Errol Flynn was criticized for playing heroes in World War II movies. Tony Thomas in his book 'Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was' states that Flynn had tried to enlist in every branch of any armed services he could but was rejected as unfit for service on the grounds of his health. Flynn had a heart condition, tuberculosis, malaria and a back problem. Flynn felt he could contribute to America's war effort by appearing in such films as Edge of Darkness (1943); Northern Pursuit (1943); Dive Bomber (1941), Objective, Burma! (1945), and Uncertain Glory (1944). Reportedly, Flynn was at his most professional and co-operative he ever was whilst working on Second World War movies. The studios apparently did not diffuse the criticism of Flynn's state-of-health as they wished to keep it quiet for fear of his box-office draw waning.
One of the pilots who flew the planes in the film footage was Navy Lt. Edward "Butch" O'Hare. O'Hare served as a fighter pilot in the Pacific and shot down five Japanese planes in his first battle, earning ace status and the Medal of Honor. O'Hare would go on to down 12 planes total and become one of the top heroes of the war before he was killed in action off the Gilbert Islands in November, 1943. O'Hare International Airport in Chicago was later named for him.
It was of interest that Lt. Douglas Lee's log book lists his first flying lesson as 12/7 (1941), an incredibly prophetic selection of a date. That of course was the same day as the "day of infamy" when Japanese planes descended with such ferocity on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor. The movie had been released months prior to that, in August 1941.
The carrier U.S.S. Enterprise was used in the film while docked in San Diego. The Enterprise would go on and become one of the most famous ships in history for the battles she took part in during World War II.
According to the book 'When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II' by Bruce Orriss, when the movie was released, the Navy Department provided the new Douglas dive bomber to be displayed in principal cities, and set up recruiting booths by the theaters.
The first feature film to contain sequences photographed on 35mm color negative film, in this case Technicolor Monopack used for the aerial sequences. Previous color features used black and white negative film photographed behind color filters. Technicolor Monopack could be used in a standard 35mm camera instead of the bulky 3-strip Technicolor cameras.
This movie primarily shows the planes of the USS Enterprise's Air Group 6 and the USS Saratoga's Air Group 3. The Big E and her air group fought at Midway, as did the Sara's Bombing 3 and Torpedo 3 squadrons (on the USS Yorktown as the Sara was undergoing torpedo damage repair). Neither air group was still using the Vindicator dive bomber, but both air groups were still using the Devastator torpedo plane. Torpedo 6 and Torpedo 3 lost most of their Devastators (while the USS Hornet lost all of her Torpedo 8). Most of the Devastators you see in the film were going to be lost a year later, but the pilots of the Vindicators in the movie were to going to sink the Japanese carriers.
The movie clearly shows frequent examples of Navy aviation greens, a traditional working uniform authorized for Naval aviation personnel only. Worn with brown shoes, it's the derivative of the terms "Brown shoes" (for Navy aviation personnel) and "Black shoes" for all other Navy personnel. Whereas the uniform is being phased out, it still is worn on occasion.
In early 1941 the carrier USS Saratoga was undergoing maintenance and overhaul. Her air group 3 with their white tails was temporarily transferred to the USS Enterprise. It looks like most of the Big E's air group 6 had been repainted light gray, but you can see a few Grumman F3F biplanes with blue tails. At the end of the movie, Errol Flynn places a plaque on what is supposed to be Fred MacMurray's Air Group 3 dive bomber, but it is a red tailed plane from the USS Yorktown's Air Group 5. The movie treats the Devastator torpedo planes as if they were Vindicator dive bombers. It works as the two planes look somewhat similar and had similar color schemes.
The airfield is right next to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, you can see the barracks and the "grinder" in some of the shots. The site of Dutch Flats is on the other side of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and was named Lindberg Field - San Diego Municipal Airport.
According to the book 'The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz' by James C. Robertson, this movie was one of the Warner Brothers studio's biggest box-office hits of 1941 and the film made a profit of more than $(US) 1 million.
In Russia, Leningrad engineer Yevgeny Chertovsky designed the first full pressure suit in 1931. In 1933, American Mark Ridge and Scottish physiologist John Scott Haldane built a prototype suit with the assistance of Robert Henry Davis of Siebe Gorman, the inventor of the Davis Escape Set. The suit was tested in a low-pressure chamber to a simulated altitude of 50,000 feet. In 1934, aviator Wiley Post, assisted by Russell S. Colley of the B.F. Goodrich Company, manufactured a practical pressure suit. Post tested the suit at an altitude of 40,000 feet above Chicago and later he reached 50,000 feet. In 1936, Squadron Leader F.R.D. Swain of the Royal Air Force flew a Bristol Type 138 airplane at 49,967 feet wearing a similar suit. In 1937, Italian aviator Mario Pezzi flew in a high-altitude pressure suit. No effective fully mobile pressure suits were produced in World War Two. The research, however, provided the basis for post-World-War-Two development.
This movie functions somewhat as an historical record of the US Navy aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise during World War II, according to the article "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies" by Jack Hardwick and Ed Schnepf in the book 'The Making of the Great Aviation Films'.
According to unproven and heavily disputed allegations in Charles Higham's biography "Errol Flynn: The Untold Story", and an April 2000 "New Statesman" article, "The Missing Errol Flynn File," Errol Flynn functioned as a German agent during the time he was in San Diego and Hawaii during the shooting of this picture, and his Pearl Harbor pictures were passed along to Fascist agents.
It is ironic that this movie, which celebrated US Navy air power in mid-1941 would feature airplanes which were already obsolescent at the time, and would prove to be thoroughly outclassed less than a year later during the June 1942 Battle of Midway. The Japanese decimated the Vought SB2U Vindicator dive-bombers and Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo planes and the Brewster F2A Buffalo fighters had already been "pawned off" on the British, who needed any type of available planes to fight the Germans and Italians. The British quickly discovered what a poor performers the Brewster Buffaloes really were. The "star" of the Battle of Midway was the Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers, which weren't even shown, although its progenitor, the Northrop BT-1 was featured at the very end of the movie.