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Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The five combat adventure films Errol Flynn made during the war years grew bleaker as news from the front improved. But the news in ‘42 was mighty grim, so Hollywood responded with morale-boosting yarns loaded with successful missions, perky enthusiasm & hope. In this fast-paced rouser from vet helmer Raoul Walsh, a British bomber hits its target just before going down with its crew. For the rest of the film, the survivors are on the run, in & out of custody or hiding in a safe house . . . when they aren’t up to a bit of improvised sabotage. While the first two reels are largely believable (the opening sequence is a model of cinematic narrative concision), everything after the crash plays out like an Indiana Jones movie. Flynn is unbeatable at this sort of thing and he gets good contrasting support from Ronald Reagan*, Alan Hale & Arthur Kennedy. Raymond Massey adds a touch of perversity to his Nazi-villain, even with a miserable German accent, and the script takes care to give him a personal stake in their capture. Flynn’s follow-up WWII film, NORTHERN PURSUIT/’43, was only a bit less fanciful, but as the war news started to break our way, EDGE OF DARKNESS/’43; UNCERTAIN GLORY/’44 and OBJECTIVE, BURMA!/’45 would take a far grittier turn. Together, they make a remarkably successful & psychologically savvy set of films. And this DVD comes with some worthwhile EXTRAS. A musical short featuring Borrah Minevitch (!) and his eccentric harmonica band doesn’t sound promising, but Jean Negulsco’s smart direction & Ted McCord’s sharp lensing really make it fun. (They'd both earn Oscar noms for JOHNNY BELINDA in ’48.) Unusually for the time, Minevitch’s gang has a fully-integrated black player, something that can’t be said of the Army Air-Force band & chorus seen in the second short. And have a peek at THE TANKS ARE COMING, a little info-tainment short that’s ablaze in eye-popping TechniColor.

*Ronnie resets the tone for the last two acts of the film when he bamboozles Massey’s Nazi officer with some technical double-talk. Must have been a popular fad in ‘42 since Warners also used it (to dreadful effect) in ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. BTW, this may be the best billing Reagan ever got: above-the-title co-starring credit w/ Flynn in a Grade A pic.

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