Men of the Fighting Lady


1h 20m 1954
Men of the Fighting Lady

Brief Synopsis

Men on a U.S. aircraft carrier fight to survive the Korean War.

Film Details

Also Known As
Panther Squadron, Panther Squadron 8
Genre
Drama
Action
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jun 11, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 May 1954
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
San Diego, California, United States; San Francisco, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short stories "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea" by James A. Michener in The Saturday Evening Post (10 May 1952) and "The Case of the Blind Pilot" by Harry A. Burns in The Saturday Evening Post (29 Nov 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Anscocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.75 : 1
Film Length
7,170ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

During the Korean War, author James A. Michener boards a U.S. Naval aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan and meets with commander and flight surgeon Kent Dowling, who relates the "Christmas story": Shortly before Christmas, Ensign Kenneth Schecter and the other Navy pilots are briefed on their assignment--a bombing raid over a railroad--by Lt. Cmdr. Paul Grayson. The men then get into their state-of-the-art fighter jets and fly off in formation. The mission is a success, but Grayson is forced to bail out and parachute into the freezing sea, where he is rescued in the nick of time by a helicopter crew. Dowling reprimands Grayson for flying so low, and Lt. Cmdr. Ted Dodson, a decorated World War II veteran, openly criticizes his colleague for his heroics. The enemy rebuilds the railroad track every night, and the men are forced to make repeated raids over the same target. As the squadron prepares for a mission one day, Dowling admonishes Grayson and the other pilots not to fly below one thousand feet. Dodson's plane is badly damaged during the mission, and explodes in flames as soon as it reaches the flight deck. As Lt. Howard Thayer and Schecter sadly pack up Dodson's belongings, Grayson questions why he is still alive when a family man like Dodson is dead. On Christmas, as the men prepare for their twenty-seventh consecutive attack on the railroad, they are told they can also seek out "targets of opportunity" and bomb them with napalm. Toward the end of the bombing raid, Schecter is hit by enemy fire and blinded. Thayer flies alongside Schecter and instructs him over the radio. As Schecter, who is struggling to remain conscious, veers off course, Thayer orders him to bail out, but an equipment failure thwarts this plan. Schecter injects himself with morphine to stave off the terrible pain, and Thayer maintains a steady flow of conversation in an effort to keep the younger pilot alert. Despite the great risk involved, Thayer manages to guide the blind pilot to a safe landing on the deck of the carrier. That afternoon, at the crew's Christmas party, the men are shown a film the Navy made featuring some of their family members back home. The men are moved by the sight of their loved ones, but a gloomy mood settles over the room when Dodson's wife and children appear onscreen. Back in the present, Dowling tells Michener that Schecter regained partial vision in one eye and is now studying economics at Stanford. Michener observes that every man's life is a search for his true self, and a ship is as good a place as any for a man to learn who he is.

Film Details

Also Known As
Panther Squadron, Panther Squadron 8
Genre
Drama
Action
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jun 11, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 May 1954
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
San Diego, California, United States; San Francisco, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short stories "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea" by James A. Michener in The Saturday Evening Post (10 May 1952) and "The Case of the Blind Pilot" by Harry A. Burns in The Saturday Evening Post (29 Nov 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Anscocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.75 : 1
Film Length
7,170ft (10 reels)

Articles

Men of the Fighting Lady


Set during the Korean War, Men of the Fighting Lady (1954), is a story of Navy pilots, pitting a brash young junior officer against a stern commander, played by Walter Pidgeon. The young lieutenant in this case is played by Van Johnson, who was nearing the end of his reign as MGM's All-American heartthrob star of the period. Featuring exciting flying sequences and special effects by Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer, Men of the Fighting Lady bears many similarities to an earlier MGM war picture - Flight Command (1940) - including the casting of Walter Pidgeon in a similar role and its strong pro-Navy stance on national defense and the right to fly combat planes.

Where the two films part company, however, is in their approach to the pilots' stories. Flight Command was made before the U.S. entered World War II, whereas Men of the Fighting Lady is all about pilots in the thick of battle. It spends no time on the love story that figured in the earlier film (in fact there are few women in this one, and their parts are so small, the actresses received no billing). Driven by the tagline "It's not what a man says, it's what he does," it is set almost entirely aboard an aircraft carrier and devotes its trim, tight 80 minutes to combat, incorporating official footage of actual bombing raids into the fictional story.

