Saturday, January 08, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Jet Pilot (1957) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Thanks to Kino Lorber I've caught up with several John Wayne films over the last couple of years, including THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS (1941), THE SPOILERS (1942), and PITTSBURGH (1942).

This week, again thanks to a Kino Lorber Blu-ray, I finally saw Wayne's JET PILOT (1957). JET PILOT was a Howard Hughes production which began filming in 1949 yet infamously wasn't released for a full eight years. Hughes was notorious for continuing to "tinker" with films, never satisfied that they were ready for release.

The movie's odd production history was covered well by John McElwee in a 2006 post at Greenbriar Picture Shows. Suffice it to say that someone going in only knowing of the late '50s release date would not be quite prepared to see the young, dewy-eyed, 22-year-old 1949 version of Janet Leigh or her 42-year-old costar Wayne, who was then at the height of his physical appeal.

It's fashionable for many critics and historians to make fun of JET PILOT, and indeed, on one level it's, well, a pretty nutty movie. But in a way the film was simply ahead of its time, inadvertently playing as one of those '60s mash-ups of romantic comedy and suspense, in the vein of the recently viewed ARABESQUE (1966). Cartoony bad guys, a great wardrobe for the leading lady (by Michael Woulfe), suggestive's all there.

Indeed, some of the double entendres traded between Wayne and Leigh were absolutely eye-popping for 1949 or '50, to the extent I can't believe they even dared film those scenes then -- yet those lines would have been perfectly at home uttered by Rock Hudson a couple decades later.

The movie simultaneously calls to mind films from a decade previously such as NINOTCHKA (1939) and COMRADE X (1940). All in all, it's a giddy mix.

So, is the plot incredibly silly? Yes. And you know what? I loved it.

Leigh improbably plays Anna Marladovna, a Soviet pilot who as the movie opens defects to the U.S. Col. Jim Shannon (Wayne) is assigned by the military to spend time with Anna and pump her for Communist military information.

Anna and Jim are highly attracted to one another and fall in love, but...well, going further plotwise might be saying too much, but let's just say they end up married and flying back to Communist Russia...just go with it.

The film is basically a 103-minute cat-and-mouse game between both Jim and Anna and their countries, trying to figure out who's on the level when. Can a pair of potential spies find true love?

Goofy it may be, but Wayne and Leigh give it their all and are mesmerizing from both physical and acting standpoints. I believe Leigh made this just after HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), on loan from MGM to RKO for both pictures. If I've got the dates figured out correctly, Wayne shot this in between SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949) and RIO GRANDE (1950).

The movie's opening credits say that the film stars Wayne, Leigh, and "the United States Air Force." Actual costars were Wayne's good friend Paul Fix, plus Jay C. Flippen, Hans Conreid, Joyce Compton, Roland Winters, and Ivan Triesault.

Costar Richard Rober, who plays an FBI man, was unfamiliar to me when I saw him earlier this week in DEPORTED (1950), yet a review of his credits shows I've seen him in several films. One of the many unusual things about JET PILOT is that due to the long passage of time between principal production and release, Rober had sadly been dead a full half a decade when JET PILOT finally made it into theaters.

It's also odd to consider that this movie was shot about two and a half years before THE NAKED SPUR (1953), which I watched Leigh in earlier this week, yet it wasn't released until four years later.

Hughes waited so long to release the movie that the Air Force uniforms and the jets even became outdated. It made me wonder if the movie set some kind of record for the longest time a film was deliberately held back from release.

The movie was originally filmed in 1:37:1, but when it finally hit theaters in the late '50s it was cropped to 1:85:1 for a widescreen release. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes both versions; I opted for the 1:37:1 fullscreen.

JET PILOT was written by Jules Furth and directed by Josef von Sternberg. It was filmed in Technicolor by the great Winton C. Hoch (SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON).

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray has a fine picture and a strong soundtrack.

The fairly minimal extras consist of the trailer and a nine-film trailer gallery for additional movies available from Kino Lorber.

Reviewer Glenn Erickson described the film a couple of years ago as "weird, crazy, but entertaining." Just so.

Perhaps a viewer has to approach this film with a certain frame of mind, but I had a thoroughly good time watching it and would happily watch it again.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

I've had a DVD copy of this for years, and Claude agreed with you; she loved it. I was slightly enthusiastic, but near enough to order this new variation.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, you made my morning with your wonderful write-up of the much maligned JET PILOT(filmed 1949-53, released 1957). I'm so happy that you, unlike so many so-called film critics and fake historians, didn't jump on the fashionable bandwagon of making fun of and ridiculing this movie. You really got this movie, where so many other reviewers don't. I don't think JET PILOT is a masterpiece, but I don't think it is a high camp disaster either. This movie should be viewed as a comedy and in the hands of a director like Howard Hawks it could have really been something.

I first viewed JET PILOT on the NBC FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES in 1981, which was its network television premiere. I recall watching it on a portable rabbit-eared antenna black and white tv, with a good friend. We both thought it was a fun entertaining movie, but didn't really take it seriously. I didn't see it again until I bought the Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: John Wayne An American Icon Collection(2006) dvd. I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

I'm definitely in a certain frame of mind to view this movie again, so I think I will. Thank you Laura.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I need to see this again, clearly. I watched it once, in college, and only remember thinking it was ho-hum and not one I needed to see again. But I may have to change my mind on that!

4:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, I enjoyed the feedback regarding your reaction, and Claude's. If you revisit it at some point I'd be curious to know how you find it.

Walter, I'm delighted that you enjoyed my review and feel the same way about the film. We completely agree. It wasn't a high camp disaster, it plays like intentional comedy...even if it wasn't intentional it totally worked for me in that light. If you have any additional comments after revisiting it I'd enjoy them!

I love that you first saw it on NBC's Friday Night at the to remember when "old" movies screened in prime time!

Rachel, if you revisit it I'd love to know if it hits you any differently on a revisit. Some people I've heard from on Twitter and elsewhere don't agree with my take, so the film definitely seems to inspire diverse reactions! I really enjoyed it and hope others will give it a try.

Best wishes,

3:03 PM  

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