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Guy Named Joe

A Guy Named Joe

Director: Victor Fleming

Cast: Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson


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Opening in England during the middle of World War II, A Guy Named Joe tells the story of Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy), a tough, devil-may-care bomber pilot who's amassed an enviable record in combat, mostly by taking chances that give his C.O. (James Gleason) the shakes, much as he and the top brass


Opening in England during the middle of World War II, A Guy Named Joe tells the story of Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy), a tough, devil-may-care bomber pilot who's amassed an enviable record in combat, mostly by taking chances that give his C.O. (James Gleason) the shakes, much as he and the top brass appreciate the results. Pete lives to fly, but he also appreciates the fairer sex, which for the last couple of years means Dorinda Durston (Irene Dunne), herself a hot-shot air-ferry pilot. She's also worried about the chances he takes, even after Pete and his best friend, Al Yackey (Ward Bond), are transferred to Scotland and switched to flying reconnaissance missions. Pete finally agrees to take a training position back in the States, but he must fly one last mission, to locate a German force threatening an Allied convoy. He and Al do the job and have turned for home when the German fighter cover attacks; Pete's plane is damaged and he's wounded, and after his crew bails out he takes the burning ship down and drops his bomb-load on the main German attack ship (a carrier, which is totally inaccurate) at zero altitude. His plane is caught in the blast and destroyed, and that's where the main body of the movie begins. Pete arrives in a hereafter that's a pilot's version of heaven, including a five-star general (Lionel Barrymore). He doesn't even appreciate what's happened to him until he meets Dick Rumney (Barry Nelson), a friend and fellow pilot who was previously killed in action. It seems that the powers of the hereafter are contributing to the war effort, sending departed pilots like Pete and Dick to Earth to help guide and help young pilots; Pete himself discovers that he benefited from these efforts in peacetime. Pete ends up at Luke Field near Phoenix, AZ, where he takes on helping Ted Randall (Van Johnson), a young pilot who lacks confidence. By the time he's done, riding along while Ted "solos," Ted is a natural in the air and ends up as the star of his squadron when he become operational in New Guinea -- in a group under the command of Al Yackey -- and ends up taking over command when their own leader is shot down. Pete's like a proud teacher, and also enjoys his unheard ribbing of Al and his ex-C.O. to Rumney, over their promotions, but then Dorinda shows up, and suddenly Pete finds all of his unresolved feelings about her recalled, even as he sees that she's never gotten over losing him. And when, with Al's help, she and Ted meet and seem to fall for each other, Pete's jealousy gets the better of him. It's only when he is made to realize just how important life was to him, and how important the future is for those still living, that he begins to understand that he has to let go of his feelings, and let Dorinda and Ted get on with their lives. But first he has to help Dorinda survive a suicide mission that she's taken over from Ted, attacking a huge and heavily defended Japanese ammo dump.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
A Guy Named Joe walks a fine line between realistic World War II drama and fantasy, and it does so successfully for 95 percent of its two-hour-and-one-minute length, ending up an excellent example of how to make this kind of movie work. It's not quite as ambitious as the slightly similar Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger fantasy A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairwar to Heaven), but it has its own conjuring trick to pull off, mostly in the acting and dramatic departments rather than special effects, which are minimal. The presence of Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne helps immeasurably in achieving this finely textured mix of drama, romance, and fantasy; the two of them are such fine actors that they can make almost everything that the movie tries to do seem believable, even in the denouement as Dunne's character flies a solo combat mission. But primary credit must go to director Victor Fleming and his writers, who included future blacklistee Dalton Trumbo. Fleming, a man's man who also was involved with bringing off the most renowned screen fantasy of all, The Wizard of Oz, provides masterful direction throughout, even making the climactic Dunne-as-bomber-pilot sequence work. He knows the exact balance to strike, just how much whimsy to allow in amid the setting of World War II air combat, and when to focus on the more realistic interactions and relationships. Some of the dialogue verges on poetry in places, while other passages achieve a honest poignancy that was rare for a Hollywood war film. Tracy gives one of the best performances of his career as a daredevil fly-boy who is even able to look death in the face without flinching; the only seeming flaw in his work lies in the early section of the movie, where one never gets a real sense of his character's love for Dunne's Dorinda Durston, and that seeming flaw is rectified in the second half, in which Tracy's Pete Sandidge realizes for the first time -- almost more deeply than he knows -- how much he loved her. Dunne has the unfortunate task of pretending she is much younger than she is; nothing that the makeup or lighting department can do can hide the fact that she's almost two decades older than Van Johnson (and, for that matter, four years older than Tracy), and her efforts at projecting a youthful, not-far-from-girlish charm seem awkward; but when she tells Ward Bond's Al Yackey how losing a man like Pete is something "you die over," it's also totally believable. (This is why until the 1960s, when appearances overwhelmed other considerations, one had to cast women ten to twenty years out of adolescence as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.) Equally striking is the almost erotic arousal that she displays late in the movie, as Dorinda (herself something of a daredevil pilot) watches Ted -- being guided irresponsibly by a jealous Pete -- engage in some daring and dangerous aerial maneuvers. Additionally, they get excellent support from Van Johnson, who was seriously injured in a car accident during shooting (and would have been replaced but for Tracy's insistence otherwise) and was hospitalized for three months. He's much more than a pretty, callow face here, and plays everything he's asked to do straight and perfectly, with a beguiling, youthful verve. The other player worthy of mention is Ward Bond, who should have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award for his performance here; he did most of his best work in movies directed by John Ford, but working under Fleming here he gives a beautifully understated and affecting performance, striking the perfect balance between comedy and drama in a role that's as much at the center of the plot and the drama as Dunne's. It's doubly amazing that the movie holds up as well as it does, given that it required extensive retakes and a reshooting of the ending -- as originally scripted and shot, Dorinda dies on the bombing mission and joins Pete in heaven, but the Motion Picture Production Code office objected to this, interpreting the ending as a suicide, which was forbidden; so a new ending had to be written and shot. It all still held together, an amazingly poignant yet comforting fantasy-drama with some good moments of comedy and some exciting and extremely well-staged flying and combat sequences. The result is an engrossing, feel-good romance with enough action overtones to keep even the manliest of viewers entertained. Incidentally, the title of the movie is explained in the opening minutes of the movie as a reference to the slang of the period -- to quote one of the English children who idolizes Pete Sandidge, "In the American air forces, any man who's a 'right' chap is a guy named Joe."

