Air Force (1943) - Rotten Tomatoes

Air Force (1943)




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On December 6, 1941, a squadron of nine B-17 bombers takes off for Hickam Field, HI. 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. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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John Garfield
as Aerial Gunner
Gig Young
as Co-Pilot
Arthur Kennedy
as Bombardier
Faye Emerson
as Susan McMartin
John Ridgely
as Capt. Mike Quincannon
Charles Drake
as Lt. Munchauser
Harry Carey
as Sgt. Robby White
George Tobias
as Cpl. Weinberg
Ward Wood
as Cpl. Peterson
Ray Montgomery
as Pvt. Chester
James Brown (II)
as Lt. Tex Rader
Stanley Ridges
as Major Mallory
Willard Robertson
as Colonel at Hickam Field
Moroni Olsen
as Col. Blake
Edward S. Brophy
as Sgt. J.J. Callahan
Richard Lane
as Major W.G. Roberts
Bill Crago
as Lt. Moran
Addison Richards
as Major Daniels
James Flavin
as Major A.M. Bagley
Ann Doran
as Mary Quincannon
Dorothy Peterson
as Mrs. Chester
James Millican
as Marine with dog
William Forrest
as Jack Harper
Murray Alper
as Corporal of Demolition Squad
George N. Neise
as Hickam Field Officer
Tom Neal
as Marine
Henry Blair
as Quincannon's son
Warren Douglas
as Control officer
Ruth Ford
as Nurse
Leah Baird
as Nurse No. 2
George Offerman Jr.
as Ground Crewman
James Bush
as Clark Field Control Officer
Theodore von Eltz
as First Lieutenant
Rand Brooks
as Co-pilot
Ross Ford
as Second Lieutenant
George Offerman
as Ground crewman
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for Air Force

All Critics (8) | Top Critics (2)

Although it draws about the longest and most pliant bow that has ever been drawn in the line of fanciful war films and goes completely overboard in the last reel, it is still a continuously fascinating, frequently thrilling and occasionally exalting show.

Full Review… | March 25, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

Howard Hawks finds a perfect vehicle for his study of the male group. William Faulkner polished the dialogue, but as a silent it would still be tremendously exciting and evocative.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A cheery bit of war propaganda that feels cringeworthy today, in which American soldiers seem extraordinarily giddy about the prospect of near-certain death, coupled with some terrible special-effects miniatures.

Full Review… | January 16, 2012
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The versatile Howard Hawks combines personal experience and knowing skills in directing this enjoyable WWII propaganda movie, which was nominated for four Oscars, winning one for editing.

Full Review… | July 6, 2009

Gritty, emotional actioner made at height of WWII. Strong cast.

March 6, 2008

All of director Howard Hawks' skills are on display in this exciting, crackerjack WWII film.

Full Review… | June 14, 2007
Combustible Celluloid

Audience Reviews for Air Force

I truly wish movie reviewers would STOP forcing pre-1960 "eggs" into post-1960 square egg crates!! If you can't put your touchie-feelie indoctrinations aside when critiquing classic films - don't review them...PLEASE! Enough with the condemnation of the "racially offensive slurs and inaccuracies" vis a vis the Japanese. If you had been seen or heard ringing your hands over this stuff on December 8, 1941, you'd have been locked in a loony bin - or shot as a traitor. This film - a superlative film in EVERY way was made a year and a half after 3000+ American naval personal had been ambushed and murdered by the Empire of Japan in a heinous attack unequaled until September 11, 2001. My father served in the Pacific in WW II, and said the Japanese were feared and hated because they were merciless, vicious and certainly NOT PC - they did not pity or spare any - men, women OR children. The POINT of this film was to laud our brave service men out there slogging around in the Pacific theater and to inspire other young men to sign up and join them. The plot, dialog, photography and acting is wonderful and I believe it ranks as one of the four greatest WW II films of all time: They Were Expendable; Air Force; 30 Seconds Over Tokyo and Saving Pvt. Ryan. Along with Resnais' Night and Fog documentary you have it pretty well summed up. This film beautifully shows Hawks' gift for building camaraderie and unity of purpose in an often disparate and hostile group. The cast is superlative...then again, you could have Harry Carey (Sr) sit in front of a camera and read ten pages from the phone book and be witness to an Academy Award-worthy performance. By-the-way, His Sgt.Robbie White in this flick SHOULD have gotten him that very award - along with two or three other roles in his career. James Wong Howe's cinematography is just magnificent. We of the sophisticated CGI-generation of cineastes KNOW many of the flying scenes are done with models - but they are done so well it never detracts. Howe's ability to film much of the action "in the fuselage" of the Mary-Ann - giving the claustrophobic sense of an air crew confined, yet never so cramped as to not allow each crewman his space to act and react to events as they take place - is wonderful to watch. Some have commented that the ending was "over-the-top". Maybe the highly technical, laser-beam-'em from 10 miles away style of modern warfare has clouded the ability of some to see that war in the 1940's was a much grittier, in-your-face proposition; one lucky break or just being in the right place at the right time was all that was needed to turn defeat into victory. I love this movie and cheered through the whole thing. So c'mon folks...pack away your granola bars, haul down the Kumbayah flag and watch those dastardly Japs get the smack-down from some good old Yankee flyboys. Thanks, Howard - ya done good.

