(director/writer: William Wellman; screenwriter: from a story by Wellman/A.S. Fleischman; cinematographer: William Clothier; editor: Owen Marks; music: Leonard Rosenman ; cast: Etchika Choureau (Renée Beulieu), David Janssen (Duke Sinclaire), Jody McCrea (Tom Hitchcock), Tab Hunter (Thad Walker), William Wellman, Jr. (Bill Wellman, Sr.), Marcel Dalio (Drill Sergeant, Paul Fix (U. S. General), Will Hutchins (Dave Putnam), Dennis Devine (Red Scanlon), Clint Eastwood (George Moseley), Tom Laughlin (Arthur Bluthenthal), Brett Halsey (Frank Baylies); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Wellman; Warner Bros.; 1958)
“Falls flat even if a war film close to the director’s heart.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The final film of William Wellman (“Wings”/”Battleground”), an American WW1 pilot for the Lafayette Flying Corps (not the Lafayette Escadrille), falls flat even if a war film close to the director’s heart. It celebrates the adventurous Americans who some time after 1916, just before America entered the Great War, join as flyers for the Lafayette Escadrille, an outfit reserved for Americans volunteering to fight for France in French uniforms without losing their citizenship.
Writer A.S. Fleischman bases it on a story by Wellman, one he actually experienced. It only has one noteworthy aerial scene, at the climax, worth seeing (Wellman hated it because the studio boss refused to have the film’s star Tab Hunter die during that action scene). It mostly tells a coming-of-age tale about a wayward lad who will mature after flying war missions for the French. That this duty is performed by so-so heartthrob actor Tab Hunter, which should tell you why the film is so tedious and dispirited.
The troubled rich boy from Boston Thad Walker (Tab Hunter) crashes a car he steals and gets a tongue-lashing and beating from his irate dad. This motivates him to hop on a ship to France to join the Escadrille outfit. Aboard the ship he meets three other young American volunteers (David Janssen, Jody McCrea &William Wellman, Jr. ) and they become tight friends throughout their days in France.
At a Paris bar, Thad falls in love with the prostitute Renee (Etchika Choureau) and they become lovers. When Thad strikes a French officer he’s confined to the stockade. But his American friends free him and he joins Renee in Paris, becoming her pimp. He will get a chance to fly again when he meets a general at a brothel, who uses his influence to get him to fly again for the Americans.
The outspoken Wellman would denounce studio head Jack Warner for interfering (changing the way the climax was shot, forcing Tab Hunter as star rather than Wellman’s choice of Paul Newman and not giving the film an adequate budget) and called the film a failure. He said that although he had written the tale as a love story, Warner Bros. insisted on making it into a mini-epic.
REVIEWED ON 10/17/2019 GRADE: C