BOMBARDIER (1943) is part of this weekend's blogathon celebrating the birthday of everyone's favorite Western hero, Randolph Scott. The blogathon is being hosted by Toby of 50 Westerns From the 50s; please visit his site here for lots of great links! My other blogathon post is on Scott's lesser-known Western SUGARFOOT (1951).
BOMBARDIER is a patriotic World War II film which was released by RKO in May 1943.
The film, which begins prior to the U.S. entry into the war, is initially set at a New Mexico flight school owned by Burton Hughes (Anne Shirley) which has been converted to train bombardiers. Major Chick Davis (Pat O'Brien) and Captain Buck Oliver (Randolph Scott) work to train a group of recruits, including young men played by Robert Ryan, Eddie Albert, Walter Reed, and Richard Martin.
Davis and Oliver are both interested in the lovely Miss Hughes, but she falls for Jim Carter (Reed).
After Pearl Harbor the men go to combat in the Pacific, and many of them won't come back.
BOMBARDIER is almost two movies in one, part dry docudrama and part brutal combat film. In the first half of the film there is debate over the relative merits of dive bombing to drop bombs at close range versus bombing from 20,000 feet, and there's extensive time depicting the arduous training process in order to make the grade as a bombardier.
The tenor of the film begins to change with a training accident in which the oxygen is accidentally cut off to pilot Oliver (Scott), resulting in the horrific death of one of the young men on the plane.
The war section of the film is very dark, with many of the characters the audience has come to know shot down or captured in enemy territory. As with some other films from the early years of the war, when victory was uncertain -- including MANILA CALLING (1942), which I recently reviewed for ClassicFlix -- the film attempts to inspire viewers by depicting a cruel enemy and the "never say die" American spirit.
I found the movie as a whole uneven; I like docudramas but this one started out on the dull side, then tipped a little too far in the other direction, with a series of fairly shocking scenes. Talk about a movie with a schizophrenic personality!
That said, Randolph Scott's character is key to the movie's ultimate impact; while his character is initially not very deeply sketched, he is part of the film's two most significant action sequences. While I'll hold back the details, viewers won't forget his heroic actions in the face of certain death, and thus Scott and the film provided a memorable contribution to Hollywood's wartime morale-boosting efforts.
Those who love Scott's later Westerns will be interested to note that his main romantic competition in BOMBARDIER comes from Walter Reed, who would play Gail Russell's husband in the classic Scott Western SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) over a dozen years later.
Western fans will also take interest in the very first appearance on film of Chito Rafferty, Tim Holt's genial girl-chasing sidekick from so many postwar Westerns. It's a bit mind-blowing watching the Chito persona in modern dress as a WWII bombardier! He's still girl crazy, though he's got his eye on just one girl, played by lovely WWII pinup Margie Stewart.
It's also worth noting that cast members Robert Ryan and Eddie Albert would shortly disappear from the screen for years of WWII service.
This 99-minute film was directed by Richard Wallace, with aerial sequences directed by the uncredited Lambert Hillyer. It was filmed by Nicholas Musuraca and the uncredited Joseph Biroc. The editor was future Oscar-winning director Robert Wise.
BOMBARDIER was released on VHS in the RKO Collection and is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.