Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tonight's Movie: A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941)

A YANK IN THE R.A.F. is an interesting but uneven example of the type of morale-boosting film produced by Hollywood before the entry of the United States into World War II. Along with films like FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) and CONFIRM OR DENY (1941), A YANK IN THE R.A.F. demonstrated support for our European allies, especially England, and built support for Americans to join the fight.

Tyrone Power plays Tim Baker, a cocky American pilot who, as the title says, joins the R.A.F. Tim makes great contributions to the war effort, while having an up-down relationship with old flame Carol (Betty Grable) in his off hours. Tim has charisma to spare, but he's not exactly reliable, and in fact is a "worm" to Carol till the very last scene...would she be better off with British officer Morley (John Sutton)?

Tim really would be an absolute worm (Carol's term) if he weren't Tyrone Power...he's brash, thoughtless, bossy, and rude. Carol would be crazy not to choose Commander Morley...except for the fact that Tim is, well...Tyrone Power! Somehow that squares things (grin). Nonetheless, the film's ending is curiously ambiguous.

Grable is fine as the all-American girl in London, and I really liked John Sutton in this. Reginald Gardiner has an excellent supporting role.

The film has some very intense sequences mixed with lighter moments...the scene where Tim wakes after escaping from the Germans, and tries to identify where he is by the sounds he's hearing, is quite well done. The relief one feels is palpable when the camera pulls back to reveal he's in a hospital. The air battle footage is exciting, particularly the climactic sequence at Dunkirk.

I'm curious what was behind Tim's constant gum-chewing...perhaps that was meant to differentiate him as an American in England? It beats smoking, I guess...in some films of the era I've seen recently, smoking has come to seem almost like a weird behaviorial tic; the characters can't function without keeping their hands busy with cigarettes. It's interesting to consider that something so normal in the era depicted seems fairly foreign from the vantage point of decades later.  Of course, these days many people can't seem to function in public without keeping their hands busy texting or manipulating other electronic devices...maybe film of that would look strange to viewers a few decades from now!

The movie has a good feel for England, although everything but the aerial footage was shot in the United States. I wouldn't be surprised if the London Underground sets were shared with Fox's film set during the Blitz, CONFIRM OR DENY, also released in 1941.

This 98-minute film was directed by Henry King, a longtime Fox director who made many fine films in a variety of genres. King worked with Power several times, including directing his first big starring role in LLOYD'S OF LONDON (1936).

The movie was filmed in black and white by Leon Shamroy, with R.A.F. footage shot in England by photographers including Ronald Neame, who turns 99 in a few days! The film mixes actual aerial film with Oscar-nominated special effects.

A YANK IN THE R.A.F. is available in a good print on DVD as part of the Fox War Classics series. The only extras are a trailer and additional trailers for other Fox war films.

This movie has also had a VHS release.

Watch for it to turn up on Fox Movie Channel.


Blogger monty said...

Never seen this one, but now I am definitely interested in it now thanks to your wonderful post.

3:19 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Maybe the gum chewing was an early example of product placement? :-)
If folks like this movie, be sure to watch Tyrone Power in "This Above All" with Joan Fontaine. Romance! WW2 Propaganda!

3:52 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

panavia999 has reminded me of "This Above All", a film that I really enjoyed, but I haven't seen "Yank", so I must see it.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

THIS ABOVE ALL is just one of two films I've not yet seen from the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection. Looking forward to it.

This seems to be a week for WWII films, as I'm also very interested in watching SONG OF RUSSIA which I recorded today. Robert Taylor, Susan Peters, classical music, and pro-Stalinist Russia war propaganda all in one movie package!

Best wishes,

8:29 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Laura, I have the same box set, but I haven't watched all the films. What would you say is your favorite film so far in the collection? Also, Song of Russia; how very interesting. I'm looking forward to your review.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

The Tyrone Power Matinee Idol set is one of my all-time favorite boxed sets. I've honestly liked every one of the 8 films seen thus far. I think my favorites are THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU, and THAT WONDERFUL URGE, but this is a set with lots of entertainment value. It's special as the films aren't that well known, yet they have wonderful leading ladies and it's a great representation of the solid moviemaking that the studio system was able to turn out, movie after movie.

I'd enjoy knowing what you've liked best of those you've seen!

Now if only they'd put out Power's Sonja Henie films and SUEZ on DVD...

Best wishes,

8:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I seem to recall Betty's wearing a pair of shoes in the "Hiya Love" number that I liked very much although I doubted they would have been very comfortable!!

9:26 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

SONG OF RUSSIA and CONSPIRATOR are an interesting pair viewed together. WW2 propaganda vs Cold War propaganda, 1944 vs 1949. Very entertaining too.

1:03 PM  

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