Product Details

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Original Release:
Warner Archives
[Full Frame]
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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Spencer Tracy Pete Sandidge
Irene Dunne Dorinda Durston
Van Johnson Ted Randall
Ward Bond Al Yackey
Lionel Barrymore The General
James Gleason Col. "Nails" Kilpatrick
Esther Williams Ellen Bright
Barry Nelson Dick Rumney
Henry O'Neill Col. Hendricks
Don DeFore "Powerhouse" James J. Rourke
Charles B. Smith Sanderson
George Atkinson Waiter
Stephen Barclay Actor
Eddie Borden Taxi Driver
Eddie Coke Corporal
Oliver Cross American Major
Howard Davies Bartender
Vernon P. Downing English Liaison Officer
Mary Elliott Dance Hall Girl
Richard Graham Crew Member
Carey Harrison American Major in Red Lion Inn
Leatrice Joy Actor
George Kirby Fishermaen
Harold Landon Actor
Robert Lowell Actor
William Manning Co-Pilot
James Martin Actor
Mary McLeod Actor
Neyle Morrow Flier
Michael Owen U.S. Lieutenant
Jean Prescott Mother
Jack Saunders American Captain
Ken Scott Actor
Jessie Tai Sing Headwaitress
Arthur Space San Francisco Airport Captain
Wyndham Standing English Colonel
Clarence Straight Flight Sergeant
Robert Sully Actor
Carlie Taylor English Captain
Joan Thorsen Actor
Elizabeth Valentine Washerwoman's Child
Leslie Vincent Sentry
James Warren Irish Guard
Alan Wilson Sergeant in Jeep
Allen Wood Tough Corporal
Fred Coby Cadet
Yvonne Severn Elizabeth
Herbert Gunn Actor
Richard Woodruff Actor
Louis Hart Actor
Arthur Stenning Actor
Aileen Haley Hostess
Violet Seton Bartender's Wife
Stanley Orr English Captain
Martin Ashe Sergeant in Chinese Restaurant
Earl Schenck Col. Sykes
Eve Whitney Powerhouse Girl
Maurice Murphy Capt. Robertson
Gibson Gowland Bartender
John Whitney Officer in Heaven
Ernest Severn Davy
Raymond Severn Cyril
Addison Richards Maj. Corbett
Christopher Severn Peter
Kirk Alyn Officer In Heaven
John Frederick Lieutenant Ridley
Irving Bacon Corporal
Philip Van Zandt Majors
William Bishop Ray
Marshall Reed Flyer
Mark Daniels Lieutenant
Peter Cookson Sgt. Hanson
Jacqueline White Helen
Blake Edwards Flyer
Frank Faylen Major
James Millican Orderly
Walter Sande Mess Sergeant
Kay Williams Girl at Bar
Matt Willis Lieutenant Hunter
Edward Hardwicke George
Gertrude W. Hoffman Old Woman

Technical Credits
Victor Fleming Director
David Boehm Screenwriter
Jack Dawn Makeup
George Folsey Cinematographer
Karl W. Freund Cinematographer
Cedric Gibbons Art Director
Arnold A. Gillespie Special Effects
Ralph S. Hurst Set Decoration/Design
Irene Costumes/Costume Designer
Donald Jahraus Special Effects
Warren Newcombe Special Effects
Everett J. Riskin Producer
Chandler Sprague Screenwriter
Herbert Stothart Score Composer
Frank Sullivan Editor
Dalton Trumbo Screenwriter
Lyle Wheeler Art Director
Edwin B. Willis Set Decoration/Design


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