Air Force (Film)

Air Force (1943)
Air Force is a war film, directed by Howard Hawks, that premiered in New York City on February 3, 1943. Starring John Garfield, John Ridgely, Gig Young and Harry Carey, the film tells a story of a crew on a B-17 bomber that takes place in the first few days after the United States entered into WWII.[1]


The film opens with this text in preface: "It is for us the be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced....It is...for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."--Abraham Lincoln. The film then brings us to a San Francisco Air Force base where the crew of “Mary Ann,” a B-17 Flying Fortress, is getting ready for a regular flight to Hawaii. The crew consists of Captain Irish Quincannon, co-pilot Bill Williams, bombardier Tommy McMartin, navigator Monk Hauser, crew chief Robbie White, assistant crew chief Corporal Weinberg, radio operator Peterson, assistant radio operator Chester and aerial gunner Joe Winocki. Chester has not flown before and is really excited, although Winocki is only counting down the days until his enlistment period is over.

On December 7, 1941, as the B-17 Flying Fortress is flying over the Pacific, the crew finds out from Japanese voices that can be heard over the radio that the Hickam Air Field in Pearl Harbor is under attack. Mary Ann is redirected to Maui, where an emergency air field is located, so that repairs can be made before heading for Hickam. Upon arrival, the crew finds out that McMartin’s sister has been wounded from the bombing and so they make a quick visit to see her in the hospital before they must leave to Manila, an area that has been destroyed by Japanese bombers. The Marines on Wake give the crew letters that they wrote to their families, knowing that there are most likely going to die.

The crew makes it to the Clark Air Force Base, and White finds out that his son, who was a pilot with the air force at the base, was killed by the Japanese. The crew fights against the Japanese and Quincannon is gravely hurt and Chester is killed. The crew heads for Australia after quickly fixing damages that have been made on Mary Ann. En route, they see a Japanese fleet and so they communicate their position to the Allied fleet. In the next fight, the Japanese retreat and the men aboard Mary Ann get ready to lead an attack on Tokyo.[2] The film closes with the following text: "This story has a conclusion but not an end--for its real end will be the victory for which Americans--on land, on sea and in the air--have fought, are fighting now and will continue to fight until peace has been won. Grateful acknowledgment is given to the United States Army Air Force, without whose assistance this record could not have been filmed." [3]



Although the production of war-related films were fought against by political and economic forces in the 1930's, after America became involved in the war in December 1941, Hollywood fully supported the war efforts and produced an exorbitant amount of war-related films.[4] During this period, the war film genre drastically changed from portraying war as tragic and senseless to emphasizing democratic morals and the homogeneous mix of people, unified to fight against the enemy, which was the totalitarian regime.[5] Air Force was one of many such films that came about in this wave of reaction to the war.[6]

Air Force was seen as "tremendously entertaining and morale-boosting,"[7] but the far-fetched unrealistic events were acknowledged as well. "The armed forces are seen as hard-pressed by the ferocity of the Japanese onslaught but, at the same time, they never break and they do strike back. It is, however, the constant repetition of the democratic nature of American society, as seen through the microcosm."[8]


Despite the fact that Air Force has been called Howard Hawks' best film, Air Force was met with some criticism at its time of release. The Office of War Information, "fearing it would reflect badly on the precarious position of loyal Japanese-Americans, complained of its stereotypical portrayal of all people of Japanese descent as treacherous, blood-thirsty savages."[9]

External Links


Internet Movie Database:


Basinger, Jeanine (1986). The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN: 0-231-05952-3, ISBN: 0-231-05953-1 (pbk.)

Paris, Michael (2007). Repicturing the Second World War: Representations in Film and Television. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN-13: 978-0-230-00257-9

Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell (2003). Film History: An Introduction. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ISBN: 0-07-038429-0

Crowther, Bosley (1943). 'Air force', New York Times, February 4, 1943.

Paris, Michael (1997). Democracy Goes to War: "Air Force" (1943). Film & History, 27, 48-52.

Online Sources:
American Film Institute


  1. ^ American Film Institute catalog.
  2. ^ American Film Institute catalog.
  3. ^ American Film Institute catalog.
  4. ^ Thompson & Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction, pp. 269.
  5. ^ Basinger, The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, pp. 37-39.
  6. ^ Paris, Repicturing the Second World War, pp. 106.
  7. ^ Crowther, 'Air force', New York Times, February 4, 1943.
  8. ^ Paris, Democracy Goes to War: "Air Force," 27.
  9. ^ Paris, Democracy Goes to War: "Air Force," 48-52.