“I’m not in a war. I’m back carrying the mail.”
During the little over two years from the beginning of the Second World War to the attack on Pearl Harbor, there existed a marked isolationist sentiment in the United States, particularly among those on the extreme left. Such groups soon identified Hollywood as a target for their opposition, for the studios were increasingly in favour of American intervention in the War and a number of their films made no bones about this. Confessions of a Nazi Spy, The Mortal Storm, Man Hunt, Foreign Correspondent, and Sergeant York were just a few examples. Twentieth Century-Fox, under Darryl Zanuck, and Warner Brothers, under Jack Warner, were the leading companies in this regard. Coming late in this cycle was the Fox film A Yank in the R.A.F. that extolled the virtues of American flyers contributing to the cause by enlisting abroad to fight Germany. Fox has now released the film on DVD as part of its latest wave of Fox War Classics.
American flyer Tim Baker is anxious to get involved in the Second World War as a pilot, although seemingly more for his own self-interest than any altruistic commitment to the Allied cause. After illegally flying a Harvard trainer from the U.S. to Canada, he eagerly seizes the opportunity to ferry bombers from Canada across the North Atlantic to Britain in return for payment of $1000 per delivery. Once in Britain, however, he runs across an ex-girlfriend named Carol Brown who is in the reserve Services as well as dancing at a popular nightspot. Carol shows little interest, so Baker enlists in the R.A.F. in hopes of impressing her, but progress on his efforts to win over Carol is slow, mainly due to Baker’s self-centred idea that he is God’s gift to women. Real competition surfaces in the person of Wing Commander Morley as well. Baker and Morley soon find themselves involved in many of the early air engagements of the War including bombing raids over Germany and the Dunkirk evacuation. When Baker goes missing during the latter action, Carol realizes whom she really loves, but it may be too late.
Fox pulled out all the stops (well, maybe not all, but most of them) to ensure A Yank in the R.A.F. would be a success and indeed, it turned out to be one of 1941’s seven most profitable films. The company committed two of its most popular actors to the film and managed to throw in just about all the right ingredients to appeal to all segments of the movie-going audience. Male heartthrob Tyrone Power stars as Tim Baker along with pin-up queen Betty Grable as Carol Brown. There is a three-cornered romance with handsome John Sutton as Grable’s other suitor, Morley. Reginald Gardiner provides a modest measure of comedy relief as a frustrated fellow flyer. Grable performs a couple of pleasant if unmemorable musical numbers and looks good in uniform or civilian clothes. Actual wartime aerial footage is inserted to good effect with a brief recreation/montage of the Dunkirk events being particularly effective in this regard.
A Yank in the R.A.F. runs just over an hour and a half, and viewed 61 years after its original release proves to be a pleasant time passer ably orchestrated by director Henry King and with the expected happy Hollywood ending. The story, of course, is unapologetic in its support of the British cause and the suggestion that the United States should be involved on the Allied side. At the time, this was the film’s most important reason for being and indeed, its wartime scenes are its strongest component. Otherwise, the film is a rather conventional, almost tired romantic tale of a smart-alecky character who thinks an ex-girlfriend should just swoon at his reappearance in her life. Actually, you soon wish someone would give Tyrone Power’s character a good smack upside the head rather than root for him to win the girl. That aside, however, there’s no doubt about the star power of Tyrone Power and Betty Grable. Both are head and shoulders above anyone else in the cast including the afore-mentioned Sutton and Gardiner as well as a contingent of familiar faces including Ralph Byrd, Ethel Griffies, Fortunio Bonanova, Reginald Owen, and Kurt Kreuger. To return to Tyrone Power (who wouldn’t really be allowed to show his true acting ability until later films such as 1946’s The Razor’s Edge and 1947’s Nightmare Alley), however, anyone at all familiar with films of the period knows that Tyrone Power couldn’t be allowed to die at the end of one of his outings. The interesting thing about A Yank in the R.A.F. is the fact that the original studio script called for his character to be killed in a German air raid. The British, however, prevailed on Fox to allow Tyrone Power to live. After all, American flyers helping the British but dying for their efforts would not exactly be the best message to send when attempting to marshal the support of the American public.
Fox’s DVD is one of the company’s latest wave of War Classics releases. The film is presented full frame in accord with its original aspect ratio and amply encoded with 28 chapter selections. The black and white image is in fairly decent condition, considering that there appears to have been no restoration or digital cleanup applied. There are the usual speckles and minor scratches, but otherwise, the image is crisp much of the time with deep blacks, clean whites, and good shadow detail. There is a bit of visible film grain particularly in a few of the night-time sequences and the actual combat footage looks rougher than the rest, as one might expect. It’s not Citizen Kane quality by any means, but quite watchable nonetheless.
A choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 mono or stereo tracks is provided, but I detected little difference of consequence. Most of the film is dialogue-driven and those portions sound clear without noticeable hiss or distortion. Combat sequences do seem to have a fair bit of punch, but of course pale in comparison to more modern efforts. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided.
As is the case with many entries in the Fox War Classics series, the only supplements are a theatrical trailer (in this case, a re-release version) plus trailers for a number of other Fox war films.
Fox continues to release a number of its war films of all vintages. The DVDs generally feature respectable image transfers with only minimal supplementary content, but are quite reasonably priced as a result. A Yank in the R.A.F. is an entertaining entry in the series and provides a fine example of the sort of thing Fox was putting out in the early 1940s. Tyrone Power and Betty Grable devotees will not be disappointed by this, although others may wish to try a rental first.