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Air Force

Cover of videotape
Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Jack Warner (executive producer)
Written by Dudley Nichols
Starring John Garfield
John Ridgely
Gig Young
Harry Carey
Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Editing by George Amy
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) February 3, 1943 (New York City premiere)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Air Force is a 1943 war film directed by Howard Hawks. It starred John Garfield, John Ridgely, Harry Carey, and Gig Young as crew members on a B-17 Flying Fortress named the Mary-Ann. An uncredited William Faulkner wrote the emotional deathbed scene for the pilot of the bomber. Made in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, it was one of the first of the patriotic films of World War II, also characterized as a propaganda film.



The film details the story the crew of the Mary-Ann, a B-17 bomber, in the first days after U.S. entry into World War II. It begins with a flight from California(Hamilton Field, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge) to Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 6, 1941. The unarmed B-17 squadron arrives right at the beginning of the Japanese attack. This is based on a true incident; radar operators thought the Japanese planes they detected were an incoming flight of B-17s.

The crew includes a disaffected gunner, Sergeant Winocki (John Garfield) who washed out of flight school after a mid-air collision in which another pilot was killed. Sergeant White, the Mary-Ann's crew chief (Harry Carey) is a long-time veteran in the Army Air Corps, whose son is a pilot. The pilots (John Ridgely) and (Gig Young) have to find a safe haven. Their routine ferry mission to Hawaii propels the Mary-Ann and its crew into the midst of war and their subsequent deployment to other Pacific bases include stops at Wake Island and the Philippines. Using wartime combat footage sparingly, the eventual missions in the Coral Sea mirror real-life events.


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):[1]

Actor Role
John Ridgely Captain Quincannon, Pilot
Gig Young Lt. Williams, Co-Pilot
Arthur Kennedy Lt. McMartin, Bombardier
Charles Drake Lt. Hauser, Navigator
Harry Carey Sergeant White, Crew Chief
George Tobias Corporal Weinberg, Assistant Crew Chief
Ward Wood Corporal Peterson, Radio Operator
Ray Montgomery Private Chester, Assistant Radio Operator
John Garfield Sergeant Winocki, Aerial Gunner
James Brown Lt. Rader Pursuit Pilot - Passenger
Stanley Ridges Major Mallory - Clark Field
Willard Robertson Colonel at Hickam Field
Moroni Olsen Colonel Blake - Commanding Officer at Manila
Edward Brophy (as Edward S. Brody) Marine Sergeant J.J. Callahan
Richard Lane Major W.G. Roberts
Bill Crago Pilot P.T. Moran at Manila
Faye Emerson Susan McMartin - Tommy's Sister
Addison Richards Major Daniels
James Flavin Major A.M. Bagley
B-17C in flight


Principal photography took place at Drew Army Air Field, Tampa, Florida, San Antonio, Texas, (aerial shots, exteriors), Santa Monica Bay, California, (water scenes) and Tampa, Florida, (aerial shots, exteriors). Location and studio shooting took place over a very tight schedule from 18 June 1942 – 26 October 1942.[2]

The U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft that appeared in the film were:

The actual Mary-Ann was lost shortly after the production wrapped. This allegation is attributed to the production's technical advisor. There were no B-17B aircraft known to be used in combat; none left the Americas for other theaters of action. The two B-17B aircraft most likely to have played the part of "Mary Ann" were reclassified as instructional airframes in late 1943, and scrapped in early 1946.[4]

Historical accuracy

Anti-Japanese propaganda prevails including a scene where the crew is shot at by "local Japanese" on Maui and the Hickam Field commander tells the crew that vegetable trucks knocked the tails off a row of P-40 Warhawk fighters as the attack began. As detailed in Walter Lord's book, Day of Infamy, later investigations proved no Japanese-American was involved in any sabotage during the Pearl Harbor attack and the incident was fabricated.


Critical acclaim followed the film's premiere as it echoed some of the emotional issues that underlied the American public psyche at the time including fears of Japanese Americans. Reviewers commented that this was a prime example of Howard Hawk's abilities; "Air Force is a model of fresh, energetic, studio-era filmmaking."[5] Bosley Crowther of the New York Times characterized the film as "...continuously fascinating, frequently thrilling and occasionally exalting..."[6] When seen in a modern perspective, the emotional aspects of the film seem out-of-proportion and although it has been wrongly dismissed as a piece of wartime propaganda, it still represents a classic war film that can be considered a historical document.[7]

When initially released, Air Force was one of the top three films in commercial revenue in 1943.


Air Force editor George Amy won an Oscar in the 1944 Academy Awards in the category of Best Film Editing. The film was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. Elmer Dyer , James Wong Howe and Charles Marshall were nominated for an Academy Award in the Cinematography - Black and White division.


  1. ^ Air Force (1943)
  2. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 68.
  3. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 69.
  4. ^ Note: A B-17B can be distinguished from the later B-17C and B-17D by the "mission commander's bubble" over the flight deck area, on the B-17B, it is offset to the aircraft's right (to the left if facing the aircraft). The B-17C and B-17D mission commander's bubble are centered above the middle of the cockpit.
  5. ^ Anderson, Jeffrey M. "Wing Men." Combustible Celluloid, June 8, 2007.
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley. " 'Air Force' (1943)." New York Times, February 4, 1943.
  7. ^ Macdonald, Daniel. "Air Force." DVD Verdict, August 31, 2007.
  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Buff's Guide to Aviation Movies". Air Progress Aviation Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1983.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.

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