A dead World War II bomber pilot named Pete Sandidge, becomes the guardian angel of another pilot, Ted Randall. He guides Ted through battle and helping him to romance his old girlfriend, despite her excessive devotion to Sandidge's memory.
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Maj. Pete Sandidge is a very able pilot who seems to have a streak of luck as far as flying goes. World War II is raging and Pete has come out of it pretty so far. He even has a beautiful girlfriend Dorinda Durston, herself a qualified pilot who ferries aircraft to different bases. When Pete is killed however, he finds himself in heaven and learns that every pilot has a guardian angel. He returns to Earth where, unseen by anyone, he coaches a pilot-in-training Ted Randall. Ted is a pretty good kid and is coming along nicely but when he's shipped to New Guinea he runs into Dorinda who has remained faithful to her lost love. As Ted pursues her, Pete will have to decide what he wants to do about it.Written by
"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.
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