Judge Clark Douglas was once a member of The Flying Kittens.
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Over the course of World War II, American movie studios churned out an alarming amount of propaganda films intended to inspire the public's support of the war effort and reinforce the idea that our boys overseas were noble heroes fighting a horrible menace (which they were, of course). Well-intentioned as these movies may have been, most of them had little room for subtlety or complexity. The movies certainly served their purpose during their time, but most of them haven't aged particularly well—such is the nature of propaganda films.
John Wayne participated in his fair share of these flicks over the course of the war, as Wayne was always eager to sign on for something he deemed patriotic (a mindset which unfortunately led to his participation in a handful of McCarthy-esque flicks during the 1950s, not to mention the regrettable, preachy pro-Vietnam War flick The Green Berets). Though Wayne is well-known for his reputation as a war movie veteran, the 1942 airplane drama Flying Tigers represented a major change of pace for the actor at the time. Viewers were used to seeing Wayne riding a horse and sporting a cowboy hat; the actor had never done a war movie before. Honestly, it shows: Wayne seems a bit uncomfortable in the role, certainly lacking the commanding presence he would offer a decade later in the similarly-themed Flying Leathernecks.
The Flying Tigers were a legendary unit comprised of American pilots using Chinese planes to do battle with Japanese enemies. The film takes quite a few liberties with the real-life details of this unit, but the iconic Curtiss P-40 fighters certainly look the same. The unit is commanded by Jim Gordon (Wayne), who is your typical solid, sturdy, military commander kind of guy. There's a bit of a romantic subplot involving a nurse named Brooke Elliot (Anna Lee, How Green Was My Valley) who pines after Gordon, and a dramatic complication of sorts involving a hotshot pilot (John Carroll, Go West) who decides to go ahead and make a move on the nurse. However, all of this material is thinly-written filler designed to pad the movie between battle scenes. Less thinly-written and slightly more interesting: the inevitable scenes in which Wayne stands in front of a chalkboard and explains the battle plan in detail.
As for those battles: well, if you like stock footage, you're in for a treat. There's a whole boatload of stock footage littered throughout the film, interspersed with shots of pilots on both sides looking distressed/excited/dead. There are also some special effects involving miniature versions of the planes, but the transition between the stock footage and the freshly-shot material isn't terribly smooth. Flying Tigers feels very much like a movie hastily assembled around a few reels of pre-existing battle material, and it's hard to feel terribly invested in the characters as a result. War buffs will have fun nitpicking the movie's many factual errors and plane junkies will enjoy seeing that aforementioned stock footage, but in contrast to the bulk of Wayne's war films, this one doesn't offer much to write home home about.
Flying Tigers (Blu-ray) presents a Full Frame 1.37:1/1080p transfer which is very much a mixed bag. As you might expect given the sheer amount of stock footage involved, the image is inconsistent. Stock footage scenes are much heavier on scratches and flecks, though those pop up in the scenes featuring the actors, too. Otherwise, detail is fairly strong and depth is solid. The DTS HD 1.0 Mono track is perfectly adequate, as the dialogue is generally pretty clear and Victor Young's soaring (if occasionally corny) score sounds crisp and clean. No supplements whatsoever are included, which is a shame. A good documentary putting the film into its proper historical context would have been appreciated.
Wayne fans may find some modest enjoyment in Flying Tigers, but the iconic actor has done so much better on so many other occasions. Casual viewers need not apply.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Olive Films
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