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Air Force

Air Force

5.0 1
Director: Howard Hawks

Cast: John Ridgely, Gig Young, Arthur Kennedy


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The 1943 Howard Hawks-directed Air Force comes at the attack on Pearl Harbor from a side angle, opening with a squadron of nine B-17 bombers takes off for Hickam Field, Hawaii, on December 6, 1941. The crew of the Mary Ann, including two new men, assistant radio man Private Chester (Ray Montgomery) and gunner Sergeant Joe Winocki


The 1943 Howard Hawks-directed Air Force comes at the attack on Pearl Harbor from a side angle, opening with a squadron of nine B-17 bombers takes off for Hickam Field, Hawaii, on December 6, 1941. The crew of the Mary Ann, including two new men, assistant radio man Private Chester (Ray Montgomery) and gunner Sergeant Joe Winocki (John Garfield), assembles for the flight, and in the first 20 minutes, the movie reveals certain things about the crew: the shadowy past of one, the mother of another, and the wife of a third; two of them are good friends with the sister of McMartin (Arthur Kennedy), the bombardier, who lives in Honolulu; the son of the senior member of the crew, Sgt. White (Harry Carey Sr.), is a pilot stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. Then more characters make entrances: the aircraft commander Quincannon (John Ridgely); Weinberg (George Tobias), a Jewish mechanic from New York; and a man from a farm in the upper Midwest -- they all represent a broad cross-section of America as it saw itself, and the "regular guys" in the Army Air Force as it existed in 1941. The flight proceeds without incident. Winocki, an embittered, washed-out flight school candidate who accidentally killed another pilot, is about to leave the service when the weather report from Hickam Field is interrupted, and the radio man begins picking up transmissions in Japanese. The Mary Ann and the rest of the squadron fly right into the middle of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor unarmed and out of gas, and nearly crack up landing on an emergency field; no sooner do they make repairs than the crew comes under attack, and the plane takes off and makes for Hickam Field, which they find a flaming shambles. They fly on to the Philippines, stopping at Wake Island just long enough to meet a few members of the doomed Marine garrison, taking their company mascot, a dog, with them. At Clark Field, the Mary Ann and her crew finally go into action against the enemy, flying in alone against a Japanese invasion force; Quincannon is mortally wounded in the brief action, which leaves the plane damaged seemingly beyond repair. The remaining crew won't give up the plane, however, even when ordered to abandon and destroy her; they get the bomber off just ahead of the advancing Japanese, and survive to help bring retribution to the invading fleet and the Japanese empire.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Howard Hawks primarily made two kinds of movies: breezy, fast-moving, breathlessly paced features of conventional length, and long, serious, very involved, epic-length works that also entailed adventure and excitement, but took their time telling their stories. Air Force is one of the latter, made at the height of World War II, and covering as many bases as possible in its patriotic content, and perhaps a few too many for its own good. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols accomplishes a difficult feat with his script, building tremendous suspense during the first 25 minutes of the picture as the plot leads right into an event -- the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- the outcome of which everyone in the audience (then and now) already knew; he did this by focusing on the personalities of the men involved, and providing just enough detail to their characters so that, coupled with some fine performances, the roles were more than simple stock stereotypes. There are some marvelous sequences scattered throughout this movie, including the preparation for the initial flight, where Hawks introduces the key dramatic characters smoothly and quickly; the banter between the men on that flight, and the increasingly ominous and suspenseful mood as they approach Pearl Harbor; the death of a pilot, with his crew acting out their roles in a take-off that is going on in his imagination as life ebbs from his body; the "bucket brigade" loading gasoline onto the stricken bomber as its crew works frantically to make it air-worthy ahead of the advancing Japanese; and the take-off from Clark Field, which is the emotional payoff of the picture, with the crew finally able to cut loose with their weapons on the enemy swarming around them. Air Force manages to weave its spell through these stunning sequences, even as it defies logic -- if one stopped and thought about it, too much happens to this single air crew within the space of a couple of weeks to be believable, but between them, Hawks, Nichols, and the cast never give you the chance to break that willing suspension of disbelief. There's also a lot more on the tray here than excellent scenes -- Hawks and Nichols did a very good job of providing a multiple climax on Air Force. Had it ended with the take-off from Clark Field, that would have been exciting enough, but they give another 15 minutes of combat, heroics, and action, with ever-larger explosions in an ever-larger canvas of events. In doing so, you finally get to see the B-17 do what it was designed to do -- bomb the hell out of an enemy -- and they even address one of the design flaws in the original plane (no effective tail-gun). In a sense, Air Force is the airborne equivalent of that other great Warner Bros. wartime action release of 1943, Action in the North Atlantic, and almost as rousing and entertaining as well as more stylish. It's a shame to have to cite a major flaw in a movie as enjoyable as this, but modern viewers should beware of the way that Air Force presents the circumstances of the attack on Pearl Harbor: The script claims that Japanese saboteurs at work in the Hawaiian population played an active role in the attack, and that there were Japanese snipers infiltrating ground facilities; there were no Japanese fifth columnists in Hawaii involved in the attack, and the script's slur on the Japanese-American population of Hawaii is something that the movie must live down, and audiences have to get past to enjoy the movie.

