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FLYING TIGERS (director: David Miller; screenwriters: Kenneth Gamet/Barry Trivers; cinematographer: Jack Marta; editor: Ernest Nims; music: Victor Young; cast: John Wayne (Jim Gordon), Anna Lee (Brooke Elliott), John Carroll (Woody Jason), Paul Kelly (Hap Davis), Mae Clarke (Verna Bales), Edmund MacDonald (Blackie Bales), Tom Neal (Reardon), Gordon Jones (Alabama Smith), Gregg Barton (Tex Norton), Malcolm ‘Bud’ McTaggart (McCurdy); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edmund Grainger; Republic; 1942)
“The film’s best scenes are reserved for the 1930s style airplane dog-fights.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

TheFlying Tigers are a squadron of American mercenaries (the American Volunteer Group organized by a retired American Captain Claire Chennault, later promoted to general, who in reality were quite effective and were in business for 10 months starting in September of ’41 and ending in July of ’42), led by no-nonsense Jim Gordon (John Wayne), whose brave men fought the Japanese for a mixture of patriotic and money reasons in China for Chiang Kai-Shek before America’s entry into World War II.

It’s directed in a gung-ho macho style by David Miller; the writers are Kenneth Gamet and Barry Trivers, whose main purpose seems to be to make this an uplifting war story to boost morale. The film’s best scenes are reserved for the 1930s style airplane dog-fights. It’s a film about heroics, but none of it convincing. The film’s star, the 34-year-old Duke, was rejected from Navy service because of an old football injury to his shoulder. At the time of this pic Duke was preoccupied with Mexican beauty Esperanza Baur Diaz, whom he met on vacation there, even though married to wifey number one. She became wife number two some two years later and in 1953 gave way to his third Latin wife Pilar.

The Fying Tigers initially fly out of Rangoon. They wear white scarves, sport sidearms, walk with a swagger, and have brown bombardier jackets with a laundry ticket in back marking that they’re American volunteers fighting for China (in case they crash-land in Chinese territory).

The men are the usual stereotypes in such B-war films. There’s, of course, the guy from Brooklyn and the guy from Texas. There’s the coward who gets a chance to redeem himself and get back his self-respect (Edmund MacDonald). The womanizing braggart, Woody Jason (John Carroll), a cynic fighting only for the money and glory who sees the light before the end of the third act and gives up his life for the cause. This comes after he caused the death of a popular pilot Hap (Paul Kelly), who was grounded but forced to replace Woody when he failed to show for a mission. Squadron leader Jim admonishes his pal Woody and his date with these choice words “Hope you two had a good time, because Hap paid the check.” Woody took Jim’s main squeeze, the base’s pretty blonde nurse, Brooke (Anna Lee), out on a dinner date.

There was not much to get worked up about, as Duke seemed to have things under control as he peered out from the cockpit and saw the bloody newsreel footage from the war as he vanquished the enemy. This was Wayne’s first war picture, and many more were to follow.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”