The film gains some extra credentials by being based on Commander Harry A. Burns' Saturday Evening Post article "The Case of the Blind Pilot" (he worked on the screenplay) and Korean War stories written by Pulitzer Prize-winner James Michener. The latter author's name carried so much weight at the time that the producers decided to frame the story with his narration, with actor Louis Calhern standing in as the writer. Michener was no stranger to war stories; his prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific was made into the Broadway musical South Pacific, which was filmed in 1958. Other war movies based on his work include The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), Until They Sail (1957), and Sayonara (1957).

In Andrew Marton (Scarecrow Press), an oral history interview by Joanne D'Antonio, the director recalled the filming of the aerial sequences: "We had some very dangerous flying to do. The Screen Actors Guild lodged a protest, "Why can't our stunt pilots fly those planes?" I said, "A) they couldn't do it; B) the Navy wouldn't let them do it; C) I wouldn't let them do it. Any more questions?" And the people at the Guild finally desisted. It took a little doing - they actually thought the Navy would turn Panther jets over to pilots who weren't specially trained, to fly in close wing-to-wing formation, blind, in a fog bank. Stupid. Doing the photography for the pictures, we would sometimes fly into a fog bank. Flying blind, you don't know how close you are anymore until the seconds go by and you wonder whether you are going to have a disaster or not. Suddenly you pick up first one plane and then the other, coming out of the fog bank. You know you have "got the shot" - it's a marvelous shot, and you have it in the camera. That's what made that sequence so great - because it was real. We sweated a lot, but it was worth it."

Hungarian-born director Andrew Marton never rose to the top ranks of Hollywood directors, but his career did produce some notable work, including the adventure film King Solomon's Mines (1950) and the war drama The Thin Red Line (1964), which was remade by Terrence Malick in 1998. Marton also shot the American-set exteriors for The Longest Day (1962) and served as second-unit director on two very different war pictures made in the same year, Kelly's Heroes (1970) and Catch-22 (1970). His second-unit work as director of the memorable chariot race sequence in Ben-Hur (1959) earned him a special Golden Globe Award and a citation from the National Board of Review. The Oscar®-winning creator of special effects for that Biblical epic was Arnold Gillespie, one of four movies the two men worked on together.

Watch closely for a bit part by six-year-old Jerry Mathers, who three years later would be immortalized on TV as the title character in the comedy series Leave It to Beaver.

Director: Andrew Marton
Producer: Henry Berman
Screenplay: Harry A. Burns, Art Cohn, based on the James A. Michener story The Forgotten Heroes of Korea
Cinematography: George Folsey
Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Original Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Van Johnson (Lt. Howard Thayer), Walter Pidgeon (Cmdr. Kent Dowling), Louis Calhern (James A. Michener), Dewey Martin (Ensign Kenneth Schechter), Keenan Wynn (Lt. Cmdr. Ted Dobson).
C-80m. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon
Men Of The Fighting Lady

