Published on March 28th, 2011 | by Chris3
Sabre Jet (1953)
I really, really wish I could find more information on this little-known movie, because as cliched and strange as it is, I found it highly interesting. Not so much for the plot, but for some of the subject matter therein.
Quick plot summary: At a rear-ward fighter base in Japan during the Korean War, Col. Gil Manton (Robert Stack) and Gen. Bob Hale (Richard Arlen) lead a squadron of F-86 Sabre Jets and F-80 Shooting Stars (the two are shown almost interchangeably, and somewhat confusingly actually.) Manton's wife, Jane (Coleen Gray) who is a war correspondent, shows up to do a story, much to Manton's dismay. What follows is a snapshot of what life might have been like on one of these bases, as we follow a couple of days in the lives of the pilots, and their wives.
Now, normally I don't particularly care for these kinds of movies, that focus more on the social lives of the pilots and wives than the actual action. Here, though, I was intrigued that this movie explored the different aspects of being a military wife in such a frank and progressive manner, especially for 1953.
Yes, there is plenty of the almost condescending attitude of the day. That the wives should be there to support their husbands no matter what, making sure that their every need and want is met out of the cockpit and not to ask too many questions.... That part is unavoidable. But, there is a certain element of independence, strength, and courage, for lack of better words that is portrayed here. They never really come right out and say it, but especially where Jane and the General's wife Marge (Julie Bishop) are concerned, in their conversations and actions.... It's pretty evident. There's a scene in the base commissary that is a perfect example of the balance this picture holds between the typical 50's attitude and the new "strength..." Jane's character in itself is quite representative of this independent attitude....
Of course there is the other element, the air combat. And here it's done in a believable and respectable manner. The aircraft hold their own as co-stars here, to be sure. Although some of the scenes look like they were "put on" for the films production, namely some of the landing flybys in formation... but hey. A final dogfight scene between the Sabre's and the Mig's makes the entire effort worthwhile.... A no-nonsense attitude prevails here, as they head off into the skies, superstitions and fear and all.... And not all of them return.
There's also a very tangible "anti-war" feeling that crops up now and again. One scene in particular with Hale's children playing "Commies and Goodguys" in a cowboys-and-indians vein really stands out. I wonder how much of this didn't make it through various script edits and such. Surprisingly, even the Japanese butler is portrayed somewhat respectably, with a fair accent and grammar depiction. It's somewhat cringe-inducing, but for a film of its time, its definitely not as bad as some I've seen.
In the end, predictably, one doesn't return, and the other one does... I won't tell you which. But suffice it to say the drama is there and it is interesting. Missing is the usual "shucks everything's fine here" attitude that pervades a lot of earlier WWII films. Whether or not that is a product of the era, where pretty much everyone knew the score and was tired of that same old act, I really can't say.
I wish I could find some clips of this, (any clip) to show you. And from what I can tell, it isn't even available on disc, or VHS for that matter! I was able to see it via Netflix streaming. Even curiouser was a blip in the credits (and on the poster!) about "Color by blah-labs", even though the copy I watched was in black-and-white. What gives, studios?! Where's the color version?!
Summary: The aircraft hold their own as co-stars here, to be sure. Although some of the scenes look like they were "put on" for the films production, namely some of the landing flybys in formation... but hey. A final dogfight scene between the Sabre's and the Mig's makes the entire effort worthwhile....