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This short, winner of an Oscar, recreates the heroic actions of an Army Air Corp crew, focusing on the pilot, Hewitt T. "Shorty" Wheliss. This was used as a pitch for war bonds and stamps. It's very well done and deservedly won. Contemporary viewers will be interested in the narrator, one Ronald Reagan. A side note: playing a cowboy is an actor named Glenn Strange, who is best known to many as Sam the bartender of the Longbranch Saloon on "Gunsmoke" and also did a turn as Frankenstein's creation, one of many to follow Boris Karloff. Turner Classic Movies runs this as filler now and again and invariably runs it in March as part of its "31 Days of Oscar" setup. Recommended.
If you remember in the Clint Eastwood film Flags Of Our Fathers the
three survivors from that famous Iwo Jima photograph were taken from
combat and put on a bond tour to sell war bonds and to make various
other morale boosting public appearance endeavors. This film is another
of those endeavors and in this case about an Army Air Force pilot.
With Ronald Reagan narrating, recent war hero Captain Hewitt T. Wheless who before the war was a young kid working on a ranch during his summers in Texas to pay for school, signs up for the Army Air Corps. The film we see is a dramatization of his story with Wheless playing himself from his days on the ranch, through his training and a description of the mission when he tangled with a squadron of Japanese planes in a running dogfight and a crash landing. He got the Distinguished Service Cross for this action.
Besides Clint Eastwood's film another things came to my mind in watching the film. First the narration of the film was taken over by President Roosevelt himself in one of his fireside chats where he describes Wheless's action. FDR did another such broadcast and that night one of his listeners was Cecil B. DeMille who heard the story of a Navy doctor named Corydon Wassell and who then proceeded to do a film version of his story with Gary Cooper.
Wheless was admittedly no actor and was probably more nervous playing himself than in combat. He was a short man and he reminded of another short Texas hero from World War II, Audie Murphy.
The film while nothing great cinematically is still a reminder of times when America really looked up to its war heroes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Probably the most amazing thing about this short subject is the idea
that aviators during World War II were recruited simply by responding
to a radio message to come and join the cause. That's how Captain
Hewitt T. Wheless answered the call, leaving life on a cattle ranch for
the wild blue yonder. By the way, the fellow Wheless made the bet with
was portrayed by veteran character actor Glenn Strange, who's face
you've probably seen more than any other if you're a Western movie and
The picture gives you a quick glimpse of a pilot's training and eventual assignment as a combat pilot or instructor, both valued equally in terms of contribution to the war effort. In the case of Wheless, an assignment in the Foreign Service brought him first to Honolulu, and then the Phillipines in service to his country. The mission for which Wheless earned a Distinguished Service Cross is dramatized for the viewer, one in which he was temporarily separated from his flying unit and suddenly thrust into a dogfight with eighteen Japanes Zero's. I tried to imagine what must have been going through the minds of Wheless and his crew, and was left with a stunning admiration for his achievement.
The other interesting takeaway from the clip involved the training techniques used as far back as the 1940's. There in full view were an oxygen pressure tank unit to ready the pilots for high altitude flying, and a blind flight simulator demonstration to ready the men for their combat missions.
The best part of all this is that Captain Wheless portrays himself in the short, much as war hero Audie Murphy did in the film "To Hell and Back". These shorts were very much a part of the effort during World War II, with a call to support the troops via the purchase of War Stamps and Bonds.
In the early days of the US involvement in WWII, things were amazingly
grim. Over a period of several weeks, they not only were attacked at
Pearl Harbor but lost battle after battle throughout the Pacific.
Because of this, the government wanted a hero...someone who they could
believe in and convince them that the war was winnable. That hero was
Captain Hewitt Wheless...a man who was given the Distinguished Service
Cross after somehow landing his badly battered B-17 bomber after a
bombing run gone awry. In this film, Warner Brothers studio increased
the public's awareness of Hewitt by featuring him in this short film
about his life and military career.
The film follows Hewitt from his joining the Army Air Corps just before WWII and shows him working his way towards winning his wings. Then the film re-creates the bombing run. Now here is where things go somewhat wonky for folks like me who know WWII aircraft....and are obsessive about it. The attack is somewhat sloppy as instead of using planes that looked like the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, they used a wide variety of planes---including quite a few German Stuka dive bombers. To the non-plane enthusiast, it would be like substituting a VW Bug for a Ford Mustang...very obvious and sloppy. Still, despite the technical problems, it IS an interesting and true story and is worth seeing.
By the way, Hewitt remained in the service and eventually became the head of the Strategic Air Command.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . says a chick listening to President Franklin Roosevelt himself extolling her high school classmate Hewitt Wheless on the soda counter's radio in this Warners Bros. recruiting short from 1942. "Shorty," as Wheless was aptly nicknamed, plays himself here, taking 22 minutes to "recreate" his career from schoolboy to war hero. Since his one-time date is uncredited, it is impossible to know if she also played herself, or what base he got to. Narrated by Ronald Reagan (back in the days when he was a loyal Democrat and had not defected to the Dark Side), this film is one of Hollywood's few collaborations in which two or more past, present, or future Commanders-in-Chief knowingly participated. (Though FDR's audio is from his April 28, 1942 "Fireside Chat," he gave permission for it to be reused for this Nov. 7 release later that year.) Wheless himself rose to the rank of a three-star general, and is buried in Section 30 of Arlington National Cemetry.
A Warner Brothers Short Subject.
Hewitt T. Wheless, a young Army Air Corps pilot, acts BEYOND THE LINE OF DUTY in returning his badly damaged Flying Fortress safely to base during the Japanese attack upon the Philippines.
Wheless, a former Texas cowboy, plays himself in this excellent little film, which was awarded the Oscar for Best Two-Reel Short Subject of 1942. Without a wasted moment or unnecessary scene, it shows how he had all the right stuff' to become one of the first of America's combat heroes of World War Two.
When this Short was released in November of 1942, Captain Wheless was 29 years old. When he retired in 1968, he was the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Lieutenant General Wheless died on September 7, 1986, at the age of 72, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who narrated BEYOND THE LINE OF DUTY 44 years earlier.
After Pearl Harbor, Hollywood went to war totally against the Axis. Not only did many of the stars join up or do home front service, but the output of the Studios was largely turned to the war effort. The newsreels, of course, brought the latest war news into the neighborhood theater every week. The features showcased battle stories or war related themes. Even the short subjects & cartoons were used as a quick means of spreading Allied propaganda, the boosting of morale or information dissemination. Together, Uncle Sam, the American People & Hollywood proved to be an unbeatable combination.
Beyond the Line of Duty (1942)
*** (out of 4)
Lewis Seiler Oscar-winning short about the career of Hewitt T. Wheless, a simple man working on a ranch who got the urge to join the Air Force and he soon found himself flying important missions during WW2. There's no doubt that this film was made to inspire other young men to join the forces and help fight WW2 so the preaching that happens throughout is understandable considering what the country was going through and what the goal of this short was. Wheless actually does a pretty good job at playing himself and he comes across as a very likable guy and someone whose story is interesting enough to make for a good film. Ronald Reagan narrates this short and an interesting twist is that he was President when Wheless would die in real life. In terms of technical achievement this film doesn't offer too much but it's still very entertaining and shows us a part of history. Look quickly for Glenn Strange playing a cowboy.
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