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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Flying Tigers (1942)

"Hong Kong. Shanghai. Chungking. They didn't mean anything to me. Just a lot of names in a geography book. Not towns where millions of people were being maimed and killed by bombs. Call them Texas, Maine and Michigan. That would have been different."
- Woody Jason (John Carroll)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 13, 2002

Stars: John Wayne, John Carroll, Anna Lee
Other Stars: Gordon Jones, Edmund MacDonald, Paul Kelly, Mae Clarke
Director: David Miller

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h: 41m: 25s
Release Date: January 15, 2002
UPC: 017153109986
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's a mark of the historical moment of Flying Tigers that it opens with an unironic scroll quote from Chiang Kai-Shek. Made in 1942, this movie was one of the first from Hollywood to deal with the Second World War, and if it isn't always successful by today's standards, its excesses may be generously ascribed to its patriotic fervor. John Wayne portrays Jim Gordon, chief of a volunteer band of American fighter pilots, the Flying Tigers, stationed in China in late 1940 and 1941. (That is, he and his band were fighting the Japanese before everybody else back home got wise.) Wayne of course is portrayed as a natural leader of men, and the most gifted fighter jock—he's got an unerring ability, for instance, to shoot Japanese fighter pilots through the throat as they navigate from their cockpits. The youngest member of his battalion gets killed in a dogfight, and Gordon goes to Rangoon, to rally some new fighter pilots to his cause. Wayne is more persona than person in this movie, but his movie-star magnetism is on display; you have to have the swagger of John Wayne to wear a pith helmet in so many scenes and still seem unquestionably macho. You'll probably be lured in by the fact that this is a John Wayne movie—it's even part of the John Wayne Collection—but the main character in the story is really Woody Jason, played by John Carroll. Woody is one of a trio of new recruits to the Flying Tigers, and he's the loose cannon. He's frankly mercenary—there's a $500 bounty on each Japanese plane that gets shot down—but his eye on the money gets him on the outs with his brothers in arms. ("I guess it's easier to see five hundred bucks than a pal of yours in trouble.") Woody is so bold as to put the moves on John Wayne's woman, never advisable in movies. (She's a British nurse, played by Anna Lee, who doesn't have much to do but change bandages and look worried about her man.) Gordon runs a tight ship, and Woody is rocking the boat. In many ways it's a story about learning to tow the line, an unsubtle exhortation to the audience, as Gordon reads his old pal the riot act: "I can't have grandstanders trying to hog the whole show. Results here are based on cooperation and understanding. Discipline in the air is strict, because that's the only way an outfit like this can be operated." Given the conscious effort of Hollywood to rally American spirits to the war, early on especially, it's no startling dramatic surprise that Woody gets with the program, and proves himself a valiant, self-sacrificing warrior. The portrayals of the Asian characters haven't worn well, but I imagine 1942 audiences took these as a matter of course. The Japanese Zero pilots are automatons, evil killing machines; the Chinese are passive and grateful for American assistance, and of course speak in parodic pidgin English. (Noticing that Wayne's plane has been strafed with bullets, his Chinese mechanic offers: "Lookie, Cap'n, lookie! Wham, wham!" Wayne glances at the bullet holes and offers a laconic reply: "Termites.") And there's no shortage of ethnic slurs about the enemy. Typical: "I hear those Jappos glow in the dark like bugs." There are many of the trappings of World War II platoon movies, and if you've seen enough of them, they're rather comforting. Each fighter jock identifies himself by his home; Dallas, Maine and Michigan are represented, as is what seems like a state to itself in these movies: Brooklyn. And December 7th, 1941 is the pivot point, the date by which everything is considered either Before or After; the movie is content to stop for a few minutes and listen to FDR's "day of infamy" speech to the Congress, surveying the cast for reactions as they huddle by their radios. And without being too ahistorical or self-involved, it's hard while watching the second half of Flying Tigers not to make an analogy between this time and ours, between December 7th, 1941 and September 11th, 2001. The comparison isn't a perfect one, but it's easier today than it was before the World Trade Center bombings to imagine how an American audience might have reacted to a tale about an attack on its shores.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The movie looks terribly beat up, even given its age. From the opening credits on, there's a tremendous amount of debris, scratches, even the occasional missing frame. Transfer to DVD is adequate, but given the poor quality of the source material, some of the scenes can be rough to watch, because the poor video presentation is so distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sound fares better than the picture, but it still isn't very good. The mono mix is limited, and the dogfight scenes test its limits; dialogue is reasonably clear, and there doesn't seem to have been too much interference in the transfer to DVD.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not much on hand here besides filmographies and brief biographies on seven of the actors. They're billed as Cast & Crew Information, but there isn't even an entry for the director, David Miller.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Flying Tigers is a fine, early attempt by Hollywood to dramatize World War II, and it's a valiant effort to show how hope and good old American know-how can stave off fear and defeat. It may not be a first-tier war movie, and the film could have used a good cleaning up for its transfer to DVD, but it wears its patriotism on its sleeve, dammit, and thinks you should too.


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