Dead World War II bomber pilot, Maj. Pete Sandidge, becomes guardian angel to another pilot, Capt. Ted Randall, guiding Ted through battle and helping him to romance his old girlfriend, despite her excessive devotion to Sandidge's memory.
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Maj. Pete Sandidge is a very able pilot who seems to have a streak of luck as far as flying goes. World War II is raging and Pete has come out of it pretty so far. He even has a beautiful girlfriend Dorinda Durston, herself a qualified pilot who ferries aircraft to different bases. When Pete is killed however, he finds himself in heaven and learns that every pilot has a guardian angel. He returns to Earth where, unseen by anyone, he coaches a pilot-in-training Ted Randall. Ted is a pretty good kid and is coming along nicely but when he's shipped to New Guinea he runs into Dorinda who has remained faithful to her lost love. As Ted pursues her, Pete will have to decide what he wants to do about it. Written by
The question that faces (or scares) Americans ever since the debacle of Vietnam is: is patriotism dead here. Because of that national nightmare we have questioned every government foreign policy ever since. Naturally we should question them, but it sometimes seems that our questioning causes a national paralysis of will. Time will tell (and shortly) if the Iraqi - Afghani incursions will add to this paralysis.
It was not the case in 1943, when A GUY NAMED JOE was made by MGM. The film is about a hot shot air force pilot (Spencer Tracy) who is in a squadron commanded by James Gleason. Although they have a friendship, Gleason is constantly having problems about Tracy's independence from rules. Frequently they pay off in damaging the enemy, but they break safety rules. Gleason also sympathizes with Tracy's girlfriend (Irene Dunne) who wants Tracy to take a quieter job (like training fliers in the states). Just when Tracy is about to take such a job, he goes on a mission, and his plane is hit. After the crew bails out, Tracy (instead of ditching) flies the plane kamikaze style into a German aircraft carrier and sinks it (but he dies).
In the afterlife, Tracy is taken under the wing of the "General" (Lionel Barrymore), and is assigned to act like a conscience or guide to budding air force pilots. He is assigned to Van Johnson, and helps him get more confidence. Johnson is assigned to a war theater where Gleason's command is, and where Dunne is. Dunne is mourning Tracy, but their closest mutual friend (Ward Bond) gets her to go out to enjoy herself. She meets Johnson, and an affair begins. Tracy gets jealous as a result.
The film follows as Tracy and Dunne finally accept the truth about the ending of their physical contact. It moves to the point of tragedy here when Tracy finally releases Dunne from the harshness of the emotional chains that bind them, and that lead Dunne to do something atypical and foolhardy for the intelligent person she supposedly is. In the end she and Johnson find a new happiness together, while Tracy goes to his next "angel" assignment.
Fantasy is usually tied to one set of ideas or theme, but what is good World War II American propaganda became a study in tragic resignation. Fortunately the acting level of A GUY NAMED JOE was so high, that the fantasy transcended the historical period film and left us with a film of emotional loss and rebuilding. As such it is a fine movie.
One final point, on a historical level. Who is Lionel Barrymore supposed to be? He is only referred to as "the General" and he died before the war. He is highly respected as a great air figure. Tracy quickly recognizes him, and tells Barry Nelson he wanted to take him up in one of the new aircraft that had been built. So who is Barrymore supposedly?
The key is the model airplane on Barrymore's desk. It is a model of a Martin Bomber. That was the plane used in 1921 to sink two battleships in Chesapeake Bay, and to prove the theories of an air power pioneer that the future of warfare was not with dreadnoughts but with air planes. The "General" is supposed to be Brigadier General Billy Mitchell.
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