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Air Force (1943), made at the height of World War II, is director Howard Hawks’ epic account of a B-17 bomber that flies into the middle of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during a routine training flight with its squadron and survives to help bring retribution and win the war for the Allies. The plane is called the Mary Ann, and her crew is a cross-section of American types as seen in many other wartime movies. The Warner Bros. film features John Ridgely as pilot "Irish" Quincannon, John Garfield as cynical tail gunner Winocki, Harry Carey, Sr. as grizzled veteran White, Ray Montgomery as rookie radio operator Chester, Arthur Kennedy as bombardier McMartin, Gig Young as co-pilot Williams and George Tobias as Jewish mechanic Weinberg.
In addition to its stunning aerial scenes, Air Force focuses on the personal dramas of its representative crew, which includes Garfield’s thwarted ambition to become a pilot and Carey’s loss of a son. Hawk’s overriding theme is the importance of teamwork and collective responsibility in winning a war. "It takes all of us to make this ship function," Ridgley tells the other men. A veteran of the Air Corps of World War I, Hawks clearly reveals his reverence for the service and his aptitude for stories about a group of professionals unifying to face a common enemy. Effective as wartime propaganda, Air Force later won criticism for its anti-Japanese slurs and its erroneous indication that the Hawaiian population provided a "fifth column" that had Japanese snipers infiltrating ground facilities at Pearl Harbor.
This archetypal film won an Oscar for Best Film Editing and three other nominations, for Best Original Screenplay, Cinematography and Special Effects. Hawks’ friend William Faulkner was an uncredited contributor to Dudley Nichols’ screenplay. Among Faulkner’s contributions was a pivotal death scene and some sharp bits of dialogue including Tobias’ assessment of California: "The sun shines and nothing ever happens, and before you know it you’re 60 years old."
James Wong Howe and his associates won much praise for their black-and-white cinematography, which blended some newsreel footage with striking simulations of battles. A real "flying fortress" was used for many of the film’s exterior shots. The bomber was later returned to active duty in the Pacific and, shortly after the film’s release, was lost at sea along with its entire crew. The interior shots were filmed inside a $40,000 replica of the plane.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, William Faulkner (uncredited)
Cinematography: James Wong Howe, Elmer Dyer, Charles A. Marshall
Art Direction: John Hughes
Film Editing: George Amy
Original Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: John Ridgely (Capt. Mike "Irish" Quincannon), John Garfield (Sgt. Joe Winocki), Harry Carey (Sgt. Robby White), Gig Young (Lt. Bill Williams), Arthur Kennedy (Lt. Tommy McMartin), Charles Drake (Lt. Munchauser), George Tobias (Cpl. Weinberg), Robert Wood (Cpl. Peterson), Ray Montgomery (Pvt. Chester).
BW-125m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe