' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: A Yank In The R.A.F.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: A Yank In The R.A.F.

A friend of mine is currently embroiled in authoring a screenplay based on his friend’s life after coming home from Iraq. I have read an early draft and given a few notes and one thing that struck me actually had nothing to do with my friend’s particular screenplay. Rather it was how in this day and age most everything that could be considered a “war film” is generally serious. From “The Hurt Locker” to the recent “Return” to “Jarhead” to “Grace Is Gone”, these movies, more often than not, are consumed by the dark. “The Lucky Ones” had a few lighter moments but even then it was undercut by a distinct current of sadness.


“A Yank In The R.A.F.”, on the other hand, released into theaters a mere four months ahead of the attack on Pearl Harbor, while filled with a bit of derring-do and a couple fiery planes, is, more often than not, a light-hearted romp, a film less about this Yank’s exploits in Britain’s Royal Air Force than in the love triangle unfolding back on the base. If Paul Greengrass had attempted to inject a little screwball comedy into “Green Zone” there would have been a revolt. I do not mean to suggest war films of today should be more zany and less solemn, not at all, but simply to suggest that the difference in the eras is astounding.

Make no mistake, American pilot Tim Baker (Tyrone Power) has a bit of the Han Solo in him. In a marvelous establishing sequence, we are introduced to Tim when he “mistakenly” flies a training plane to Trenton, Ontario rather than Trenton, New Jersey, thereby usurping the Neutrality Act. Ah well. Once in Canada he then agrees to fly a bomber across the Atlantic to London for a cool $1,000. “I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.” Once in London, as he must, he runs into the ex light of his life, Carol Brown (Betty Grable), an American aiding the British war effort who moonlights as……wait for it……a chorus girl. Of course, she does! I wish there would have been scenes in “The Hurt Locker” of Evangeline Lilly moonlighting as front woman for a suburban Pussy Riot-esque punk band.

Enter: Commander John Morley (John Sutton), echoing Michael Fassbender’s memorable Lt. Archie Hickox, whose fancy is also captured by the lilting Ms. Brown. The two pilots vie for her affection and, interestingly, Henry King’s film, whether intentional or not, clearly makes the American out to be a cad (he keeps scoping for other dates when Carol isn’t around) and the Brit out to be the gentleman. And, in fact, the gentleman goes so far as to propose marriage and Carol seems to be swayed but Tim isn’t about to let her go so easily. Reading up on the film after seeing it, I learned that it was generally considered a propaganda film, that famed producer Daryl Zanuck supported America getting involved WWII and not only tinkered with the story during production but one of the co-writers, under the pseudonym Melville Crossman.


And while the movie will, as it must, eventually take Baker and Morley from their spirited game of courtship into the skies above Europe for battle, it never feels as much like a call to arms as an unsuccessful mish-mash of genres. It’s essentially a wartime rom com for roughly 45 minutes before Baker is made part of Morley’s bomber crew. Putting two men at odds over the same woman on the same plane would seem ripe for a bit of macho tension. It never happens. It would be interesting to think that “A Yank In The R.A.F.” does this to either illustrate the quick transformative nature of war or how your mind must stay on the mission once the mission starts. But this theme is never really conveyed and once they are back on the ground Baker quickly resumes flirting with other ladies until Carol shows up at which he point he reverts to claiming she’s the only one for him. And there is Morley, a prospective angel hovering above her other shoulder.

So is this film really propagandizing? Hey, maybe it is. What do I know? Maybe young American men saw this and immediately wanted to enlist and in the hopes of scoring their very own Betty Grable.

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