Shoshanah King
Shoshanah King

Apparently Where Over-Long Action Sequences Come From As I've mentioned a time or two, I took a film class in college. This was more than ten years ago, so there's a lot about it I've forgotten, if not necessarily the list of films we saw. And one of the first of those films, which we saw for World War II Week (it was The History of the Twentieth Century Through Film), was [i]The Sands of Iwo Jima[/i], which we will not be doing here. A group of us used to sit out in the hall outside the classroom every day, and one day, we got to talking about our test on the first three films (the other two were [i]Sullivan's Travels[/i] and [i]Mr. Smith Goes to Washington[/i]). One of the girls asked me what I had put for "Was [i]The Sands of Iwo Jima[/i] propaganda?" (For the record, "Oh, dear God, yes." Followed by a more detailed explanation.) This astonished her. Somehow, I never did find out how, she'd gotten the impression that it was never propaganda if it came from The Good Guys. This despite the really blatant nature, which may actually have been worse from this movie, actually filmed mid-war. On 6 December, 1941, a crew of American Army Air Force personnel take off from San Francisco. They're your usual crowd of Typical Americans From Every Walk of Life. (Except the minorities. This one doesn't even seem to have a Token Jew.) Of course, in those days, it was a much longer flight, and they get to Hawaii at about six in the morning the next day, just about in time for the radio operators to mistake a squadron of Japanese Zeros for them. They end up diverting to an emergency backup field on Maui, where they are shot at by a completely imaginary squad of Fifth Columnists. So they divert to Wake Island just before it's overrun, and from there, they go to Manila just before it's bombed. So they travel from there to Australia and approximate safety. As they fly and land, fly and land, they experience the obligatory grief and heartwarming distractions. To be fair to the movie, people at the time actually did think the Pearl Harbor attack was assisted by Japanese-American residents of the island. (Though funnily enough, the film doesn't come with the Warner Apology Screen which they put in front of any cartoon with possibly offensive material.) It's only to modern eyes that it's so incredibly painful. We know that not one single act of sabotage could be attributed to any person of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. We also know, as it happens, that the Japanese living in Hawaii were not interned, because it was nigh on impossible to do so both for reasons of population and reasons of geography. (And the reason I don't call them citizens and have to dodge around the issue is that it was the law at the time that people born in Japan could not become citizens.) The thing is, we'd been underestimating the Japanese for so long that it had to be treachery and cunning, not actual military strength, which brought us down. I really didn't connect to any of the characters emotionally. They were the sort of characters who appear in any movie of this type. We even have the token guy whose enlistment is almost up and who is planning to get out. And then comes the attack, and he's more gung-ho than the career military guys. As is their wont. There's the Outsider, the Proud Father, the Green Officer, and so forth, and the reason I don't say who played which character is largely because I can't remember which character is which. Oh, John Ridgely and Gig Young, I've got. Though of course Gig Young I remember mostly for the horrific end of his life. (IMDB lists his last marriage as ending with "her death," but since he shot her and then himself, one rather feels this is because they're unable or unwilling to change their standardized listings.) I mean, by the end of the film, they've even actually acquired a Cute Little Dog! All in all, nothing really interesting here. I do think it worth mentioning that IMDB records two different fates for the real [i]Mary-Ann[/i], while Wikipedia asserts that there wasn't one to be lost in the first place and that a couple of different planes were used in filming, both of which were eventually used for training. Certainly the idea that not all men would last to the end of the War is hardly surprising--at one point, they mention going to Bataan, which won't end well for most of those who get there. The film itself acknowledges that it doesn't really know how things are going to turn out, because the war would last another two years. However, Howard Hawks notwithstanding, there isn't anything interesting about this movie relative to a lot of other movies of the same type from the same era. I mean, come on--it doesn't even have John Wayne.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

Excellent story with a terrific cast, with John Garfield standing out the most. One of the best World War II films, although the story has the usual propaganda angle to it, but it was typical of the time. The story is excellent, and it's rousing with a great score.

James Higgins
James Higgins

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