Published on June 28th, 2007 | by Chris1
Flying Leathernecks (1951)
Face it, just about any war movie made in the fifties starring John Wayne is going to be considered a classic. By default. 1951's Flying Leathernecksis deserving of the title regardless of the main character's name.
The story is a pretty standard war-time fare, about a squadron of Marine fighter pilots in WWII Pacific waters, fighting the Japanese menace. What makes this picture stand out, though is its hard line take on the reality of war, and the toll it takes on everybody from the newest green horns to the most seasoned and scarred veterans.
Major Dan Kirby (John Wayne) is the gruff but still somewhat understanding commander, who tends to take the sometimes uncomfortable path of playing by the book. We see this dichotomy early on when he first takes command of the squadron, and overlooks some of the more harmless shenanigans of his men. When it comes down to it, though, he uses some unfortunate events to drill home the facts to his Marines.
His "counter" is Captain Carl "Griff" Griffin (Robert Ryan) who disagrees with the hardline nature of Kirby, and as such keeps getting passed over for command of this squadron. In the end he comes to understand why Kirby is the way he his, I think, not that he likes it any better.
The reality of the situation is that Kirby has a job to do, which is to order men into battle and ultimately to their deaths. He has to struggle with this every day, and the final conversation between Kirby and Griffin bears this out.
There's also a lot of humor from the pilfering Line Chief Sgt. Clancy (Jay C. Flippen), but I'm betting that's just there to keep the tone a bit lighter than it otherwise would have been. And that is probably a good thing.
Another aspect of this film that shines is the brilliant editing of documentary footage into the action. A lot of those images were (and still are) pretty harsh reminders of the danger these guys had to deal with. And there's plenty of airborne dogfighting and ground support action to be had.
Speaking of, part of this film seems to try to document the struggle to get the Marine brass to accept the role of close air support in ground combat operations. I found that an interesting statement to be making in a film of this era, and seems to echo sentiments that exist about tactics to this very day.
We also see a side of Kirby that puts him down to earth with the rest of us, his connection to his wife and kids back home, and how they deal with his service.
If you're in the mood for a great piece of aviation action that falls somewhere between the flag-waving and the dark-and-dirty then Flying Leathernecks is one to see.
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Summary: If you're in the mood for a great piece of aviation action that falls somewhere between the flag-waving and the dark-and-dirty then Flying Leathernecks is one to see.