Flying Leathernecks (1951)

Flying Leathernecks (1951)From a director who later secured his place in history for introducing us to James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) we are treated to a war time in the skies with his first colour film Flying Leathernecks (1951) pitting two of the screens strongest men opposite each other as they attack the Japanese on the ground.

Seen more to me as a lose remake of Twelve O’Clock High (1949) that sees a weaker squadron leader being pushed to the limits and transformed into a tougher leader of his men in battle. Moving the action from Europe to the Pacific Ocean. This time with Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby (John Wayne) brought into shake up The Wildcats squadron, who believed they were going to be lead by Capt. Carl ‘Griff’ Griffin (Robert Ryan) who has become to soft towards the men, more empathetic with their situation, something that all men at war have to go through. He has lost his professional distance and the importance of command.

With Kirby in the picture all that is about to change when they squadron is moved to one of the Solomon Islands to defend the US from Japanese advancement they are placed in the line of fire just as their entry to the war is heating up. At first Kirby is too tough on the men, handing out court-martial threats and imprisonment, as some leave formation to gun down a few nips on their own terms. Something that the major wont stand for whilst up in the sky, anything could happen.

As the war continues the squadron become one of the battle weary, being used in many missions, even pioneers air to ground attack, helping the ground troops make their way across the islands. Something the major is in favour for. At the expense of the men’s health who have all suffered from jungle sickness, they never have time to recover.

Using archive footage from what seems like WWII, all in colour, to later found out it was from the then current conflict in Korea, which really adds to the danger of the men are putting themselves through, alongside studio made footage of our heroes in the sky attacking the Japanese. As the men below butt heads whilst fighting a far bigger and more dangerous enemy that constantly keeps them out there.


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