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Like many films of the World War II period, Bombardier (1943) was blatantly propagandistic but nevertheless scored big with audiences and earned an Academy Award nomination for special effects. The story follows the conflict between two officers at a bombardier training school: Buck, who believes in dive bombing by highly skilled pilots as the best means of taking out enemy targets, and Chick, a proponent of high altitude precision bombing using a newly developed bombsight called the Golden Goose. When the two put their methods to the test in a competition for top brass, Chick's new technology wins out and a group of cadets begins training in the precision technique. The result is a movie that bears a great resemblance to a training or informational film but one that's enlivened by a romantic triangle centered around ingénue Anne Shirley and by some tense and brutal scenes of a downed air crew captured and tortured by the Japanese.
Bombardier was begun before the U.S. entered the war and underwent several revisions over the next few years, including a specific reference to Pearl Harbor, to accommodate the swiftly changing events of the world conflict. It was finally released three years after production began. Authentic footage of bombardier training was shot on location at Kirkland Field in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Director Richard Wallace and crew spent six weeks at the facility capturing the daily training routine, and many of the real-life cadets appeared as extras. Air corps pilots and crews recently returned from combat in the Pacific flew the B-17 formation scenes used in the latter portions of the film.
Although the leads were established stars Pat O'Brien and Randolph Scott, the movie is probably most significant in the career of young Robert Ryan as a cadet initially reluctant to train in the use of the new bombsight. Getting his first real break in pictures, the sixth-billed Ryan impressed co-star O'Brien, partly because of the younger actor's professionalism and honest, straightforward way of dealing with people and partly because of their shared Irish heritage. Later that year, O'Brien, a major star at RKO, lobbied heavily for Ryan to play an important supporting part in his next picture, The Iron Major (1943). Ryan ended up making six pictures that year, and in the last, Tender Comrade (1943), he advanced to second billing behind RKO's leading female star, Ginger Rogers. After two more films in 1944, he went into the service; he returned to motion pictures in 1947 and quickly reestablished himself as an important screen presence.
Bombardier was edited by Robert Wise, and the second assistant director was Robert Aldrich. Both went on to major directorial careers. Wise won Academy Awards for West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965); among Aldrich's films were What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and the original The Longest Yard (1974).
Director: Richard Wallace
Producer: Robert Fellows
Screenplay: John Twist
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Robert Wise
Original Music: Roy Webb; songs by M.K. Jerome & Jack Scholl
Art Direction: Al Herman, Albert D'Agostino
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Maj. Chick Davis), Randolph Scott (Capt. Buck Oliver), Anne Shirley (Burton Hughes), Eddie Albert (Tom Hughes), Robert Ryan (Joe Connors).
by Rob Nixon