Wing and a Prayer (1944)

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Mortimer Braus & Jerome Cady
Starring Don Ameche, Dana Andrews, William Eythe, Charles Bickford, Cedric Hardwicke


Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Borrow It.

It's World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Navy was in bad shape. So much so, that they were afraid the Japanese Navy would come and sit on their heads. What they needed was for the enemy to get cocky and careless, so they devised a clever scheme. It involves sending out an aircraft carrier (Carrier X) to play an ongoing game of hide and seek with the enemy, allowing themselves to get spotted and then turning and running away. All this in an attempt to get the Japanese to think the U.S. forces were scattered and uttered demoralized by the sneak attack in Hawaii. That's all well and good on paper, but when it comes down to it, the lives of the men on the carrier were at risk--and since they don't know the shot, they get more and more demoralized for real, with no clue as to why they're not fighting back.

This film is not for everyone. Those who are lovers of war films in general and those who can remember back to the time when these films were used to boost the morale of the American people will probably enjoy the heck out of this thing. But for me, even with the knowledge of that context--that this film is truly a product of its time--it simply doesn't work as a film. An anthropological record of the features Hollywood produces when it's at war, yes, but a good flick--no.

The main reason for this is because it feels like a mishmashed conglomeration of vignettes about life on a carrier. There's shenanigans in the break room, there's talking tough, and there's even the boys enjoying a film (Fox's Tin Pan Alley). But it's hard to feel for the characters when apart from Hallam Scott (Eythe), the Oscar-winning actor who's now a flyboy, it's nearly impossible to keep their names straight. I kept getting Cookie Cunningham (Kevin O'Shea) and Gus Chisholm (Richard Crane) confused. There's a small subplot about a kid who's too young to have joined up and a guy who's too old to still be flying, so I just identified them in my head as Young Kid and Old Guy. You get my drift. That's not to say there's nothing at all worthwhile in the film. Don Ameche stands out amidst the vagueness as the Commander, and it's amusing to see Harry Morgan in a very, very pre-MASH role.

The extra features are limited to trailers for this film and other Fox war releases. The trailers for Wing are again, very interesting in a historical setting, as trailers over the years always are. I think a good addition would have been a quick, concise ten or fifteen minute documentary providing some extra context to place the film in. Talk with some of the surviving cast and crew members of the war films of that era, and get their take on what the films meant back then.

Again, as stated in my pre-ramble, lovers of the war film genre are advised to proceed, but everyone else should probably think twice.

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