Cast & Crew
In late 1941, before the United States has entered World War II, Jim Gordon leads a team of American pilots who have volunteered to help the Chinese people fight off their Japanese attackers. Jim despairs at the losses his outnumbered men sustain, but is supported by his right-hand man, Hap Davis, and his sweetheart, Red Cross nurse Brooke Elliott. Desperate for more pilots, Jim goes to Rangoon, in Burma, where he is approached by Blackie Bales. Jim turns down Blackie's request to join his group, who are known as "The Flying Tigers," because Blackie once caused the death of another pilot through his drunken negligence. Blackie's wife Verna pleads with Jim, telling him that her husband is no longer a drunk and needs to regain his self-esteem. Jim decides to take a chance on Blackie, and also enlists Alabama Smith and Woody Jason, a grandstanding daredevil who has quit a Chinese airline. Back at the base, Woody makes it clear that he is only interested in the money the pilots receive for shooting down Japanese fighters, and that he cares nothing about the war. Woody's attitude alienates the other pilots, especially as he ignores the usual teamwork procedures. Meanwhile, Blackie proves that he has reformed, and his fellow pilots accept him as a friend. One afternoon, the squadron goes up after the base is bombed, and Blackie's plane is hit. Blackie is forced to bail out, and Woody, intent on racking up another kill, does not protect him after he opens his parachute, resulting in Blackie's death when a Japanese pilot shoots him. Woody insists that he could not have saved Blackie, and Jim grudgingly allows him to stay. Soon after, the men are notified that they must begin continuous day and night reconnaissance patrols. Jim splits the squadron up into two teams, and when he is forced to ground Hap, whose depth perception has been growing worse, he appoints Woody as his second-in-command. One night, Woody persuades Brooke to go out with him, and the pair sneak off base. Woody does not return in time for the night patrol, and Hap, trying to cover for Woody, goes up in his place. Hap's sight problems are his undoing, however, and he is killed while protecting Jim's flank. Jim orders Woody to leave in two days, but his departure is forestalled when they learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Colonel Lindsay orders Jim to attack and destroy a crucial bridge across a canyon, along which the Japanese are sending supplies. Devastated by Hap's death and wrongly believing that Brooke loves Woody instead of him, Jim volunteers for the suicide mission. Woody sneaks aboard Jim's plane, which is loaded with nitroglycerin, and tells Jim that he has grown up, and wishes to carry on with the fight. Jim allows him to go along, and does not notice that Woody is wounded when they are attacked by anti-aircraft guns after blowing up the bridge. A supply train has gotten through, however, and after Jim puts on a parachute, Woody pushes him out of the plane and dives into the train, destroying it, as well as himself. Later, Jim reconciles with Brooke and passes on Woody's silk scarf to new recruit Barrett to inspire the youngster.
Malcolm "bud" Mctaggart
Eleanor Soo Hoo
"wee Willie" Davis
Daniel J. Bloomberg
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
Best Special Effects
Wayne, in his first of many war films, plays the leader of a squadron of flyers in the U.S. volunteer group known as the Flying Tigers, a real-life corps that defended Chiang Kai-Shek's China in the days before the U.S. entered World War II. Carroll plays disobedient wisecracker Woody Jason (closely approximating Richard Barthelmess's role as the dissension-causing pilot under Cary Grant's command in Hawks's film) and Paul Kelly is Wayne's second-in-command, a role that resembles Thomas Mitchell's part in the earlier film as a pilot whose eyesight is failing.
The real-life Flying Tigers were organized by Brigadier General Claire Chennault to fight in defense of Burma (Myanmar). In 1937, Chennault went to China as an aviation adviser and by the summer of 1941, he was recruiting American personnel to join that country's fight against Japan. The Chinese government paid the flyers a bonus for every plane they shot down, and between December 1941 and July 1942, they were responsible for destroying almost 300 Japanese aircraft. In 1942, the group was replaced by the regular Army Air Corps, which many of Chennault's men joined.
