Note: This review of WING AND A PRAYER is my contribution to today's Dana Andrews Blogathon, being sponsored by Stephen at Classic Movie Man. Be sure to check out all the other great blogathon posts celebrating this very special actor.
WING AND A PRAYER, subtitled THE STORY OF CARRIER X, is a well-made World War II film from 20th Century-Fox, directed by Henry Hathaway.
The film, which is set in the months between Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway, tells the story of a carrier on a mission to trick the Japanese into thinking the United States fleet is scattered and unwilling to fight. Ultimately the Japanese Navy will head to Midway, where the United States will win a great victory.
Don Ameche gives a strong, uncharacteristically tough performance as the stern flight commander aboard the carrier, who must continually make decisions which will lead to the loss of his men in combat. Dana Andrews plays a pilot who heads a flight squadron, with Charles Bickford playing the captain of the carrier.
Various crew members are played by a large, interesting cast including William Eythe, Reed Hadley, Glenn Langan, Richard Jaeckel, and Harry Morgan. The bit players among the crew members include Ray Teal, Blake Edwards, Jimmie Dodd, Irving Bacon, and Arthur Space.
Little information is given about the personal lives of any of the men, save for the sketchiest details: one is a Hollywood actor, one is just 16, one has an idea to grow vegetables on board ship. For the most part the film is strictly focused on the operations of an aircraft carrier.
As Lt. Commander Moulton, Andrews' character must straddle a line between being an authority figure, responsible for leading his men and answering to his superiors, along with being one of the "gang," sharing camaraderie with his fellow pilots. When one of his men (Harry Morgan) is frustrated and disobeys orders from the flight commander, Moulton is forced to ground the pilot, though he clearly sympathizes with him and later seeks him out to socialize.
Despite having virtually no back story, Andrews is highly effective as a serious, confident pilot who grapples with tough situations on a daily basis, and the rest of the cast is likewise excellent. It's an engrossing film which is a solid contribution to the catalogue of war movies made by Hollywood in the early '40s.
Over the course of WWII, Andrews appeared in a variety of war films, including the title role in the "B" film BERLIN CORRESPONDENT (1941) and playing a Russian in THE NORTH STAR (1943). Andrews played members of the military in CRASH DIVE (1943), THE PURPLE HEART (1944), and A WALK IN THE SUN (1945), and he famously played a WWII veteran newly returned from service in William Wyler's classic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).
Additionally, in the early '50s Andrews appeared in another film set during WWII, THE FROGMEN (1951), and then played a WWII veteran considering signing up to serve in the Korean conflict in I WANT YOU (1951).
The story and screenplay of WING AND A PRAYER were by Jerome Cady. The film runs 97 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by Glen MacWilliams.
WING AND A PRAYER is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. The DVD can be rented from Netflix, and it's currently also available via Netflix streaming.
It was also released on VHS, and it's shown periodically on Fox Movie Channel.
DANA ANDREWS: HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA, written by Carl Rollyson. Originally due out this fall, it's now available for purchase. The book is from University Press of Mississippi, which has a track record of publishing excellent biographies of Hollywood actors. I'm looking forward to ordering it soon.