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DIVE BOMBER (director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: story by Frank Wead/Frank Wead/Robert Buckner; cinematographers: Bert Glennon/Winton Hoch; editor: George Amy; music: Max Steiner; cast: Errol Flynn (Lt. Doug Lee), Fred MacMurray (Lt. Cmdr. Joe Blake), Ralph Bellamy (Lt. Cmdr. Lance Rogers), Alexis Smith (Linda Fisher), Robert Armstrong (Lt. Cmdr. Art Lyons), Regis Toomey (Lt. Tim Griffin), Louis Jean Heydt (Lt. Swede Larson), Allen Jenkins (“Lucky” James), Dennie Moore (James’ wife), Moroni Olsen (Senior surgeon at San Diego), Craig Stevens (John Thomas Anthony, pilot); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Warner Bros.; 1941)
“Though well-crafted, it seems more geared for aviation buffs than a general audience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Filmed just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s fully backed by the U. S. Navy (they allow use of the Naval Air Station on Coronado Island near San Diego, California) and dedicated to its flight surgeons who are obsessed with finding the cure for pilot “blackout” and how to deal with altitude sickness (caused by flying too high).

A dive bomber is a pilot who reaches a high altitude and then goes straight down to launch a high speed attack on an enemy target, like a warship.

Though well-crafted, it seems more geared for aviation buffs than a general audience. Its propaganda message is ‘get ready citizens, war is around the corner.’ Michael Curtiz (“Captain Blood”/”Dodge City”/”The Sea Hawk”) helms it as an action pic, adding the obligatory subplot of a military romance. It’s based on the story by former Navy pilot Frank ‘Spig’ Wead, who also cowrites with Robert Buckner.

Lt. Doug Lee (Errol Flynn), a cocky Harvard educated doctor, is a Navy surgeon stationed in Hawaii. Hotshot Navy dive bombers Joe Blake (Fred MacMurray), Swede Larson (Louis Jean Heydt) and Tim Griffin (Regis Toomey) are a close-knit group. Swede experiences during a dive a blackout over Hawaiian waters and Lee operates on him by convincing the head surgeon (Moroni Olsen) that he can perform a controversial aggressive spinal procedure. The Swede dies on the operating table, as the remaining group members blame the doctor. The saddened and humbled Lee transfers to San Diego’s naval base to enroll in the flight surgeon program. The misunderstood surgeon aims to study from those lofty heights the causes of pilot blackout. Lee’s instructor Dr. Rogers (Ralph Bellamy) is a forward thinker, grounded from flight because of injury caused by making himself a guinea pig for his experiment. The older doctor is cold and brusque to the much younger Lee’s special interest, and doesn’t change until he understands his charge better. Also, Lee’s pilot training is under the newly transferred pilots Blake and Griffin.

The film stays on course when dealing with aviation issues, but when it tacks on a tepid romance story involving Linda Fisher (Alexis Smith), who is pursued by both Lee and Blake, the romance story seems to go nowhere. What was even more obnoxious was the lame comic relief offered by Lee’s aide-de-camp “Lucky” James (Allen Jenkins) dodging his wife on payday. It all leads to the final test of Lee’s high-altitude pressure suit.

It remains impressive, even today, for its superior aerial footage (filmed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, who objected but were overruled by the Secretary of the Navy). Otherwise it takes a nose dive into drab Hollywood melodramatic waters.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”