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The working title of this film was The Big Y. The following written statement, presented in the form of a letter, appears onscreen before the film's opening titles: "The Secretary of the Navy, Washington, December 18, 1944. My Dear Admiral: The picture you are about to see is the most convincing statement of the Navy's achievement in this war yet given to the public. I believe that the best publicity for the Navy is victory in battle. But these battles must be honestly and vividly reported to the people at home-or they cannot be expected to understand the Navy's role in the war. We need more pictures like this one. Sincerely Yours, James Forrestal, Admiral C. W. Nimitz, USN." The following written statements appear onscreen directly after the main title card: "A drama of the Pacific/U.S. Naval Communications-This is an authentic record-every scene photographed in zones of combat by men of the United States Navy." The title card also notes that the final 35mm film was blown up "from a 16mm original."
Studio publicity material contained in the file on the film in the AMPAS Library indicates that the idea to make the picture was first suggested in 1942 by Captain H. B. Miller, U.S.N.R., Bureau of Aeronautics. The Variety review states that the film was "started by Lieut.-Commander Dwight Long," who in civilian life was known for his round-the-world voyages and newsreel travelogues. After entering the Navy, Long was assigned to "follow the activities of an airplane carrier," the U.S.S. Yorktown. When the story became too difficult for one man to cover, the assignment was handed to a group of ten to complete. According to studio publicity, some of the battle scenes were shot using a new, "secret" type of camera that was synchronized with the machine guns of the plane on which it was mounted. A September 1944 New York Times news item notes that the picture was filmed over the course of fifteen months. Contemporary sources list widely varying figures for the total amount of raw film footage shot for the picture-ranging from 60,000, as reported by a New York Times article, to 120,000, as listed in a studio publicity release. (A New York Times preview review figure of 500,000 feet is probably a typographical error.)
Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library indicates that in May 1944, the Navy donated "several thousand feet" of Long's 16mm Kodachrome film taken aboard the Yorktown and the Yorktown's combat planes to the studio, along with a story outline by prominent screenwriter Commander Frank Wead. The extent of Wead's contribution to the completed film, if any, has not been determined. Producer Louis de Rochemont of Twentieth Century-Fox's "March of Time" series then was assigned to compile the footage into a feature. A September 24, 1944 New York Times article claims that although the name of the carrier was being kept a secret for security reasons, de Rochemont had hoped that the Navy would permit the name to be used before the final commentary was put on the screen. The ship's name was not used, however, and the fictional carrier, The Fighting Lady, was billed in publicity as a "composite of all the Pacific Fleet carriers." The commander of The Fighting Lady, "Captain Dixie," was in real life Commodore Dixie Kiefer. Kiefer died in November 1945, when a bomber plane crashed onto the deck of the Yorktown.
As indicated in legal records, Twentieth Century-Fox agreed to pay all production costs associated with the picture, including blowing up the 16mm Kodachrome footage into 35mm Technicolor, and then release the film, retaining thirty percent of the gross receipts to cover distribution charges. All profits from the film were to be donated by the studio to the Navy Relief Society and Naval Aid Auxiliary. The Fighting Lady was the first film made by the U.S. Armed Forces to be released by a commercial studio. The picture was narrated by M-G-M star Robert Taylor, who was a lieutenant in the Navy at the time of production.
Contemporary sources give conflicting lengths for the final film, with the New York Times and a publicity item listing the footage at 7,500, and the copyright records listing it at 5,506. According to a contemporary news item, the film was shown aboard "The Fighting Lady" (the Yorktown) on February 6, 1945 while the carrier was still at sea "somewhere in the western Pacific." According to New York Times, the film was to be the first in a series of "journalistic features" to be produced by de Rochemont. The next feature film in the de Rochemont series was an FBI picture called The House on 92nd Street (see below). Photographic supervisor advisor Philippe de Lacy appeared as a child actor in many films from the silent era. The Fighting Lady received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1944.