Men of the Fighting Lady

Set during the Korean War, Men of the Fighting Lady (1954), is a story of Navy pilots, pitting a brash young junior officer against a stern commander, played by Walter Pidgeon. The young lieutenant in this case is played by Van Johnson, who was nearing the end of his reign as MGM's All-American heartthrob star of the period. Featuring exciting flying sequences and special effects by Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer, Men of the Fighting Lady bears many similarities to an earlier MGM war picture - Flight Command (1940) - including the casting of Walter Pidgeon in a similar role and its strong pro-Navy stance on national defense and the right to fly combat planes. Where the two films part company, however, is in their approach to the pilots' stories. Flight Command was made before the U.S. entered World War II, whereas Men of the Fighting Lady is all about pilots in the thick of battle. It spends no time on the love story that figured in the earlier film (in fact there are few women in this one, and their parts are so small, the actresses received no billing). Driven by the tagline "It's not what a man says, it's what he does," it is set almost entirely aboard an aircraft carrier and devotes its trim, tight 80 minutes to combat, incorporating official footage of actual bombing raids into the fictional story. The film gains some extra credentials by being based on Commander Harry A. Burns' Saturday Evening Post article "The Case of the Blind Pilot" (he worked on the screenplay) and Korean War stories written by Pulitzer Prize-winner James Michener. The latter author's name carried so much weight at the time that the producers decided to frame the story with his narration, with actor Louis Calhern standing in as the writer. Michener was no stranger to war stories; his prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific was made into the Broadway musical South Pacific, which was filmed in 1958. Other war movies based on his work include The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), Until They Sail (1957), and Sayonara (1957). In Andrew Marton (Scarecrow Press), an oral history interview by Joanne D'Antonio, the director recalled the filming of the aerial sequences: "We had some very dangerous flying to do. The Screen Actors Guild lodged a protest, "Why can't our stunt pilots fly those planes?" I said, "A) they couldn't do it; B) the Navy wouldn't let them do it; C) I wouldn't let them do it. Any more questions?" And the people at the Guild finally desisted. It took a little doing - they actually thought the Navy would turn Panther jets over to pilots who weren't specially trained, to fly in close wing-to-wing formation, blind, in a fog bank. Stupid. Doing the photography for the pictures, we would sometimes fly into a fog bank. Flying blind, you don't know how close you are anymore until the seconds go by and you wonder whether you are going to have a disaster or not. Suddenly you pick up first one plane and then the other, coming out of the fog bank. You know you have "got the shot" - it's a marvelous shot, and you have it in the camera. That's what made that sequence so great - because it was real. We sweated a lot, but it was worth it." Hungarian-born director Andrew Marton never rose to the top ranks of Hollywood directors, but his career did produce some notable work, including the adventure film King Solomon's Mines (1950) and the war drama The Thin Red Line (1964), which was remade by Terrence Malick in 1998. Marton also shot the American-set exteriors for The Longest Day (1962) and served as second-unit director on two very different war pictures made in the same year, Kelly's Heroes (1970) and Catch-22 (1970). His second-unit work as director of the memorable chariot race sequence in Ben-Hur (1959) earned him a special Golden Globe Award and a citation from the National Board of Review. The Oscar®-winning creator of special effects for that Biblical epic was Arnold Gillespie, one of four movies the two men worked on together. Watch closely for a bit part by six-year-old Jerry Mathers, who three years later would be immortalized on TV as the title character in the comedy series Leave It to Beaver. Director: Andrew Marton Producer: Henry Berman Screenplay: Harry A. Burns, Art Cohn, based on the James A. Michener story The Forgotten Heroes of Korea Cinematography: George Folsey Editing: Gene Ruggiero Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse Original Music: Miklos Rozsa Cast: Van Johnson (Lt. Howard Thayer), Walter Pidgeon (Cmdr. Kent Dowling), Louis Calhern (James A. Michener), Dewey Martin (Ensign Kenneth Schechter), Keenan Wynn (Lt. Cmdr. Ted Dobson). C-80m. Closed captioning. by Rob Nixon

TCM Remembers Van Johnson - Important Schedule Change on TCM In Honor To Salute VAN JOHNSON


Turner Classic Movies Pays Tribute to Van Johnson on Tuesday, December 23rd with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note.

The new schedule for the evening of Tuesday, December 23rd will be:
8:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime
9:45 PM A Guy Named Joe
12:30 AM Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
2:30 AM The Last Time I Saw Paris
4:30 AM Thrill of a Romance


Van Johnson (1916-2008)

Van Johnson, the boyish leading man whose clean cut, All-American appeal made him a top box-office draw for MGM during World War II, died on December 12 in Nyack, New York of natural causes. He was 92.

He was born Charles Van Dell Johnson on August 25, 1916, in Newport, Rhode Island. By his own account, his early childhood wasn't a stable one. His mother abandoned him when he was just three and his Swedish-born father offered little consolation or nurturing while he was growing up. Not surprisingly, Johnson found solace in singing and dancing lessons, and throughout his adolescence, he longed for a life in show business. After graduating high school in 1934, he relocated to New York City and was soon performing as a chorus boy on Broadway in shows such as New Faces of 1936 and eventually as an understudy in Rodgers and Hart's musical, Too Many Girls in 1939.

