Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1941. Paramount Pictures. Story by Eleanore Griffin, Frank Wead, Screenplay by Richard Maibaum, Beirne Lay Jr., Sig Herzig, based on the book by Beirne Lay Jr.. Cinematography by Leo Tover. Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.. Music by Victor Young. Production Design by Hans Dreier, Robert Usher. Costume Design by Clayton Brackett, Hazel Hegarty, Sam Levine. Film Editing by Hugh Bennett. Academy Awards 1941.
Following the success of a simulated raid on Los Angeles by air force trainees, one pilot (Ray Milland) takes his plane out into the desert where it crashes and the body of a dead woman is found onboard. Milland is brought up before a tribunal who look into the circumstances leading up to the accident, which prompts a flashback in which we see him, a dewy young William Holden and their ex-football player buddy Wayne Morris in their first days of flight school. After successfully qualifying, the three men bond over their training before they are sent to Kelly Field where their various abilities are put to the test: Milland is succeeding, Morris is struggling and Holden is failing. Complicating matters is Milland’s affair with a photographer and the reappearance of Holden’s ex, an enterprising nightclub singer played in her starmaking role by Veronica Lake, who longs to get her hands on Milland’s old family money. It’s made before Pearl Harbor but the country already knows it needs to think about enlistment, so there’s goofy fun between the boys but the adventure of flying in the skies is not tinged by the respect for loss that would boost morale in later films like Crash Dive or Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The gentlemen all do fine and the cinematography is excellent, but overall it hasn’t aged well, it’s neither light enough to be the kind of thing Paramount was doing in the thirties nor does it hold up against the war-related films coming just around the corner.