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The film's working titles were Three Guys Named Joe, and Flyers Never Die. The film ends with the following written inscription: "To Families and Friends of Men and Women in Our Armed Forces. The picture you have just seen is being shown in combat areas overseas with the compliments of the American Motion Picture Industry." The title A Guy Named Joe was taken from a phrase used by General Clair Chennault, who formed the American Volunteer Group, nicknamed "The Flying Tigers," in 1941. Chennault used the phrase to refer to any member of his flying squadrons. In the film, the term is further explained by an English boy who says that to Americans any "right chap" is "a guy named Joe."
Hollywood Reporter news items offer the following information about the production: M-G-M sought actor Brian Donlevy from Paramount for a "co-starring" role in the film. Actors Richard Carlson, Phillip Terry and Richard Whorf were cast, but none appeared in the released film. Hollywood Reporter news items include Bill Sloan, David Thursby, Rex Evans, Will Stanton, Harry Cording, George Magrill, Nelson Leigh, Ted Billings, Peggy Maley and Charles Bimbo in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. In late December 1942, Hal Rosson was announced as the cameraman, but he apparently did not work on the film. Although Colonel Ross G. Hoyt was announced as the film's technical advisor in January 1943, only Major Edward G. Hillary is cited as an advisor in the screen credits.
Actor Van Johnson, who portrays "Ted Randall" in the film, was seriously injured in an automobile accident on March 31, 1943, about three weeks after he began shooting his scenes. A news item on April 1, 1943 reported that Johnson, who was then in critical condition, was to be replaced in the production. On April 21, 1943 it was reported that Johnson was recovering very quickly and would soon return to his role, but he did not resume work until the first week of Jul, more than three months later. According to modern sources, M-G-M executives had wanted to replace Johnson but Spencer Tracy, who had become a close friend and mentor to Johnson, insisted that they shoot around the injured actor during his convalescence.
Although reviews, such as those in the New York Times and Variety, panned Johnson's performance in A Guy Named Joe, the age difference between him and Irene Dunne, who was eighteen years his senior, was not emphasized, as it has been in modern sources. Johnson's role in the film was his most important to date and, according to modern sources, did much to increase his popularity, especially among young female "bobby soxer" audiences. Because of the extensive injuries he suffered in the automobile accident, Johnson was ineligible for the draft and made a number of popular films during World War II. He was ranked second among the top-ten money-making stars in Quigley publications' 1945 list, third in 1946 and continued as a popular M-G-M star throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.
A Guy Named Joe had a very long shooting schedule, about five months, due in part to Johnson's injuries, but also to extensive location shooting that had to be pieced into principal photography and necessitated two or three interruptions in the production schedule. According to news items, location shooting took place at Luke Field, Arizona and Randolph Field, Texas, with additional second unit work being done at Drew Field in Tampa, FL and Columbia Air Base, South Carolina. The South Carolina and Florida footage was used for air scenes, backdrops and process shots.
According to information in a file on the film in the National Archives (NARS), the U.S. War Department, Bureau of Public Relations, was unimpressed with the script submitted by M-G-M under the title "Three Guys Named Joe." A memorandum by Falkner Heard, chief of the office's review branch, stated "A review of this manuscript indicates that no degree of supervision could make this picture a contribution to the war effort....It is suggested that Hollywood be told that the War Department recommends it not be produced." A revised script also failed to receive the War Deparment's approval. An information action sheet written by Edward L. Munson, Jr., Chief of the Information Branch, stated that production of the script "in its present form would be unwise because of the psychological effect it [the film] would have on potential fledgling and experienced pilots as well as their parents. The presence of hovering ghosts of deceased pilots, and the unreal, fantastic, and slightly schizophrenic character of the scenario hardly combine to produce a sensible war-time film diet."
Another revision of the script was submitted to the War Department and was finally accepted on November 24, 1942. At that time, cooperation of the War Department was promised, pending further developments in the production. A memo in the NARS describes an extensive location scouting trip and second unit shooting that was done at various air bases including those mentioned above. The amount of footage shot at these bases used in the released film has not been determined, but evidence within the memo suggests that much of the footage was not in the completed picture.
According to information in the file on A Guy Named Joe contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA objected to the ending of the film. In the original ending, the character "Dorinda" died during the climactic mission to destroy the ammunition dump and was reunited with "Pete." This was objectional to the PCA because of the implication that Dorinda's death would be, in effect, suicide. To address this objection, additional scenes and retakes were shot in mid-November 1943 to change the ending so that Dorinda would live and be reunited with "Ted" while Pete goes off alone. Some reviewers expressed disappointment at this ending, as exemplified by the comments of New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, who stated, "And they let go in a finish that is as foolish as anything we've seen." Despite some negative reviews, the film was very successful, and was among the top ten box office films of 1944. The film received one Academy Award nomination, for Chandler Sprague and David Boehm for Best Original Story. According to M-G-M studio records at the AMPAS Library, the film had a negative cost of $2,627,000 and took in $5,363,000 at the box office. When the picture was re-issued for the 1955-56 season, it took in an additional $150,000.
A Hollywood Reporter news item on June 8, 1944 noted that a plagiarism suit by Adelyn Bushnell and Marshall Bradford, authors of a story entitled "And From the West," had been filed against Loew's Inc., parent company of M-G-M, the film's screenwriters and producers. The disposition of the suit has not been determined, but it is unlikely that the plaintiffs were successful in their case. A Guy Named Joe was the last film collaboration of Tracy and director Victor Fleming, with whom he had worked on Captain's Courageous (1937), Test Pilot (1938) (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0595 and F3.4505); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941, ) and Tortilla Flat (1942, see below). A Guy Named Joe was remade by director Steven Spielberg in 1989. Spielberg's film, entitled Always, starred Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and Brad Johnson in the principal roles. The setting of that film was updated to the present and centered on the activities of forest fire-fighting pilots. Spielberg also included a clip from A Guy Named Joe in his 1982 film Poltergeist.