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Eagle Squadron

Eagle Squadron(1942)

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The opening credits include the following acknowledgment: "This production was made possible through the cooperation of The British Air Ministry, The British Ministry of Information, The Royal Air Force [and] The Eagle Squadron of the R.A.F." The film then begins with an extended foreword, written and spoken by noted war correspondent and radio commentator Quentin Reynolds. While Reynolds explains the role of the Eagle Squadron in the defense of England, actual footage of the squadron in action is shown. Reynolds had previously written about the squadron in his book Only the Stars Are Neutral. According to Universal press materials, Reynolds stated in his book that Gene "Red" Tobin, a member of the squadron who had worked as an M-G-M office boy, was killed in an air battle the same day Reynolds had planned a birthday party for him in London. Press materials add that the film opens with a shot of Tobin flying his Spitfire plane, and that this was the last footage taken of the flyer. Other pilots shown during the foreword include Flying Officers Bill Geiger, Wally Tribkin, Ed Bateman, Tom Wallace, Hilliard Fenlaw and Anderson; Pilot Officers Tom McGerty, John Flynn, Dowling and Bono; and Squardron Leader Peterson. According to Hollywood Reporter, Reynolds' foreword was to be broadcast over 500 radio stations simultaneously with the film's premiere. As depicted in the film, the Eagle squadron was a unit in the British Royal Air Force, made up of American volunteers. According to PM (Journal), it came into existence in October 1940, during the height of the Battle of Britain, one year prior the United States's entrance into World War II. According to the New Yorker, these American flyers were paid a mere sixteen dollars a week.
       According to a Life magazine feature article, producer Walter Wanger sent fellow producer Merian C. Cooper to England to work with the British Air Ministry and obtain film of actual squadron raids by the American flyers. That footage included shots of the squadron flying over the cliffs of Dover, attacks on their planes by German anti-aircraft guns in France, and pilots bailing out over the English Channel. In a paid advertisement in Variety on June 10, 1942, Universal claimed that this film was the first to show actual footage of British commando raids, British Spitfire airplanes in action, the British Mosquito Fleet patroling the English Channel and the British Women's Auxiliary Aircraft Force. New York Times stated in November 1941 that the footage was actually shot by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Harry Watts, and that Wanger originally planned to shoot the picture entirely in England, with the actual members of the Eagle squadron playing themselves.
       According to a July 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item, Wanger and Cooper intended to make the picture for United Artists distribution, with Harry Watts as the director. In November 1941, however, Hollywood Reporter announced that Wanger had left United Artists and was planning to produce the film himself, without a distributor. On November 18, 1942, however, the producer entered into an agreement with Universal to produce the film in Hollywood with actors, and integrate into the fictionalized account previously shot footage of the real Eagle squadron. According to Hollywood Reporter, Wanger planned to pre-sell the film in January 1942 using a transcontinental radio show, a cartoon strip and apparel tie-ins featuring the insignia of the Eagle squadron. According to Universal publicity materials, the insignia for the Eagle squadron, which was an eagle wearing boxing gloves, was designed by the Walt Disney Studio, under an agreement with the British government. As such, Wanger was required to obtain permission from Disney to reproduce the insignia.
       Eagle Squadron marked the feature film debut of actress Diana Barrymore, the daughter of noted actor John Barrymore. Diana Barrymore was cast in the film in mid-December 1941, based on her performance in the Max Gordon Broadway stage production, The Land Is Bright. The 1958 Art Napoleon-directed film Too Much, Too Soon, starring Dorothy Malone and Errol Flynn, was based on her autobiography of the same name and centered on her brief, unsuccessful film career and decline into alcoholism. She died in 1960 at the age of 39. In January 1942, Hollywood Reporter reported that Jon Hall had been cast in Eagle Squadron, under an agreement between Universal and independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, in which the two organizations agreed to share the actor's contract. John Loder was also cast in the film at this time, and was released from his commitment to perform in the Warner Bros. film Desperate Journey (see entry above) in order to appear. Hollywood Reporter further reported that portions of the picture were shot at Portuguese Bend, near the Palos Verdes Hills in California, in mid-March 1942.
       The Daily Variety review states that technical advisor John M. Hill, an actual member of the Eagle squadron who was on leave from the RAF due to a war injury, was one of only four flyers in his seventeen-man squadron to survive. According to Universal publicity materials, Hill worked on the production for eight weeks. Hollywood Reporter claimed on March 12, 1942 that seven-year-old Simon Tarquin Olivier, the son of noted actor Laurence Olivier and actress Jill Esmond, was making his film debut with his mother in this picture. Hollywood Reporter also stated in April 1942 that actor Stanley Smith replaced Frank Kelly in the role of "Bell," as Kelly had been drafted into the U.S. Army. Hollywood Reporter production charts include Charles Lang in the cast, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. According to the Hollywood Reporter review, the song "Boomps-a-Daisy" was the "current British dance craze."
       The film's world premiere, which was held at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco in late June 1942, raised over $200,000 in war bonds and war stamps. This conflicts, however, with Film Daily, which states that the film's national release date was June 16, 1942. Upon its release, the film received a front-page editorial endorsement in the Harrisburg (PA) Telegraph, which stated that Eagle Squadron was the "one picture every resident of Harrisburg, and the United States of America, should see." In late June 1943, Hollywood Reporter claimed that producer Howard Hawks wanted to re-use the cast of this film-Diana Barrymore, Robert Stack, Evelyn Ankers, Jon Hall, Nigel Bruce and Leif Erickson-in his planned World War II production Corvettes in Action, and that he was willing to change his production schedule in order to make this happen. Hawks's film was later produced under the title Corvette K-225 (see entry above), without the aforementioned actors. In an August 1943 New York Times interview, Wanger complained about the severe lack of military cooperation in the making of this and other war-themed films, which he claimed accounted for the poor quality of these productions. According to an unidentified item found at the AMPAS library, international film financier Jacques Grinieff later acquired a fifty percent interest in Eagle Squadron.