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Some reviewers have complained that certain parts of the movie are
unbelievable--agreed. However, "A Guy Named Joe" isn't a documentary.
It's a riff on the nature of love and loss.
I've seen many Spencer Tracey movies, but none in which he is so subtle, charming, and heartbreaking. I won't give away his final line at the end, but it is a very simple line, delivered simply. But in his understated way, he encapsulates the most complex of human emotions.
Irene Dunne, a truly fine actress, is at her best here. Yes, her style does take a little getting used to for modern audiences, but she, too, has some incredibly difficult work to do in this film, and she meets the task impressively. And Van Johnson, whom I've never really given much thought, turns in a fine performance here, early in his career.
It is obvious that these three actors had a healthy rapport together. The lines of communication had to have been wide open for them to have turned in such gentle, subtly nuanced performances.
I can't say enough about this film. It may sound corny, but if you have ever loved anyone, and if you have ever lost anyone, you will immediately recognize the characters in this film. It's also worth mentioning that the screenplay contains some of the most beautiful poetic language I've ever heard in a movie. If you've never seen "A Guy Named Joe," I strongly recommend it; it will do your heart good.
As many viewers I saw "Always", actually several times, before I even
learned about "A Guy Named Joe." It is factual that the later film was a
remake of the earlier one, but being in more modern times a significant
story difference was depicted. I have no reason to compare the two against
each other, for each one is a fine film on its own.
Set in WW II England, "A Guy Named Joe" gets its title from a comment made by one of the British children waiting to talk to Pete after one of his bombing runs over Germany. He told one of the other children, "that's what all American soldiers are called, guys named Joe." There was no actual character named Joe in the film.
I had never seen Spencer Tracy in his prime, and he was quite a handsome actor. Now I understand why he was so popular. He plays Pete, the pilot who takes unapproved chances to get difficult jobs done. In "Always", Dryfuss as Pete does the same for putting out forest fires. In both films Pete dies during a heroic mission and in heaven is sent to help a novice pilot, who ends up romancing his old girlfriend, Drinda.
I understand that at least one viewer who was in WW II thinks this is not a very good or realistic film. Maybe not, but it is still entertaining, and for me interesting to see a film made the year before I was born. Worth seeking out, for anyone who also enjoyed "Always" to see where it came from. Two different films from two different times, both excellent.
This is a wonderful romantic picture set in World War II and I have to
say Spencer Tracy has almost as much chemistry with Irene Dunne as he
does with Katharine Hepburn.
During his career Spencer Tracy was basically two types of character, the cryptic tough guy adventurer and later on a wise father figure. In A Guy Named Joe his Pete Sandidge gets to be both. But he has to get killed before he morphs into his second character.
Spencer Tracy is an ace pilot who's over in the European Theatre and his girlfriend, Irene Dunne is also a pilot, a la Amelia Earhart. She's forever worried about the risks he takes and then her wishes turn into reality as he gets himself killed.
Of course he's not quite ready to enter the pearly gates. It seems as though Heaven has an Air Corps advisory program for ghosts to advise living pilots and Spence's first assignment is Van Johnson. Wouldn't you know it, Van's the guy that's getting Irene on the rebound. Tracy's not enough of a ghost yet that the old green-eyed monster isn't grabbing hold of him. So.............................
With Tracy being dead, the possibilities of endings are limited. But it's at this point that Tracy grows into the father figure character we know him better from in his later work.
Van Johnson's career got a big boost from this film. He's previously been in mostly B films, a lot of them as successor to Lew Ayres in the later in the Dr. Gillespie series. He was injured in a motorcycle accident during the shooting and Spencer Tracy threatened to walk off the picture if Van was replaced. Van healed and the film started him into the upward path of his career.
Irene Dunne who did almost as many musicals as straight drama in the 1930s got to sing in this film. That's always a plus. Here she sings a great rendition of I'll Get By which was enjoying a revival of popularity in the World War II years.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Lionel Barrymore, Ward Bond, James Gleason, Barry Nelson, and Don DeFore all performing to their usual standards of excellence.
A really great romantic film like they don't make any more.
This is one of those old-fashioned, nice stories with generally nice
people, some good lessons to be learned and some touching scenes. You
just have to go with the fantasy-type theologies, in this story dead
people coming back as angels-you-can see.
Irene Dunne never looked better, although the soft-focus lens helped her looks. She isn't beautiful but she's wholesomely pretty, and thus appealing. Spencer Tracy gives his normal strong performance but I liked supporting actor Ward Bond in here better. Tracy gives an excellent short speech at the end of this film.
The special-effects in the aviator-war scenes were not good but, hey, this film was made about 65 years ago. You could tell the planes were model airplanes on several shots.
Note: this film was re-made by Steven Spielberg 40 years later under the title "Always." That was a nice film, too, but I think I'd still take this version.
Irene Dunne is what makes any movie she is in, superb! No female actor
today, or for that matter in the 30s and 40s can compare to her
wholesomeness, versatility, and talent! This movie was a lesson in many
aspects of life. It was made during a time that these things were much
needed but we can certainly apply the same selflessness to our daily
lives today. It is funny and dramatic, fast moving and keeps your
interest. Spencer Tracy is good, so was Van Johnson in that part! Ward
Bond is always so good at anything he dose, he is such a great
SUPPORTING actor he supports and complements, he always seems to be the
character he is playing.
Yet, again I must say Irene Dunne is a Jewel, she does every character in such a believable manner you feel they could be your next door neighbor. Thank You Irene !
