Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wings to the wind...eyes to the skies!

All I felt like was a good World War II espionage flick. Something that offered a 'will they get away with it?' moment. Astoundingly, no such thing was to be had - our extensive dvd collection seems completely devoid of spies, Germans and the RAF (though why I didn't think of the 49th Parallel I'm not sure). So I had to turn to the Americans, where everything is Pearl Harbour and The Japs, who never seem to possess the devilish cunning of movie Germans and are, well, a lot less fun.

Dive bomber has been described by Mr C as a 'very, very, very bad film'. And I had an absurd amount of fun watching it. It's a war film, with no war. The plot plods around the story of flyboys and the medical researchers' attempts to combat the problems of G-forces and high altitude sickness, and the development of the G-suit. And you'll never guess who's in the film. Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. Yep, Robin Hood and the Nutty Professor. I won't begin to discuss the acting but you won't be surprised when Flynn gets socked in the eye and MacMurray dies a noble death. Earnest Ralph Bellamy is in there too (being v. earnest).

Released in 1941 it's pure propaganda for the American public, preparing them for the possibility of entering WWII. All in glorious Technicolor. There are snappy uniforms, dazzling blue skies and plane, after plane, after plane. The navy must have spent a fortune on this film! (Navy? Planes? I know, but think air craft carriers - which in this case happens to be the famous USS Enterprise, the most decorated US ship of the war.) This film gets the plane buffs raving, with its endless shots of formation flying and row upon row of shiny aircraft: there are Vindicators, Devastators, Helldivers, Buffalos, Curtiss Hawks and more. It's almost like Busby Berkely gone macho! By the time the film was released most of these planes were already obsolete (look at all the biplanes!) And this was still a time when the planes were painted dazzling colours - yellow and scarlet and green. You can just see some of the newer more subdued camouflaging coming into use. The film was actually nominated for an Oscar for its photography and the aerial shots are truly glamorous. There's just an awful lot of them.

The scientific stuff in the film is rather odd. I can't tell if it's pure hokum, or just wierdy. The problem of G-forces was a real concern. In combat, the plane that could fly the highest triumphed. These planes would dive bomb their targets, descending and ascending rapidly. High levels of acceleration force (G's) causes blood to pool in the lower extremeties and as we know, the brain ain't too happy without blood. Pilots were suffering blackouts and confusion, slow reaction times and difficulty breathing - not to mention the complications with changing air pressure and ice forming on the wings. The result was simple: death. The film's account of the dangers seems accurate and the solutions you see are pretty much heading in the right direction. (Except for the diving bell. No diving bells on pilots.)

But why do we get so much information? Surely this is just giving the enemy a leg up? And there is a State Secret aspect to the film. In the 1970s Flynn was posthumously accused of hobnobbing with some German spies (which he did - but Flynn was the original party boy, he hobnobbed with everyone). It was alleged that Flynn had become involved in espionage, by insisting the film be shot on location at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Flynn was hardly a paragon of virtue but I think we can let this one lie.

There's some god awful period comedy in there that will have you wincing, a bombastic score and a pretty stilted script. But this is a recruiting film. It's there to make you want to be brave and dashing in your new uniform. You'll be invited to parties! You'll be bouyed up by mateship and the company of strong men and noble self-sacrificing leaders. There will be ladies throwing themselves at you! But you'll love 'em and leave 'em! (The anti-marriage subtext is brazen. Obviously, the armed services preferred men without ties.) The film was shown with recruiting booths in the cinema. It's a film of its time: sadly innocent and naive in its propaganda. Just two months after its release the Americans were devastated at Pearl Harbour. Flynn's character is actually assigned to duty in Pearl Harbour and changes his plans at the last minute. Many of the pilots and planes featured in the film were fighting Japanese within the next two years, including the Devastator bomber squadrons, that were all but wiped out in the Battle of Midway.

It's a ridiculous film. But I watched it with affection.


MissMatilda said...

Beautiful post. The terrible 70's accusation has appeared again as the CIA have just declassified some further info.

This may interest you :-(

Curvy Kitty said...

Bah! So Flynn once complained about someone Jewish. Has this researcher read anything written during the 1930s? The 40s? Heaps o folk were anti-Semitic. I'm not saying this is a good thing! But does it make Flynn a Nazi spy?

(and I grew up in Tasmania!)

donnasoowho said...

I"m starting to get paranoid with all this spy and war movie business that maybe you're spying on me ;-)

Curvy Kitty said...

Who do you think's using all your broadband?