- Directed by David Miller
- October 8, 1942
These are the dramatized exploits of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) who were a group of Americans that fought the Japanese in China while serving with the Chinese Nationalist forces during World War II.
Flying Tigers is not a bad movie. It’s certainly not great but it’s not bad. It’s a little bit of melodrama that you won’t feel as if you’ve wasted your time but it’s nothing you’ll say is great and clammer it go back quickly to view again. This is crafted as a patriotic flagwaver meant to get the American public more supportive of WWII.
Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne) gives his friend Woody Jason (John Carroll) a position after some begging by his girlfriend (?) Verna (Mae Clarke) and that starts the ball rolling. I understand this film had a point to make but Woody is not the kind of guy that should get hired no matter the scenario. He is clearly not willing to do what needs to be done and I guess that is the point of the character at the beginning.
John Wayne’s character of Jim takes on a very paternal role (as he often did) but he’s not necessarily the hero here. Jim’s role is that of a guiding hand trying to get his men. His friend Woody who is a slacker and irresponsible and his story is much more important to things than Jim’s is. His arc of going from irresponsible jerk to patriotic American is the focus.
By the end of Flying Tigers though nothing much changes for any of the surviving characters. Woody’s sacrifice at the end is briefly mourned and then they’re back at it again. I guess the lesson at the time here is that we as a nation need to keep chugging along no matter what the price.
One thing I noticed though about this movie was that there were none of the usual John Wayne costars. I can’t think of one from this movie that appeared with Wayne in anything else. That struck me as a little unusual and probably contributed to why this is one of his weaker movies that I’ve seen. He had a group of friends that he could perform well with and clearly when one of them is not there or he doesn’t have a good substitute the film itself suffers.
Wayne had a screen presence unlike few others and that contributed to his success. That is not to say he could not act. The Cowboys, True Grit, The War Wagon among others displayed his talent. Lacking acting pals to play off of Wayne either needed a director who would force him to act or another actor that would get him to up his game. He has neither of those here.
Everyone delivers their lines in a more modern fashion as compared to John Carroll. Carroll speaks in that very old school rapid patter. When you think of old movies his is the delivery that you think of. It is that quick too many cups of coffee pace.
Effects are not bad though. They appear to be a combination of live action and miniatures. I am fine with practical effects but there are points in Flying Tigers that they do not put effort to make them look realistic. They needed to move at a plausible speed and lingered too long allowing your mind to realize what they were.
One of my favorite shots is during an action sequence and they shoot a gunner in an enemy turret. It’s just an effective shot to me. It really works. It has an authenticity that you just do not get these days. Not for nothing but this film got a few Academy Award nominations. Howard Lydecker for photography and Daniel J. Bloomberg for sound were nominated for the for Best Effects, Special Effects and Victor Young for Best Music while Daniel J. Bloomberg got one for Best Sound, Recording.
However for pure shock value in Flying Tigers there is nothing in this film that compares to a scene early on where young pilot Dale (Bill Shirley) is struck by enemy fire. Jim goes over to his aircraft to give him some pointers for next time and finds the pilot dead at his controls. For the time it was rather strong and jarring. As early in the story as it was you do not expect death.
Still though the film is not as strong as it could be. The characters are two dimensional. They blur together and you could be forgiven for not being able to recall who’s who. For example there are two significant females-Verna and Brooke (Anna Lee)-and you would be hard-pressed to think of what makes them different.
Flying Tigers isn’t bad but it’s nothing great. It’s your pretty standard bit of melodrama from the time. You won’t hate it but you won’t clamor to watch it again. For hard-core John Wayne fans everything he did is a must. For your average film viewer though I think you can skip it.