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Flying Tigers (1942)

Flying Tigers is significant as Wayne's first appearance in a war film. Republic's tribute to an American volunteer group of flyers fighting for the Chinese against the Japanese invaders, it is also less obviously that studio's tribute to the artistry of director Howard Hawks in making Only Angels Have Wings (1939) about a group of mail pilots in South America. Here again, for those who missed the original, is the pilot with the failing eyesight (formerly Thomas Mitchell, here Paul Kelly) who refuses to be grounded and dies in the air; here also is the pilot with a blot on his record, desperate for another chance despite the contempt he will have to endure (formerly Richard Barthelmess, now Edmund MacDonald); here again is John Carroll, a member of the Hawks flying team this time promoted to co-star billing; and here is Wayne in the Cary Grant role as the sensitive commander who nurses his men through as best he can and mournfully surveys their belongings after they've cashed their chips.

There are moments that Wayne does very well: an effective scene expressing bitter regret to himself for having allowed a young kid to fly to his death ("Should have stayed in college where he came from. But he begged for a chance - and I gave it to him!"). There is some tender romance with Wayne trading memories of back home, San Francisco, with those of Anna Lee as the Red Cross worker who remembers the steaks she ate in London. But John Carroll has the more colorful role as Woody Jason, the new flyer with a reckless, devil-may-care attitude, eager to get the $500 reward for every enemy plane knocked out of the sky. His disregard of orders enables Paul Kelly's Hap to take off in his place and die in action. This and the shocking news from Pearl Harbor straighten Woody out and he sneaks aboard a transport plane that Wayne is flying alone because his mission - to bomb a Japanese supply train - is so hazardous. Wayne recognizes that Woody has now matured and lets him stay on board to drop the bombs. The plane is hit during the attack and Wayne decides they should both bail out but Woody stays behind to crash the aircraft into the train, the final atonement for his past mistakes.

Though one has to recall the propaganda motive behind the making of such films, Flying Tigers seems rather nauseating now in the way it relishes huge close-ups of enemy pilots with blood streaming from their mouths as they enter their last dives. The film makes a point of spelling out the nature of Japanese atrocities towards their prisoners, and the cockpit close-ups of Wayne's intently narrowed eyes zeroing in for the kill must have presented a reassuring picture of American determination in those worrying times.


Jim Gordon John Wayne
Brooke Elliot Anna Lee
Woody Jason John Carroll
Hap Davis Paul Kelly
Alabama Smith Gordon Jones
Verna Bates Mae Clarke
Blackie Bates Edmund MacDonald
Col. Lindsay Addison Richards
Dale Bill Shirley
Reardon Tom Neal
McIntosh James Dodd
Tex Norton Gregg Barton
Selby John James
Mike Chester Gan
Lt. Barton David Bruce
McCurdy Malcolm McTaggert
Barratt (New Flyer) Tom Seidel
Doctor Richard Loo
Jim, the waiter Willie Fung
Airport Official Charles Lane
Airfield Radioman Richard Crane

Shooting from early May to early July 1942.
Released October 8, 1942 (U.S.); March 29, 1942 (G.B.)

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