Flying Tigers scored big by capitalizing on the nation's patriotic mood and by providing a bona fide hero in the person of Wayne (who never entered the service during the war, but portrayed military men five times between 1941 and 1945). Although Republic's all-time biggest money-maker by a wide margin, the picture came under some criticism from a number of fronts. While making no objection to the then-common depiction of the Japanese as vicious villains, government officials did note that the Chinese allies were portrayed as "likable but slightly ludicrous." They also criticized the showcasing of individual heroics over the ideal of teamwork and cooperation. Some former members of the corps slammed the film for historical inaccuracies and leveled accusations that the two former Tigers hired as technical advisors had been dishonorably discharged for being "suspected of perversion."
These complaints did nothing to blunt the picture's impact. One reason for its success was the authenticity of the action scenes, augmented by clips confiscated from Japanese newsreels. Much of the look of the film was achieved by the Oscar®-nominated Lydecker brothers, Republic's ace visual effects team. Because the interiors of the planes could not be shown for security reasons, the Lydeckers mocked up the cockpits and instrument panels and made the full-size planes out of plywood and balsa. The two chose to shoot all outdoor effects in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to take advantage of impressive cloud formations. Republic's sound department was also Oscar® nominated for creating the noise of engines and battles entirely in the studio.
A couple of supporting players may be familiar to viewers. That's Jimmie Dodd (billed as James here), the head Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, in the small role of McIntosh. And Mae Clarke, as Verna, is best remembered both as Dr. Victor Frankenstein's bride Elizabeth and as the woman who took a grapefruit in the face from James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931).
Director: David Miller
Producers: Edmund Grainger
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet, Barry Trivers
Cinematography: Jack Marta
Editing: Ernest Nims
Art Direction: Russell Kimball
Original Music: Victor Young
Cast: John Wayne (Capt. Jim Gordon), John Carroll (Woody Jason), Anna Lee (Brooke Elliot), Paul Kelly (Hap Smith), Mae Clarke (Verna Bales).
by Rob Nixon
I Hope you two had a good time, 'cause Hap just paid the check.- Jim Gordon
Actual Flying Tigers Lawrence Moore and Kenneth Sanger were technical advisors.
Some clips of the dogfights and Japanese ack-ack guns were from confiscated Japanese newsreels.
No scene of the interior of the airplane could be shown for security reasons. The instrument boards shown were fake.
This movie broke all boxoffice records for Republic Pictures by a large margin and was one of the top grossing movies of the year.
The working titles of this film were Yanks Over the Burma Road and Yanks Over Singapore. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, M-G-M had also considered using the title Yanks Over the Burma Road for the 1942 picture A Yank on the Burma Road (see below), but could not do so because Republic was the first company to register the title with the Hays Office. After the opening credits, there is a picture of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and the following written prologue, which is signed by Chiang: "Since the Flying Tigers first spread their wings in the skies above China, the enemy has learned to fear the intrepid spirit they have displayed in face of his superior numbers. They have become the symbol of the invincible strength of the forces now upholding the cause of justice and humanity. The Chinese people will preserve forever the memory of their glorious achievements."
The picture was loosely based on the real-life American Volunteer Group, who were known as the Flying Tigers. The group was organized by Brigadier General Claire Chennault, an American former Air Force pilot who recruited and trained pilots to fight in defense of Burma (now Myanmar). In 1937, Chennault went to China as an advisor to an aviation school sponsored by Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and by the summer of 1941, he had began recruiting American personnel to join the fight. The Chinese government paid the flyers a bonus for every Japanese plane they shot down, and between December 1941 and July 1942, Chennault's men were responsible for destroying almost 300 Japanese aircraft. In July 1942, Chennault's group was replaced by the regular Army Air Corps, which some of his men joined. At the end of WWII, Chennault formed a private airline, the Civil Air Transport, which evolved into the CIA-led Air America after Chennault's death. The Flying Tiger Line, which was started by AVG pilot Bob Prescott after the war, became one of the largest air-freight carriers in the United States.
