicated paint schemes, during the time the Navy was
converting from colorful to subdued colors. Every color was part of a
complicated plan to identify each aircrafts place in squadron
formations allowing quick identifications of exactly where each
aircraft "belongs". All the planes are here, Vought Vindicators,
Helldivers, Buffalos, F4Fs, PBY's, and even the little used and known
Northrup dive bomber competitor of the Vindicator. The US Navy went all
out with massed formations in the air and on the ground, close ups,
long shots, all of it the most impressive I've seen on the screen, and
every foot of it in living glorious color. No attempt to censor or
exclude anything, almost as if the US Navy was saying, "Don't
There is only one thing better than seeing this film on VCR or DVD, and that's seeing it on the large screen as I have thrice in my life. If you find the chance to see it on the large screen, don't miss it.
The frosting on the cake is the stirring and patriotic score by Max Steiner, parts of which show up in his other film classics like Fighter Squadron. This movie may have been made made over sixty years ago, but you'll find yourself ready to go running off to your local Navy recruiter, the effect it must have made on its audiences at the time.
When you view this film try and imagine the actions most of these airplanes were in against the Japanese less than two years later, at places like Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Coral Sea and Midway Island.
Too bad Germany, Japan, Russia, and most of the other warring powers didn't leave a color documentary of their air forces of the time.
Taken by itself, DIVE BOMBER is a routine tale of the efforts of Navy
doctors to find solutions to major issues facing aviators (countering the
effect of G-force on pilots, and functioning in a high altitude
environment), written by Naval aviator Frank ('Spig') Wead (who would,
himself, be the subject of a later film, John Ford's THE WINGS OF EAGLES),
photographed in glorious Technicolor, and teaming top WB 'draw' Errol Flynn
with two legendary actors, Fred MacMurray and Ralph Bellamy. Filmed at the
eve of the war, the film was one of many military-themed pictures
Hollywood's studios were producing, to generate public acceptance of an
inevitable U.S. involvement.
While the movie was successful when released, the passage of time has dated it, and the issues addressed; as a result, DIVE BOMBER has not retained the luster of Flynn's swashbucklers. But in the seventies, the film took on a new significance, as allegations were made that Flynn had committed treason, working for the Nazis at the time of the shooting.
According to 'secret' documents that an author said were made available to him, Flynn aided two known Nazi agents, helping them perform espionage by demanding DIVE BOMBER be shot 'on location' at Pensacola Naval Air Station. While the spies were arrested and deported, Flynn went unpunished, and his participation 'covered up', for morale reasons. The revelations were published in a Flynn biography, and the actor's already tarnished reputation became the butt of a new round of derision (a thinly-veiled version of Flynn served as the Nazi villain of the 1991 film, THE ROCKETEER).
Many of Flynn's surviving co-stars, and his official biographer, Tony Thomas, came to the long-dead actor's defense, and research into the extensive, now declassified file the FBI kept on the rowdy actor (files were kept on virtually everyone of importance in the entertainment industry) reveal no more than a social involvement with the agents (the pair socialized with many 'movers' in the film industry, and Flynn was a major 'party animal' in the forties). The idea that the actor could have 'demanded' and gotten a location to be used would have been unlikely (the studio carefully budgeted each film, and actors were only rarely involved in the production end). Had the charges been true, no studio would have ever hired Flynn, again (this was a very patriotic period), and Jack Warner would have PAID, if necessary, for Flynn's one-way ticket to Germany!
Despite the lack of any real evidence, there are still people who cling to the belief that Errol Flynn was guilty (he was far from the noble cavalier that many of his early films portrayed him as, and his critics would love to add treason to his long list of sins). DIVE BOMBER has become the cornerstone of one of Hollywood's great mysteries...
This film is beautifully shot with incredible Technicolor photography
of pre-WW 2 Navy aircraft in all their glory. (Note- Navy planes were
purposely painted in bright colors to facilitate rescue at sea.)
Unfortunately there are a lot of annoying factors to the plot such as Allen Jenkins' alleged comic relief and some pretty unbelievable dialogue. Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray spend a lot of time on manly stiff-upper-lip dialogue that is unbelievably stilted. There is a lot of real aviation medicine mixed in with some bogus movie baloney (the pressure suit they come up with is kind of a steal from round-the-world pilot Wiley Post). Navy pilots never used anything like that suit or the pressure belt in that time period. The film was actually shot at NAS North Island on Coronado island with the cooperation of the Navy.
