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Flying Leathernecks (1951)

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Major Kirby leads The Wildcats squadron into the historic WWII battle of Guadalcanal.

Director:

Nicholas Ray

Writers:

James Edward Grant (screenplay), Kenneth Gamet (story)
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
John Wayne ... Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby
Robert Ryan ... Capt. Carl 'Griff' Griffin
Don Taylor ... Lt. Vern 'Cowboy' Blithe
Janis Carter ... Joan Kirby
Jay C. Flippen ... MSgt. Clancy, Line Chief
William Harrigan ... Dr. Lt.Cdr. Joe Curran
James Bell ... Colonel
Barry Kelley ... Brigadier General
Maurice Jara Maurice Jara ... Shorty Vegay
Adam Williams ... Lt. Bert Malotke
James Dobson James Dobson ... Lt. Pudge McCabe
Carleton Young ... Col. Riley
Michael St. Angel ... Capt. Harold Jorgensen, Ops. Officer (as Steve Flagg)
Brett King Brett King ... 1st Lt. Ernie Stark
Gordon Gebert Gordon Gebert ... Tommy Kirby
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Storyline

Major Daniel Kirby takes command of a squadron of Marine fliers just before they are about to go into combat. While the men are well meaning, he finds them undisciplined and prone to always finding excuses to do what is easy rather than what is necessary. The root of the problem is the second in command, Capt. Carl 'Griff' Griffin. Griff is the best flier in the group but Kirby finds him a poor commander who is not prepared to the difficult decision that all commanders have to make - to put men in harm's way knowing that they may be killed. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

From Guadalcanal to Okinawa...the Marine air-devils blazed a trail of glory...while the women they left behind fought battles of their own! (1956 reissue poster) See more »

Genres:

Action | Drama | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

28 August 1951 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Devil Dogs of the Air See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Color:

Color (archive footage)| Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

John Wayne's character in this movie, Major Daniel Xavier Kirby, was based on Captain John Lucian Smith, USMC Ace who was Commanding Officer in the Marine Fighting Squadron 223 at Guadalcanal in 1942 during World War II. Smith was a Medal of Honor recipient in 1943 and a leader of the "Cactus" Air Force. Smith, a wildcat fighter pilot, shot down nineteen Japanese airplanes over Guadalcanal in 1942. Smith's achievements and commendations were well known to the public prior to this film being made. Smith was eventually promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and likewise, Wayne's Kirby character is also promoted to the same rank in this movie. Moreover, there is also a physical likeness and resemblance between Wayne and Smith. See more »

Goofs

Wires used to pull the canopy away are visible when Cowboy bails out over point Zebra. See more »

Quotes

Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby: Come on Wildcats, make us proud today!
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Charade (1984) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Not one of Ray's Masterpieces, but a potent character drama
19 July 2004 | by jjulian1009See all my reviews

I saw this overlooked Nicolas Ray film for the first time this week and was surprised by the director's ability to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear within the tight limitations of the post WWII propaganda war genre. Of course, the jingoism, the low budget fx and the formula finishing lines are dated and tedious, but the core of the film is the fascinating relationship between Wayne, as the tough Major with a good heart, and Robert Ryan as his compassionate second-in-command with a tough mind. If you zapped past the battle and home front scenes, you would have a highly charged exploration of male-bonding issues. As well, the film seems to be covertly raising questions which go as far back in our literature as ancient Greece when officers initiated their men into rites of passage. The intensely rich Technicolor and the interior tent sets evoke a crucible environment which powerfully thrusts along the character development. Ray draws from Ryan a brilliant portrayal and from Wayne a solid effort that seems to prepare him for his splendid characterization in a similar conflicted relationship with Maureen O'Hara for his very next film, John Ford's "The Quiet Man", for which Wayne got an Oscar nomination in 1952.

"Flying Leathernecks" has the virtue of a director taking on a run of the mill commercial film project, infusing it with his idiosyncratic style and providing the audience with some thematic depth and many fine moments. The most interesting example for me is a scene two-thirds into the film when John Wayne receives orders to depart immediately for another assignment and seeks to explain to Robert Ryan why the command of the squadron will be passed to another officer and Ryan not promoted into the job. Instead of an explosive argument, the conflict is conveyed mainly through non-verbal signals that each man is unable or unwilling to read from the other. A frustrated Wayne finally shrugs his shoulders and strides out of the tent while a tight-jawed Ryan keeps his backed turned away from him. Fortunately, there are enough of such involving scenes to make this a worthwhile film, even though this is not in the same league as Ray's great ones like "Rebel Without a Cause".


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