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Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air (1942)

Approved | | Drama, Romance, War | 20 November 1942 (USA)
A veteran American flyer trains new recruits, including the acrophobic son of his dead war buddy. Complications arise when the younger man falls in love with his mentor's girl.


William A. Wellman


Lamar Trotti (screenplay), Darryl F. Zanuck (original story) (as Melville Crossman)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Gene Tierney ... Kay Saunders
Preston Foster ... Steve Britt
John Sutton ... Peter Stackhouse
Jack Holt ... Colonel MacDonald
May Whitty ... Lady Jane Stackhouse (as Dame May Whitty)
George Barbier ... Col. Cyrus P. 'Gramps' Saunders
Richard Haydn ... George Lockwood
Reginald Denny ... Barrett
Ted North ... Cadet Hackzell
Janis Carter ... Blonde Red Cross Nurse Trainee
C. Montague Shaw ... Doctor
Viola Moore Viola Moore ... Nurse
Nana Bryant ... Mrs. Blake
Joyce Compton ... Saleswoman
Bess Flowers ... Nurse


Technicolor tale of honor and romance. This drama from 1942 was directed by Oscar-winner William A. Wellman, and features stunning aerial photography, that was highly advanced for the time. John Sutton stars as Peter Stackhouse, a British aviophobe who is nonetheless determined to become a pilot. Stackhouse's resolution comes from his desire to serve his country, and his strength is recognized by Steve Britt (Preston Foster), who becomes his patient teacher. The two men's bond is tested, however, when they both fall for the same girl (Gene Tierney). Written by R. Alberts

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


For two pilots, one woman became a conflict of interest.


Drama | Romance | War


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

20 November 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Tommy in the U.S.A. See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film takes place entirely in Arizona, but the theme running throughout the movie, including the party scene, is the song "Deep in the Heart of Texas." See more »


Peter Stackhouse: I hope you're not angry?
Kay Saunders: That you were interested in my legs? Why not at all. That's what they're there for.
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Deep in the Heart of Texas
Lyrics by June Hershey
Music by Don Swander
Played when Steve tells Gramps he's going to be living right next door
Played often in the score
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The training at Thunderbird Field
20 May 2015 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

When William Wellman does a film about his favorite subject aviation you can always be sure that the flying sequences will be among the best ever done in a given era. Wellman who was a member of the famed Lafayette Escadrille in World War I made all his aviation pictures with precision, care, and love. Thunder Birds: Soldiers Of The Air is no exception.

Old World War I ace Preston Foster is to old for combat in this new World War, but he volunteers to be a civilian instructor at ThunderBird Field in Arizona for a new generation of fliers. The head of the base Jack Holt assigns Foster to Reginald Denny's British air cadets doing their training for the RAF in America. One of them is John Sutton who is the son of a British ace from the last war and a friend of Foster's who was killed.

It doesn't look like Sutton has the right stuff and that's the considered opinion of all save Foster. Sutton does have some issues but he's determined to carry on in the family aviation tradition even though his original training is for the medical corps. His brother was killed on a bombing run into Europe and Sutton feels this is what he must do.

Complicating things is the fact that both Foster and Sutton fall for Gene Tierney. Still Foster keeps his job and love life separate, but he's old enough and wise enough to keep it apart.

Darryl Zanuck splurged for color on this film, not something normally done in the wartime cinema. It always seemed that Fox did use color more than any other of the major studios. It certainly adds to Bill Wellman's aviation sequences. Look fast and you'll see Peter Lawford as one of the British cadets. And in a flashback sequence as Sutton's grandmother Dame May Witty borrows a bit from her character from Mrs. Miniver and shows she hasn't lost any of the right stuff herself.

Aviation buffs will love Thunder Birds: Soldiers Of The Air. The rest of us will find it more than acceptable.

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