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two very good reasons to see this charming movie are a terrific
by Irene Dunne and the excellent interplay in the romantic relationship
between Irene Dunne & Spencer Tracy. The movie simply sparkles when these
two are on screen together. A great script by Dalton Trumbo only adds to
the rich, comedic and touching dynamic between these two fine actors.
the World War II background is not the most realistic ever filmed, it
adds to the overall story by evoking the important ways that even small
individuals were affected by and contributed to the war
Warning spoilers ahead!
The movie also showcases an uncommonly mature (for Hollywood) perspective on love as it develops between these complex, grown-up characters. Tracy genuinely evolves in a believable fashion when he comes back as an angel to advise his loved ones and the rival pilot. Dunne remains loyal to him in life and even after death, but finally honors their love by choosing not to pine away the rest of her life. Tracy is touching in their scenes together when he can't be seen by her.
Still, it's Dunne who carries this affectionate movie on her very capable shoulders with a simply wonderful, strong, funny performance as an independent woman pilot who holds her own both during the war as well as in the demanding relationship banter. She's no more willing to give up flying than is Tracy. And there's a great unexpected bonus in the ending (however much it stretches credibility) where she actually pilots the plane that blows up the ammunition dump. See this movie to enjoy Dunne and Tracy and an excellent supporting cast led by Ward Bond.
This is one of the best love stories ever. It isn't a war story, war
happens to be the setting. And I don't see how a movie can prevent nations
from winning a war. The whole fact that Spencer Tracy's character loves
Irene Dunne's so much that he will watch her marry another man is the most
amazing testimony of love. I don't know how you can watch one of the final
scenes; in which Tracy and Dunne are in the plane and he says that their
love is too good to make her unhappy; and still call "A Guy Named Joe," a
silly movie. Again, the war was simply a setting, because war in itself
isn't very interesting, it is the human experience in war which creates a
The Fact that Spielberg enjoyed and admired it so much that he remade it also says a little for the film.
"A Guy Named Joe" is a beautiful, sentimental, tear-jerker of a film
starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson, Lionel Barrymore,
Ward Bond, James Gleason, and Dom Defore. Tracy is Pete, a fighter
pilot in World War II involved with Dorinda (Dunne), a female flier.
Apparently pilots whose "number is up" emit some kind of dead man
walking spirit, because Dunne recognizes the signs and wants Pete to
return to the states with her and teach fledgling pilots. She's so
desperate that he agrees, but he's called for one last mission, and the
inevitable happens. Before he knows it, no one can see him or hear him,
he's escorted around heaven and earth by Barry Nelson, and assigned to
be an angel for a young pilot (Johnson).
For all the warmth of this film, it was fraught with problems behind the scenes. Van Johnson was in a horrid car accident before he finished filming. The actors said they wanted to wait for him rather than see him replaced. That story may or may not be true, as the scar on his forehead is only visible in a couple of scenes; there can't have been much left to film. The second problem was that Spencer Tracy kept coming on to Irene Dunne, which made her furious, and she complained to the front office. She never worked with him again, which is a pity, because they made a charismatic screen couple.
Spencer Tracy is fantastic as a cocky pilot who comes down to earth only when he dies. His scenes as he stands behind Dunne telling her what he should have said to her while alive are very tender. Dunne is excellent as always - strong yet vulnerable, and she gets to sing "I'll Get By" in her lovely soprano. Johnson, in his breakthrough role, is good-looking, boyish, and likable. One of the nicest thing about "A Guy Named Joe" is some of the lighting effects - the silhouette of Dunne as she says goodbye to Pete; the look of his plane in the distance when she first arrives - these really add to the sense of foreboding.
Strangely, when viewed today, "A Guy Named Joe" is a feminist movie in more ways than even it knew. Dunne is a female pilot and proves her mettle in a dangerous mission. But more than that, consider the fact that she becomes involved with Johnson in the film and was 18 years his senior! She was 45 when this movie was released, and Johnson was 29. The age difference is obvious. Good for her - playing a lead at that age while employed by Louis B, no less, and having a younger love interest! Mayer is the man who booted out Joan Crawford and didn't make any noise when Garbo and Shearer left.
If your eyes aren't moist at the end of "A Guy Named Joe," it'll be surprising. Much loved by Steven Spielberg (who remade it), and a lot of other people, it still touches the heart today and reinforced to wartime audiences that the spirit of their deceased ones continues on, with love the tie that binds.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For all it's reportedly Steven Spielberg's favourite Hollywood movie, I
found it rather awkward to watch and enjoy. I admire Spencer Tracy and
Irene Dunne and found them an agreeably spiky couple for the first half
hour of the film evoking memories of Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in
"Only Angels Have Wings" but from that gritty introduction to the main
characters, the film then "goes Capra" and into a strange fantasy with
Tracy winding up in heaven after a bombing mission goes wrong and then
getting the job, Clarence-style of chaperoning young buck Van Johnston
to fly in his slipstream, not only as a daring pilot but also,
eventually overcoming his inbuilt jealous reluctance, to supersede his
own place in Dunne's grieving heart.
Now I love fantasy films of this ilk, "A Matter Of Life And Death" and "It's A Wonderful Life" prominent amongst them, but here the narrative is just too fantastical and sentimental especially the coincidence of Dunne falling for Johnston, (she looks old enough to be his mother), Tracy getting the job of being Johnston's guardian angel and the ridiculous ending where Dunne carries out Johnson's so-called suicide mission, under Tracy's spectral, but watchful gaze and tutelage and of course defies death in the process.
These scenes and more turn the credible into the incredible and even solid acting from the leads and exciting air-sequences couldn't convince me that this belongs in the pantheon of Golden Age Hollywood classics.
Sorry Mr Spielberg...
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