According to a January 30, 1942 Daily Variety news item, Republic purchased an "original story" entitled "The Flying Tigers" from Charles M. Ross, but the extent of Ross's contribution to the completed picture has not been determined. On June 14, 1942, New York Times reported the Republic dropped plans to have an actor playing Chiang appear in the film after being informed by "the Hays Office that it would be improper to show the Generalissimo without permission." Apparently the script originally called for Chiang to bring "Woody Jason" back to the American base, but when the plans were changed, "Woody" was killed instead.
A April 3, 1942 Los Angeles Times news item noted that a copy of the script had been sent to M-G-M contract player Laraine Day for consideration. Presumably she was being sought for the part of "Brooke Elliott." Hollywood Reporter news items include Helen Peyton and George Givot in the cast, but their participation in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Director David Miller and actor John Carroll were borrowed from M-G-M for this production, which modern sources note was John Wayne's first "war picture." Victor Young, who wrote the musical score, was borrowed from Paramount. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Lawrence Moore and Kenneth Sanger were members of the American Volunteer Group who were invalided home from Burma. In addition to serving as technical advisors for the film, Hollywood Reporter noted that they suggested two sequences which were included in the film and that they were to be included in the cast.
According to the Hollywood Reporter review, the picture included "some clips of dog-fighting from confiscated Japanese reels. The ground fire by Jap ack-acks is also actual footage, as is that shot of the deserted Chinese child, crying amid the bombing rubble." Although a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Republic constructed its own fleet of P-40 fighter planes, by "using obsolete planes and re-designing its own simulted P-40s at a reported cost of $2,200," studio publicity revealed that some aircraft sequences were shot at the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Co. in Buffalo, NY. According to the film's pressbook, "The Curtiss people had painted up a squadron of real P-40s with the well known tiger shark design to be used in these scenes and the company made their test pilots and stunt flyers available to depict some of the precision flight formations for which the 'Tigers' were famous." The pressbook further notes that these scenes "had to be sent to Washington, D.C. for censorship, so that no vital information could reach the enemy....No scene showing the interior of a plane could be shown. In fact Republic had to design an instrument board of its own for cockpit closeups."
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, "action and plane footage" was shot on location at Flagstaff, AZ. Hollywood Reporter news items also noted that the picture was "lined up for more first run playing time than any previous Republic offering," and that by November 18, 1942, the film had "broken all the company's [box-office] records by a tremendous margin" and the gross receipts were on the "way to the $2,000,000 mark." Curtiss-Wright continued its association with the picture, according to Hollywood Reporter, in its employment drive: "All persons making application for jobs with the company were handed a pair of tickets to the picture to convince them of the importance of plane manufacture in the war."
The picture received Academy Award nominations for Sound Recording, Music Score and Special Effects. Modern sources note that the planes built by Republic for the film were constructed with the aid of United Air Services, which was run by Paul Mantz, who is also listed as appearing the film as a stunt flyer. Supervising the construction were Mantz's chief pilot Clarence "Ace" Bragunier and chief mechanic Robert King. Modern sources add Ted Lydecker (Special Effects) and William D. Pawley (Technical Advisor) to the production crew. Pawley was an executive of the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Co.
A August 14, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item asserted that after viewing a rough cut of the film, Republic executives "decided to produce a sequel titled The Sky Dragons that will show the AVG flyers in China following their absorption into the Army." Although Edmund Grainger was slated to produce and John Wayne to star, the sequel was not made. Shortly before Flying Tigers' release, Grainger entered the Signal Corps. According to a November 2, 1966 Hollywood Reporter news item, rights to the film were purchased by producer Richard Michaels, who intended to develop the story into a one-hour television series. The project was not completed, however.
Released in United States 1942
Broadcast in USA over TBS (colorized version) April 30, 1989.
Released in United States 1942