Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Flight Command (1940)

FLIGHT COMMAND is the story of a Navy air squadron, the Hellcats, training off San Diego on the eve of America's entry into World War II.

Robert Taylor is Alan "Pensacola" Drake, the brash newest member of the Hellcats. Walter Pidgeon is his commanding officer, and Ruth Hussey plays Pidgeon's wife Lorna, who first meets Taylor when he bails out of a plane on the beach near her home. After a tragedy hits the squadron, Drake innocently becomes a little too close to Lorna while her husband is preoccupied, a relationship which causes dissension among the pilots. This storyline provides a bit of domestic melodrama to go along with the flight sequences.

The film is nothing particularly special and goes on a bit too long, but it's a diverting piece of entertainment which is also an interesting artifact of its historical era, and it has a large cast of good actors. The supporting cast includes Red Skelton, in a straight role as a Hellcat pilot, and Shepperd Strudwick as Hussey's brother. Marsha Hunt has a tiny two-scene comedic role as a Southern girl, and Paul Kelly is a squadron member.

If you don't blink, you can spot John Raitt as one of the Hellcat pilots in the background of many scenes, half a decade before he made the big time as the star of Broadway's CAROUSEL. He has a fair amount of screen time but only a couple of lines. Raitt, one of American theater's foremost singers, was a graduate of my alma mater, the University of Redlands.

Robert Taylor learned to fly while making FLIGHT COMMAND; during WWII, Lt. Robert Taylor served as a flight instructor in the Navy Air Corps, beginning in 1943. According to Lawrence J. Quirk's THE FILMS OF ROBERT TAYLOR, Taylor also directed 17 training films for the Navy, and narrated the Oscar-winning documentary THE FIGHTING LADY.

Fans of the lovely Ruth Hussey will want to visit Ruth, which includes wonderful family photos.

FLIGHT COMMAND was directed by Frank Borzage. It runs 116 minutes. The movie was partially filmed in San Diego, with the cooperation of the United States Navy.

FLIGHT COMMAND is not yet available on DVD or VHS. It can be seen on cable on TCM. Click here to request that TCM schedule the movie or to indicate interest in a DVD release.

The trailer can be seen here.

May 2011: FLIGHT COMMAND has now been released in a remastered edition as part of the Warner Archive DVD-R program.


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