powered by AFI
Produced for Warner Bros. by Britain's famed Teddington Studios, Flying Fortress (1942) focuses on the World War II plane that earned that nickname, the B-17. Richard Greene stars as Jim Spence, a wealthy playboy and amateur aviator who turns professional when the war begins and he enters the RAF to take control of a British "flying fortress" in its bombing raids over Berlin. Aside from its melodrama and morale-boosting elements, the film offers historical interest in its views of the damage caused by the London blitz and of the early use of the B-17.
The movie's most harrowing scene, when Spence climbs out of his plane in mid-air to repair a hole in its side, was based on a real incident. On July 7, 1941, a Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot, Sergeant James Allen Ward, climbed onto the wing of his plane to smother a burning engine. Ward earned the Victoria Cross for his heroic effort.
Greene, who had been working in the U.S. under contract to Twentieth Century Fox, had asked for a release from his contract to return to his native England and aid in the war effort. He enlisted in the Royal Armoured Corps of the Twenty-Seventh Lancers, serving in the Netherlands and Belgium and rising to the rank of first lieutenant. In 1942, on separate occasions, he was temporarily relieved of duty to appear in two films deemed important for British propaganda purposes: Flying Fortress and Unpublished Story (1942).
Unfortunately, Greene's career never seemed to recover from its wartime interruption. Tall, dark, handsome and dimpled, he had been viewed by Fox as a dashing leading man in the mold of their own Tyrone Power and MGM's Robert Taylor. When he returned after the war, however, Greene's career settled into leads in mostly undistinguished films, with occasional forays into character acting. He did enjoy a nice success with a long-running British TV series shown in the U.S. under the title The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-60). He died in 1985.
Flying Fortress was one of a series of patriotic films aiding the war effort to be produced at Teddington, one of the few studios to operate during World War II. In 1944 a flying rocket exploded onto the property, destroying buildings and killing three employees. But Teddington survived and remains in operation today.
Director: Walter Forde
Screenplay: Brock Williams, Gordon Wellesley and Edward Dryhurst
Cinematography: Basil Emmott, Gus Drisse (Aerial Photographer)
Original Music: Jack Beaver, Howard Jackson (both uncredited)
Editing: Terence Fisher
Art Direction: Norman G. Arnold
Principal Cast: Richard Greene (James "Jim" Spence Jr.), Carla Lehmann (Sydney Kelly), Betty Stockfeld (Lady Deborah "Debbie" Ottershaw), Donald Stewart (William "Sky" Kelly), Basil Radford (Captain Wilkinson).
by Roger Fristoe