Johnson eventually made his way to Hollywood and landed an unbilled debut in the film version of Too Many Girls (1940). By 1941, he signed a brief contract with Warner Bros., but it only earned him a lead in a "B" programmer Murder in the Big House (1941); his contract soon expired and he was dropped by the studio. Johnson was on his way back to New York, but as luck would have it - in the truest Hollywood sense - friends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz introduced him to Billy Grady, a lead talent scout at MGM, which was currently Ball's new studio. Johnson was signed up and almost immediately MGM had a star on its hands.

It might have been slow going at first, with Johnson playing able support in films such as Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant and The War Against Mrs. Hadley (both 1942). By 1943 the studio capitalized on his broad smile and freckles and starred him in two of the studio's biggest hits: A Guy Named Joe and The Human Comedy. Those two films transformed him into a boxoffice draw with a huge following, particularly among teenage girls. A near fatal car accident that same year only accentuated the loyalty of his fans, and his 4-F status as the result of that accident created an opportunity for him when so many other leading actors of the era (James Stewart, Clark Gable) were off to war. Johnson was quickly promoted as MGM'sleading man in war heroics and sweet romancers on the big screen: The White Cliffs of Dover, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (both 1944), Thrill of a Romance, the episodic Week-End at the Waldorf (both 1945), and a musical remake of Libeled Lady entitled Easy to Wed (1946).

Hits though these were, it wasn't until after the war that Johnson began to receive more dramatic parts and better material such as supporting Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the political farce State of the Union (1948). other significant roles included the well-modulated noir thriller The Scene of the Crime, the grim war spectacle Battleground (both 1949), the moving domestic drama Invitation (1952) in which he played a man who is paid to marry a woman (Dorothy McGuire) by her father. Before he left MGM, he closed his career out in fine form with the sweeping musical Brigadoon, co-starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse; and the lilting soaper The Last Time I Saw Paris (both 1954) with Elizabeth Taylor.

After he left MGM, the parts that came Johnson's way weren't as varied, but he had his moments in The Caine Mutiny (1954), the beguiling romance drama Miracle in the Rain (1956) with Jane Wyman; and his lead performance in one of the first successful made for-TV-movies The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957). By the '60s, Johnson returned to the stage, and played the title role in London's West End production of The Music Man. He then returned to Broadway in the drama Come on Strong. He still had a few good supporting parts, most notably as Debbie Reynolds' suitor in Norman Lear's scathing satire on marital differences Divorce American Style (1967); and television welcomed his presence on many popular shows in the '70s and '80s such as Maude, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and of course Murder She Wrote. There was one last graceful cameo in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), yet for the most remainder of his career, Johnson worked mainly on the dinner theater circuit before retiring from showbiz completely by the mid-90s. He is survived by a daughter, Schuyler.

by Michael T. Toole

TCM Remembers Van Johnson - Important Schedule Change on TCM In Honor To Salute VAN JOHNSON

