Cast & Crew
In 1943, at a U.S. air base in England, a squadron of airplanes returns from a bombing mission over Germany. All the pilots land safely except for Major Ed Hardin. The radio operator then contacts Hardin, who is flying over the English Channel, and while the other men listen, Hardin shoots down two German planes. Later, Brig. Gen. Gilbert requests that Hardin be court-martialed for repeated violations of combat orders. Although Hardin has the highest number of hits in the entire command, he refuses to stay with the other bombers as Gilbert has ordered, often chasing planes into Germany. Gilbert intends to make an example of Hardin to prevent younger pilots from following his lead. Brig. Gen. McCready, however, turns down Gilbert's request and points out that Hardin was trained as a Flying Tiger, where such behavior is encouraged. Meanwhile, philandering Sgt. Dolan discovers a way to leave the base whenever he wants by releasing a black cat from a cache in the storeroom. Because of the pilots' superstitions, he is then ordered to drive the cat as far away as possible, and is thus able to visit any woman he pleases, although he is always careful to use an alias. When Col. Bill Brickley is moved to another unit, he recommends Hardin to take his place. Both McCready and Hardin are dubious about this decision, but in the end, Hardin is made a colonel and takes over as leader of the squadron. Hardin eliminates many of Gilbert's hated requirements, but still refuses to allow his men to be married because he believes that a married man would not be willing to take the same risks in fighting as an unmarried man. This decision angers his friend, Capt. Stu Hamilton, who wants to marry his girl friend Ann, and he leaves the unit. The pilots continue to improve the effectiveness of their bombing raids under Hardin's leadership and are finally given permission to bomb German planes on the ground before they can take off. Never having formally transferred, Stu returns, although he is now married. Hardin orders him to present his written request for a transfer in the morning, but allows him to fly one last mission. Stu is killed during the raid, but before he dies, he tells Hardin over the radio that he was thinking of Ann, instead of flying, when he was hit. Later, Dolan's ruse is uncovered when his picture appears in the newspaper and is recognized by many of his lady friends. Dolan is sent to the brig, and the rest of the unit prepares for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. During the strafing, Hardin is hit and crashes. Another pilot is placed in charge, and betting that Hardin has somehow survived, the men continue fighting.
Bill Cody Jr.
William Yetter Jr.
Wilfred M. Cline
Leslie G. Hewitt
H. F. Koenekamp
Seton I. Miller
Seton I. Miller
Major Joseph Perry
Lyle B. Reifsnider
Edmond O'Brien plays the hero, with Robert Stack as his protege and intended successor. In his autobiography Stack later recalled a fact about Fighter Squadron that has given the film prominence in the field of Hollywood trivia. "At one time Raoul had under personal contract a black-haired, handsome ex-truck driver who also doubled as his chauffeur. With Raoul's encouragement, his protege turned actor. In a manner that typified the old-time directors, Walsh rode the young actor unmercifully. ‘You big dumb bastard,’ he yelled. ‘Don’t just get in the center of the camera and stay there like a tree, move!’ With this auspicious beginning, a young ex-truck driver who had recently changed his name from Roy Fitzgerald to Rock Hudson made his screen debut." Hudson’s role was so insignificant that he received no billing.
According to Hudson biographers Jerry Oppenheimer and Jack Vitek, Hudson’s one line in Fighter Squadron, "You’ve got to get a bigger blackboard," was one he would never forget. It took 38 takes for the inexperienced young actor to get the bit of dialogue out properly. In his nervousness, it kept coming out, "You’ve got to get a bligger backboard." Hudson would later recall that, when he took his mother, Kay, to see the movie and she caught his one scene, her only comment was, "Save your money."
Producer: Seton I. Miller
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Seton I. Miller, Martin Rackin
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline, Sid Hickox
Original Music: Max Steiner
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Editing: Christian Nyby
Principal Cast: Edmond O’Brien (Maj. Ed Hardin), Robert Stack (Capt. Stu Hamilton), John Rodney (Col. Bill Brickley), Tom D’Andrea (Sgt. Dolan), Henry Hull (Brig. Gen. Mike McCready), James Holden (Tennessee), Walter Reed (Capt. Duke Chappell), Shepperd Strudwick (Brig. Gen. M. Gilbert), Jack Larson (Lt. "Shorty" Kirk).
C-95m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Stack, 1919-2003
Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling.
Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger.
Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen.
His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942).
After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958).
Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name.
Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980).
Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.
by Michael T. Toole
Robert Stack, 1919-2003
The film begins with the following written foreword: "In the dark days of 1943 and 1944, the American Air Forces, stationed in England, wrote a bright page of American history in the skies over Europe. To the men of Fighter Command, this picture is dedicated. To the United States Air Force for permitting the use of actual combat film, and for its aid and cooperation in making this picture possible, our grateful thanks." A June 15, 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item reports that the production had just completed two weeks of location filming at Oscoda Air Base in Lake Huron, MI. According to a November 14, 1948 New York Times article, in this film, Warner Bros. used previously unreleased Air Force color footage depicting aerial combat over Europe. The article adds that airplane design evolved so rapidly during the war that the Air Force "had to scour the Air National Guard" for enough P-47 Thunderbolts to meet the needs of the filmmakers. Seton I. Miller's credit reads "written and produced by." Rock Hudson made his screen acting debut in this film.