If you want to see the kind of planes the Navy was flying in the late 30's, though, there is no better film. Look for the Consolidated Coronado 4-engine flying boat in one scene- a flying dinosaur!
As a snapshot of the US military on the eve of Pearl Harbor, this has
a poignancy that it didn't have on original release. The "Enterprise"
has a starring role, just two years before Midway (and incidentally,
notice how SMALL the carriers are: I guess jet fighters needed vastly
And look at the aircraft: innumerable biplanes, and the rest of them already obsolete. No combat (- and, in fact, no bombs, which is odd, tho' i guess in 1941 the idea of Americans actually dropping nasty weapons like bombs was still a controversial notion.) Lots of formation flying: (this is Warners, after all, the home of Busby Berkeley!) Almost every outdoor scene has a flight of real aircraft zooming through it: the effect is sumptuous, and makes even "The Battle of Britain" look very small beer. Much credit to Michael Curtiz and crew for stage-managing all this.
There are no real surprises in the plot, though it moves through the clichés at an agreeable pace; nonetheless, it's an interesting commentary on the days when flying was not a "routine" activity.
But the reason to watch this is the photography. This is a Technicolor show-piece. The aerial footage is downright glamorous, and many of the interior scenes are filled with interest (though interior lighting problems are apparent, particularly in Flynn's make-up).
Plot-wise, the focus wanders back and forth from Flynn to MacMurray, which leaves both characters slightly unfinished. Flynn was obviously very difficult for Americans to write for: this actually sounds like Bogart dialogue. Flynn looks embarrassed and diffident throughout(he's very good though, and his voice is beautiful). Alexis Smith is fun; possibly the only interesting twist in the script is that the women are both unredeemed ratbags: the slush component is, hence, lower than it would be once hostilities commenced. Ralph Bellamy is good, doing the transition from "guy who doesn't get the girl" to "gruff character actor".
Modern viewers will laugh at the chain-smoking doctors (especially the one with the heart problem).
Max Steiner's score doesn't grab me particularly, but there are some nifty musical effects during the "blackout" sequences.
While Dive Bomber has some formulaic elements, it is a glorious technicolor view of US naval aviation just before the US entered World War II. The air sequences include shots of aircraft (Vindicators, Devastators, Curtiss Hawks, etc.) that soon became obsolete and that I have never seen in any other technicolor film. The carrier scenes are set on the USS Enterprise the year before this ship fought in the Midway and Guadalcanal battles. The film is shot on location in San Diego, and I noticed landmarks like the Hotel Del Coronado and the Cabrillo lighthouse in the background. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for playing this.
I really enjoyed this beautifully photographed pre WW II movie. At 133 minutes in length it is pretty long but, so fast paced that the time goes by quickly. There seems to be great chemistry between all of the actors. Sterling performances are the order of the day by Flynn, MacMurray, Toomey and Bellamy as the leads. Add to that, good secondary performances by the large cast and it adds up to one fine film. The air sequences are vivid with detail and the color photography is outstanding. In a bit of irony, at one point Flynn is assigned to duty on the USS Saratoga in Pearl Harbor but his orders are changed. Since this movie was filmed and released just prior to December 7th, 1941 it seems almost clairvoyant. Lastly, I must second the comment made by another reviewer concerning a ridiculous bit of nonsense concerning the character played by Allen Jenkins as he tries to evade his wife. IMHO this bit was totally unnecessary and did nothing but detract from the story. What is really unexcusable is that they performed this bit on three occasions (talk about overkill). But, the rest of the movie was far too superb to allow this one bad bit to mar the overall enjoyment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Errol Flynn is a Navy doctor who witnesses the death of a flier and
completes a program to become a flight surgeon. The regular aviators
resent him, especially the squadron commander, Fred MacMurray. But
Flynn and his earnest colleague, Ralph Bellamy, solve one problem after
another in aviation medicine, climaxing with the successful test of a
pressure suit that costs MacMurray his life. The story, interesting as
it is, is overwhelmed by the magniloquent visual imagery. All the
flight scenes, except for a second or two, were shot in the skies over
San Diego, and they are simply gorgeous. They don't necessarily capture
the sensation of being air born, of loosing the surly bonds of earth
and all that, but the pictures are captivating.
