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Men of the Fighting Lady (1954)

Approved | | Drama, War | 16 December 1954 (Portugal)
A famous writer visits an aircraft carrier during the Korean war to learn more about it and the way it's run. He also gets to find out more about the Navy and Marine aviators themselves, their internal and external conflicts and dangers of their job.



(story "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea"), (story "The Case of the Blind Pilot") (as Commander Harry A. Burns USN) | 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
Lt. (jg) Howard Thayer
Comdr. Kent Dowling
James A. Michener
Ensign Kenneth Schechter
Lt. Comdr. Ted Dodson
Lt. Comdr. Paul Grayson
Ensign Neil Conovan
Lt. (jg) Andrew Szymanski
Lewis Martin ...
Comdr. Michael Coughlin
George Cooper ...
Cyril Roberts
Lt. Wayne Kimbrell


A famous writer visits an aircraft carrier during the Korean war to learn more about it and the way it's run. He also gets to find out more about the Navy and Marine aviators themselves, their internal and external conflicts and dangers of their job.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


TORN OUT OF A TORTURED SKY! (original print ad - all caps) See more »


Drama | War


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

16 December 1954 (Portugal)  »

Also Known As:

Panther Squadron  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.75 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The scene where Keenan Wynn's character is killed in a crash landing on the carrier, the footage is the actual accident of a F9F during one of its early test flights. On June 23, 1951, pilot George Duncan hit an air pocket just before landing on the USS Midway. The pocket dropped the plane but he managed to keep the nose up at the time of impact, severing the plane and expelling the plane's cockpit onto the carrier deck as a fireball erupted behind him. Except for burning his ears, Duncan survived the crash. See more »


When the squadron leader ejects early in the movie, the scene switches to a slow motion shot of an actual ejection. The plane is all silver and most definitely not a black F9F Navy Panther jet. See more »


Comdr. Kent Dowling: [Greeting visiting author James Michener] You know, until I read your book "Tales of the South Pacific", I didn't know what a wonderful time I had in World War Two.
James A. Michener: Neither did I until Rodgers and Hammerstein set it to music.
Comdr. Kent Dowling: Why didn't you stop while you were ahead? Even Shakespeare couldn't make this dirty little war romantic.
See more »


Featured in The Hunt for Red October (1990) See more »


Wings of Gold
Music by Joseph F. Hewitt and Guy E. Wyatt
See more »

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User Reviews

Men of the Fighting Lady
12 March 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY is a very unglamorous, but very gritty Korean War aircraft carrier picture whose centerpiece--the episode of a jet fighter pilot blinded by gunfire and "talked" back to a safe landing--is a true account from a story by Harry A. Burns titled "The Case of the Blind Pilot." The secondary script source for the story line is author James Michener (TALES OF THE SOUTH SEAS, HAWAII, THE SOURCE) who is actually portrayed in the film by Louis Calhern.

The lives of jet fighter pilots aboard the Fighting Lady in the Sea of Japan and their treacherous missions to destroy key North Korean military installations serve as the exposition for this slice-of-life, often neglected chapter in American war history. The mood and atmosphere of the film contain an unmistakable Korean War grimness that clouds over the men from beginning to end as they cut through the harsh North Korean skies battling ceaseless anti-aircraft fire in mission after mission.

MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY is unromantic and raw. It's theme is the harsh, day-to-day experience of jet pilots who flew their missions under the gloom of being shot out of the air. For it is well worth remembering that unlike Viet Nam and subsequent Iraq wars, Korean War bombing missions exposed pilots to blistering anti-aircraft fire and attacking enemy aircraft resulting in numerous pilot casualties and downed planes. Not to be forgotten is that the Korean War was the first, full-blown "jet aircraft war" in history.

The opening of the film begins with a nostalgic flashback over "ham and eggs" recalled by Louie Calhern who recalls the episodes aboard the Fighting Lady and the lives of heroic pilots during the Korean War conflict. The lives of the men and their interaction with their commanders lead to the film's signal sequence in which Ensign Kenneth Schecter (Dewey Martin) is strafed by enemy fire in his cockpit while on a mission and radios back that he is blind. Lt Thayer (Van Johnson) calms him and ultimately talks him back to a perfect landing aboard the Fighting Lady. In another moving scene at Christmas, the entire squadron watches movie footage of a pilot's wife sending her love to her husband---who had just lost his life on a mission.

Frank Lovejoy and Walter Pigeon are perfect fits as salty naval officers bearing up under the harsh war conditions in the Sea of Japan at that time. Former MGM musical comedy star Van Johnson is excellent as Lt. Thayer guiding the sightless ensign back in safely to the carrier deck. A young Kennan Wynn portrays the anxiety of a flight deck signalman very effectively.

There may have been better Korean War films--BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI, PORK CHOP HILL, RETREAT, HELL, but many of those fine films are packaged within romantic portrayals of war. MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY has no romantic sub-plot, no love story, and, in short, no women. The film is superior in its depiction of the reality of a jet pilot's life walking the thin line between returning from a mission in one piece and facing annihilation. MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY also contains effective and very real stock footage of jet take-offs and landings as well as North Korean targets under actual cannon fire from American sorties.

MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY should be viewed by anyone interested in the true mood and atmosphere of the Korean War years when a jet pilot faced demise on every mission--and for the time in our nation's history when Starfighters and Scorpian jets ruled the skies over the Sea of Japan.

Trivia: MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY should not be confused with the 1944 release THE FIGHTING LADY starring Charles Boyer and Robert Taylor. That film follows the exploits of the USS Yorktown.

Dennis Caracciolo

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