Buzz Rickson is a dare-devil World War II bomber pilot with a death wish. Failing at everything not involving flying, Rickson lives for the most dangerous missions. His crew lives with this... See full summary »
Buzz Rickson is a dare-devil World War II bomber pilot with a death wish. Failing at everything not involving flying, Rickson lives for the most dangerous missions. His crew lives with this aspect of his personality only because they know he always brings them back alive. Written by
KC Hunt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
More Gripping as a Human Drama than as a War Story
Unlike a number of those who have reviewed this film, I have never read John Hersey's novel. (Indeed, I only knew Hersey as the author of "Hiroshima" and did not realise that he was also a novelist). I caught it by chance because it was on television when I took a day off work last week, and decided to watch because it was a Steve McQueen film I had not seen before or even heard of. (McQueen is one of my favourite actors).
The use of black-and-white film in the cinema survived for rather longer in Britain than it did in America, largely because colour television did not arrive in Britain until the end of the sixties, several years after it came to America. I have heard it suggested that "The War Lover" was made in black-and-white to allow the filmmakers to insert actual newsreel footage rather than recreating aerial dogfights as was done in a number of later films. The use of monochrome, however, is also a clue to the filmmakers' intentions. Even in Britain it would have been unusual for an action-adventure film to be made in black-and-white in the early sixties, and "The War Lover", although it is set against the background of the World War Two Allied bombing campaign against Germany, is not really an action picture along the lines of, say, "The Guns of Navarone" or "Where Eagles Dare". The aerial combat scenes, even if they are genuine, are less thrilling than those in later films such as "The Battle of Britain" or "Memphis Belle", or even an earlier one such as "The Dambusters". "The War Lover" is really a character study, a human drama of the sort for which the British cinema was still routinely using black-and-white at this period.
Although the film was made in Britain by a British director, it is about the US Army Air Force rather than the RAF and the two leading roles are played by American actors. McQueen plays bomber pilot Captain Buzz Rickson, the "War Lover" of the title. Rickson is a brilliant pilot but is regarded with suspicion by his superiors because of his arrogant, insubordinate attitude. On one raid against the German submarine base at Kiel he blatantly disregards orders to abandon the mission because of bad weather, leads the aircraft under his command through a gap in the clouds, and succeeds in hitting the target. The men under his command, especially his co-pilot Lieutenant Ed Bolland, have mixed feelings about him.
Bolland, played by Robert Wagner, is the other main character in the drama. Unlike Rickson, he is the conformist, by-the-book, type of officer. He has an idealistic belief in the rightness of the Allied cause, which means that he hates war but loves what he is fighting for. He suspects, however, that Rickson is indifferent to the cause he is fighting for but comes dangerously close to loving war for its own sake. Nevertheless, he chooses to carry on flying with Rickson, whose flying skills he admires, even giving up the chance of promotion when he is offered command of his own plane. (To complicate matters still further, both men are in love with the same girl, Daphne). The difference between the two men's characters is best summed up by the exchange between them when Rickson accuses Bolland of being afraid to die. Bolland admits that he is, but counters that Rickson is afraid to live.
What gives this film its force is not so much the changing fortunes of war but rather the changing dynamics of the triangular relationship between Rickson, Bolland and Daphne. Daphne is played by the lovely Shirley Anne Field, who was one of the rising stars of the British cinema in the late fifties and early sixties but seemed to fade away later. Perhaps this was because the British cinema itself seemed to be fading away in the seventies, and because she never really adapted to Hollywood. Incidentally, her cut-glass accent, which one reviewer took exception to, would have been historically correct for an upper-class young woman in the forties. (I was also interested to see a young Michael Crawford as an American flyer). McQueen is particularly good as Rickson, one of his few unsympathetic roles but also one of his best. (In later films McQueen generally managed to keep the audience's sympathy, even when his character was on the wrong side of the law, as in "The Thomas Crown Affair"). McQueen receives good support from Wagner and Field, and while "The War Lover" may not be a particularly gripping war adventure (except perhaps for its tragic climax), it is certainly gripping when seen as a human drama. 7/10
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