Turner Classic Movies Pays Tribute to Van Johnson on Tuesday, December 23rd with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note. The new schedule for the evening of Tuesday, December 23rd will be: 8:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime 9:45 PM A Guy Named Joe 12:30 AM Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo 2:30 AM The Last Time I Saw Paris 4:30 AM Thrill of a Romance Van Johnson (1916-2008) Van Johnson, the boyish leading man whose clean cut, All-American appeal made him a top box-office draw for MGM during World War II, died on December 12 in Nyack, New York of natural causes. He was 92. He was born Charles Van Dell Johnson on August 25, 1916, in Newport, Rhode Island. By his own account, his early childhood wasn't a stable one. His mother abandoned him when he was just three and his Swedish-born father offered little consolation or nurturing while he was growing up. Not surprisingly, Johnson found solace in singing and dancing lessons, and throughout his adolescence, he longed for a life in show business. After graduating high school in 1934, he relocated to New York City and was soon performing as a chorus boy on Broadway in shows such as New Faces of 1936 and eventually as an understudy in Rodgers and Hart's musical, Too Many Girls in 1939. Johnson eventually made his way to Hollywood and landed an unbilled debut in the film version of Too Many Girls (1940). By 1941, he signed a brief contract with Warner Bros., but it only earned him a lead in a "B" programmer Murder in the Big House (1941); his contract soon expired and he was dropped by the studio. Johnson was on his way back to New York, but as luck would have it - in the truest Hollywood sense - friends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz introduced him to Billy Grady, a lead talent scout at MGM, which was currently Ball's new studio. Johnson was signed up and almost immediately MGM had a star on its hands. It might have been slow going at first, with Johnson playing able support in films such as Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant and The War Against Mrs. Hadley (both 1942). By 1943 the studio capitalized on his broad smile and freckles and starred him in two of the studio's biggest hits: A Guy Named Joe and The Human Comedy. Those two films transformed him into a boxoffice draw with a huge following, particularly among teenage girls. A near fatal car accident that same year only accentuated the loyalty of his fans, and his 4-F status as the result of that accident created an opportunity for him when so many other leading actors of the era (James Stewart, Clark Gable) were off to war. Johnson was quickly promoted as MGM'sleading man in war heroics and sweet romancers on the big screen: The White Cliffs of Dover, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (both 1944), Thrill of a Romance, the episodic Week-End at the Waldorf (both 1945), and a musical remake of Libeled Lady entitled Easy to Wed (1946). Hits though these were, it wasn't until after the war that Johnson began to receive more dramatic parts and better material such as supporting Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the political farce State of the Union (1948). other significant roles included the well-modulated noir thriller The Scene of the Crime, the grim war spectacle Battleground (both 1949), the moving domestic drama Invitation (1952) in which he played a man who is paid to marry a woman (Dorothy McGuire) by her father. Before he left MGM, he closed his career out in fine form with the sweeping musical Brigadoon, co-starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse; and the lilting soaper The Last Time I Saw Paris (both 1954) with Elizabeth Taylor. After he left MGM, the parts that came Johnson's way weren't as varied, but he had his moments in The Caine Mutiny (1954), the beguiling romance drama Miracle in the Rain (1956) with Jane Wyman; and his lead performance in one of the first successful made for-TV-movies The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957). By the '60s, Johnson returned to the stage, and played the title role in London's West End production of The Music Man. He then returned to Broadway in the drama Come on Strong. He still had a few good supporting parts, most notably as Debbie Reynolds' suitor in Norman Lear's scathing satire on marital differences Divorce American Style (1967); and television welcomed his presence on many popular shows in the '70s and '80s such as Maude, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and of course Murder She Wrote. There was one last graceful cameo in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), yet for the most remainder of his career, Johnson worked mainly on the dinner theater circuit before retiring from showbiz completely by the mid-90s. He is survived by a daughter, Schuyler. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were Panther Squadron 8 and Panther Squadron. The film's credits are preceded by a partial image of the issue of The Saturday Evening Post with James A. Michener's short story "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea." This image is followed by an onscreen dedication to "the remarkable men who run the machines of war" and an acknowledgment of the two articles on which the film was based. The following written statement accompanies the end credits: "Made with the cooperation of the Department of the Defense and the United States Navy, with particular appreciation to Commander Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and the officers and men of his command."
       According to an August 1953 Variety item, M-G-M's production head Edward J. Mannix and Paramount's production head Don Hartman worked out an agreement whereby the plots of Men of the Fighting Lady and The Bridges at Toko-Ri (see entry above), both based on similar James A. Michener stories, would not "look alike on the screen." Although shot in early 1954, The Bridges at Toko-Ri was not released until February 1955. As noted in a September 1953 Army Archerd Hollywood Reporter column, Paramount agreed to delay their film's opening so as to not compete with M-G-M's release.
       According to August and October 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items, portions of Men of the Fighting Lady were shot on location aboard the Navy carriers Oriskany, anchored off the coast of San Francisco, and U.S.S. Princeton in San Diego, CA. A November 1, 1953 article in New York Times reports that the character "Paul Grayson" was based on Navy Commander Paul N. Gray, who was renowned for his daring low-level raids in Korea. Gray served as technical advisor on the film. The New York Times article adds that much of the film's aerial photography was "actual 16-millimeter camera-gun footage from the Navy's Korea file."

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring May 1954

Based on real characters.

Released in United States Spring May 1954