Monday, February 11, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Flat Top (1952)

A few days ago I watched the Navy WWII film AWAY ALL BOATS (1956), and today it was time for another Navy war film, FLAT TOP.

FLAT TOP is a Monogram film which stars Sterling Hayden and Richard Carlson. It was directed by Lesley Selander.

It's 1944 and Lt. Joe Rodgers (Carlson) arrives on an aircraft carrier with a squadron he mentored through training. Rodgers and the men find Commander Dan Collier (Hayden) a stern taskmaster and initially find his attitudes unreasonable. Rodgers, despite his own misgivings, orders the men to respect Collier as their commander, but he and Collier tangle behind the scenes.

The men slowly come to realize that everything Collier does, whether or not they like it, is meant to teach them what they need to know to stay alive in combat.

It's a fairly simple story as war movies go, but I found the 82-minute film to be fairly interesting viewing. While the film lacks the polish and dramatic complexity of a war film such as AWAY ALL BOATS, it's enjoyable when approached as a fairly run-of-the-mill WWII film. Those such as myself who like Carlson and Hayden will probably be most likely to enjoy it.

I'd dispute the conclusion that all of Collier's behavior was wise, because while many of his points were valid, he could also be a fairly obnoxious jerk. What the men needed was probably a happy medium somewhere in between Collier and Rodgers, who was pals with his men. As we saw in AWAY ALL BOATS, it can be difficult to lead men in war when their commander gets too close, and Rodgers didn't always show wisdom himself.

The movie was filmed in Cinecolor by Harry Neumann. It has the usual Cinecolor look, heavy in browns, greens, and blues, but that actually might have made the extensive use of real aerial footage blend in better. I found the back and forth between the movie footage and the real combat footage less jarring than in some other movies. The film also uses back projections, and while they're noticeable, they're fairly well done.

I've seen reviews online indicating there are technical issues with the film, such as footage of a plane not in use until the Korean War, not to mention footage of more than one type of plane being flown by the U.S. pilots in the same sequence; I've also seen quibbles about the red lights being used in the ready room when the flyers aren't going to be flying at night. I readily admit to being fairly oblivious to those types of issues so they didn't detract from my enjoyment.

Phyllis Coates, who was Lois Lane in TV's SUPERMAN, has one scene as Hayden's wife; Coates just turned 86. The cast also includes Walter Coy (THE SEARCHERS), William Schallert, Keith Larsen, John Bromfield, Todd Karns, and Bill Phipps.

FLAT TOP is available on DVD. It appears to be out of print and fairly expensive to purchase. Fortunately the DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix, and Netflix also has the movie available for streaming.


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