What splashes of color! The navy blue uniforms glittering with gold, the taupe summer dress, the subfusc leather flight jackets and while silk scarves, the haricot green oxygen tubes, the maize life jackets, the cornflower blue skies and puffy bone-white cumulus formations. And the sleek airplanes themselves with their gay, pre-war paint schemes: teal blue tails, Chinese red cowlings, canary yellow wings with diagonal stripes of heliotrope, the dashing squadron insignia of fuchsia and chartreuse, and -- and -- wait. A tragedy. My thesaurus just burst its heart and died of exhaustion.
But, really, I can't think of another film that beats these scenes of obsolete airplanes on the ground and in the air. It was released in 1941 and the irony is that every airplane we see, with only three exceptions that I was able to note, were already obsolete and about to be replaced, sometimes not soon enough. The dive bombers are underpowered Vindicators. The aviators called them "wind indicators." The attractively faired torpedo planes were Devastators, many of which were lost to the Japanese. The Grumman biplane in which MacMurray makes his final dive was to be replaced by the F4F Wildcat before the first battles at sea.
The acting is professional all around. (There is an entirely adventitious semi-romance between Alexis Smith and Flynn, creating a semi-rivalry between Flynn and MacMurray -- as if one were needed.)
But the acting hardly matters. The story is interesting and the photography outstanding. Flynn never looked more handsome, MacMurray more ordinary, and Bellamy more put-upon. Unpretentious and enjoyable.
Fred MacMurray's character tells a group of cadets that they will soon realize that they will share in "making history as it is made today." Given the immediate future of the US Navy, those were prophetic words. A year after the making of this movie the US Navy was fighting for its life, at long odds, against the Japanese. This movie gives a glimpse at some of the planes that the Navy used in the early days of the war. A poignant sight is the view of the "Devastator" torpedo bomber squadron. They are the all blue planes shown early in the movie right after Errol Flynn says "those planes do something to you don't they?" In the critical battle at Midway a year later, the sadly out-of-date Devastators were almost totally wiped out in a brave but futile attack. Many of the pilots flying those Devastators in the movie must at have fallen at Midway. Errol Flynn puts his swashbuckling on ice in this movie as his character's main deeds in this movie are cerebral. The Navy's aviators and planes are the stars of this show and Flynn is more a team player in this movie than usual. The planes and pilots provide thrills enough.
Legendary Michael Curtiz directs this exciting, well paced aviation
drama about two naval officers(Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray)who put
aside their personal differences to work together conducting
experiments to understand and prevent pilots from suffering altitude
blackouts. Visually exciting pre war flick filmed at Pensacola that in
turn led to accusations that in real life Flynn aided Nazi agents.
MacMurray and Flynn have very different acting styles, but work well together...of course Flynn seems to always be the focus. Alexis Smith is the rose among the thorns so-to-speak. The cast also features: veteran actor Ralph Bellamy and Regis Toomey, Robert Armstrong and Craig Stevens. After all these years DIVE BOMBER can still hold your attention.
Seven years earlier Warner Brothers did a film called Here Comes the
Navy which launched the buddy film genre and the teaming of James
Cagney and Pat O'Brien. It was shot entirely on location at the naval
This time it's a more sophisticated story about Navy test pilots and flight surgeons trying to lick the problems of flight. Dive Bomber takes for granted the fact that very shortly the USA will be in a shooting war.
What is unusual is the reverse casting in Dive Bomber. Normally Errol Flynn would have been the test pilot and visiting from Paramount Fred MacMurray would be the doctor. My guess is that Errol probably asked Jack Warner for the change to do something a little different. Errol told many a tall tale in his memoirs, but one thing that was consistent was that he did get bored with his heroic image.
It works out fairly well for both guys. In fact later on Fred MacMurray played Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I air ace in another film and I'm sure he was cast there as a result of what he did in Dive Bomber.
Of course a lot of the film is phony. Our pilots or no one else's pilots ever used those diving suit like contraptions that Flynn and fellow doctor Ralph Bellamy designed for high altitude flying during combat. That did come post World War II however.
Nice aerial footage done in gorgeous technicolor is another positive feature of Dive Bomber. Howard Hughes couldn't have done it better.
One other thing, leading lady Alexis Smith met and married her husband Craig Stevens on the set of this film. Stevens was a contract player doing secondary roles for Warner Brothers. He would wait for stardom much later on as TV's Peter Gunn.
Dive Bomber should still have appeal for aviation fans everywhere on the planet.
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