Product Details

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

Performance Credits
John Ridgely Capt. Michael A. Quincannon
Gig Young Lt. Xavier Bill Williams
Arthur Kennedy Lt. Tommy McMartin
Harry Carey Sgt. R. L. White
Charles Drake Lt. M. W. Hauser
John Garfield Sgt. John B. Winocki
George Tobias Cpl. B. B. Weinberg
Ward Wood Cpl. Gus Peterson
Ray Montgomery Private H. W. Chester
James Brown Lt. T. A. Rader
Willard Robertson Col.
Moroni Olsen Col. Blake
Edward S. Brophy Sgt. J.J. Callahan
Richard Lane Maj. W.G. Roberts
Bill Crago Lt. Moran
Faye Emerson Susan McMartin
Addison Richards Maj. Daniels
James Flavin Maj. A.M. Bagley
Ann Doran Mary Quincannon
Dorothy Peterson Mrs. Chester
Murray Alper Corporal of Demolition Squad
Lynne Baggett Nurse
Leah Baird 2nd nurse
Henry Blair Quincannon's son
Rand Brooks Co-pilot
James Bush 2nd control officer
Warren Douglas Control officer
Theodore Von Eltz 1st lieutenant
Ross Ford 2nd lieutenant
Ruth Ford Nurse
William Forrest Jack Harper
Sol (Saul) Gorss Sergeant
William Hopper Sergeant
Marjorie Hoshelle Nurse
James Millican Marine with dog
Tom Neal Marine
George Neise Hickam Field Officer
Ted Offenbecker Actor
George Offerman Ground crewman
Stanley Ridges Maj. Mallory
Walter Sande Joe

Technical Credits
Howard Hawks Director
George J. Amy Editor
Roy Davidson Special Effects
Elmer Dyer Cinematographer
Leo F. Forbstein Musical Direction/Supervision
James Wong Howe Cinematographer
John Hughes Art Director
H.F. Koenekamp Special Effects
Charles Marshall Cinematographer
Dudley Nichols Screenwriter
Jack Sullivan Asst. Director
Elmer Syer Cinematographer
Walter F. Tilford Set Decoration/Design
Hal B. Wallis Producer
Franz Waxman Score Composer
Rex Wimpy Special Effects
William Faulkner Source Author


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Air Force 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a war film buff, I find this a unique drama detailing the early days of the Second World War following the life of a B-17 and its crew. From departing America for Hawaii prior to Dec 7th to the Phillipines, we follow the crew as they fight the enemy and try to rebuild the damaged B-17 to escape to fight another day.