Flying Tigers (1942)
Though he continued to appear in many great classic Westerns John Wayne first lent his screen persona to the war effort in this fictionalized drama about the real American pilots who battled the Japanese in China before the United States joined World War II (after Pearl Harbor). It led to another successful typecasting for the popular box office star who went on to make several classic war movies including Sand of Iwo Jima (1949) which earned the actor his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination (he would win his only Oscar for True Grit (1969)).
Directed by David Miller with an original story by Kenneth Gamet who wrote the screenplay with Barry Trivers Wayne plays Captain Jim Gordon the P-40 pilot who leads the small squadron of his peers against Japanese bombers and their fighter escorts over mainland China. The Flying Tigers were undermanned and under-equipped for the task which they undertook for noble reasons or pay. John Carroll plays Gordon’s buddy Woody Jason who motivated by the latter joins the unit. Anna Lee plays nurse Brooke Elliott ostensibly the reason Gordon stays in the seemingly hopeless fight. Paul Kelly plays Gordon’s right hand man Hap Smith who as a pilot watches his captain’s back. Gordon Jones plays Alabama Smith a friend of Woody’s who’s along for the ride. Edmund MacDonald plays Blackie Bales a pilot with a prior reputation for drinking on the job which led to a tragic accident in an air show; Mae Clarke plays his wife Verna. Bill Shirley Tom Neal Malcolm McTaggart David Bruce and Jimmie Dodd (among others) also play pilots; Addison Richards plays Colonel R.T. Lindsay. Those who appear uncredited include: Willie Fung as waiter Jim ‘Gin’ Sling Charles Lane as an airport manager named Repkin and Richard Loo as Dr. Tsing.
The somewhat melodramatic story involves the death of several of the pilots (including several dogfights where actual footage is used) the beginnings of a love triangle and some scenes from a Chinese children’s hospital where the victims of the aggressors’ bombing campaigns are portrayed. Howard Lydecker’s photographic & Daniel Bloomberg’s sound Special Effects earned an Academy Award nomination as was Bloomberg’s Sound Recording and Victor Young’s Score. For Lydecker it would be the last of his two unrewarded Oscar nominations; for Bloomberg his first two nominations. The film was a huge success for Republic Pictures.