Cast & Crew
Prior to the United States' entry into World War II, egotistical American pilot Tim Baker seeks adventure and money by ferrying a bomber from Canada to England. While in London, he meets a former girl friend, Carol Brown, a nightclub performer who volunteers in the ambulance reserve during the day. Carol is both pleased and annoyed to see Tim, with whom she broke up a year earlier because of his irresponsible nature. Hoping to win Carol back, Tim accepts her dare to join the R.A.F. but quickly becomes bored with the classes teaching basic flying techniques. One afternoon, Carol goes to the airfield and meets Wing Commander John Morley, who is immediately taken with her. Morley sees her nightclub show and escorts her home, after which Carol, angry at Tim for standing her up that evening, tells him that she has a new man in her life. She continues seeing both of them while Tim finishes his training and is assigned to Morley's squadron, but the men are not aware that they are romantic rivals. One night Tim makes a trial run with Corporal Harry Baker, during which they are to drop propaganda leaflets on Berlin. Tim is disgusted with what he perceives to be a useless task, but returns to the base safely and tells Carol that he will be late for their date that night. When Tim arrives at four in the morning, however, after carousing with friends Al Bennett and Roger Pillby, Carol has left her apartment for a weekend in Kent with Morley. Tim's perpetual nonchalance about her, combined with the enjoyable weekend, prompt Carol to tell him that they are through when she returns to London. Upon learning that the other man proposed, Tim offers to marry Carol as well, but the self-sacrificing tone he adopts makes Carol throw him out. When Tim returns to the base, he and Morley discover that they are both Carol's suitors, but just then, they are called on an emergency mission to Dortmund because Germany has invaded Holland and Belgium. Pillby is shot down as he draws fire from Tim after his plane is hit, but Tim is still forced to land on a Dutch beach because of a lost engine. A German patrol spots Tim, Morley and Baker, and Baker bravely sacrifices himself so that the others can escape. Tim attempts to play on Carol's sympathy when he returns by pretending to have a broken arm, and despite her aggravation at the ruse, he forces an engagement ring on her before he has to return to the airfield on another emergency call. At the base, Tim learns of the siege at Dunkirk and finally has a chance to fly a Spitfire as the squadron takes off. After shooting down two German planes, one for Pillby and one for Baker, Tim is shot down himself and appears to be lost. Morley returns safely and realizes that Carol is in love with Tim as she tries to convince herself that he will be okay. They rush to one of the last returning boatloads of evacuated soldiers and are about to give up hope when Tim appears. Carol tearfully shows him that she is still wearing his ring, and after Morley congratulates Tim, the trio walk off arm in arm.
G. P. Huntley
Hans Von Morhart
Edna Mae Jones
R.a.f. Wing Commander James Addams
Lt. Harold Barlow
E. H. Hansen
Major Herbert Mason M.c.
R.a.f. Group Capt. C. B. Wincott
R.a.f. Flight Lt. Laurence Worall
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Special Effects
A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) - A Yank in the R.A.F.
Shot over four months in the spring and early summer of 1941 and released in late September -- about six weeks before Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II -- A Yank in the R.A.F. "was not a propaganda picture," according to the director Henry King. "It was a story worth telling, a story that was happening... right up to the minute."
Power's arrogant young pilot joins the R.A.F. for the thrill of flying into combat and as a way to win back his girl, but by the end he will, of course, gain an understanding of why this war is really worth fighting -- although even here, director King is right that his film does not hit the audience over the head with a patriotic message. Instead, A Yank in the R.A.F. becomes a genre hybrid that mixes musical, romance, comedy and combat, though it is not truly a "combat film," a genre that wouldn't fully develop for another year.
This was a major production for Twentieth Century Fox, so much so that studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck wrote the film's story (under the pseudonym Melville Crossman) and personally produced the picture. Originally, the script was entitled The Eagle Flies Again and had Power's character dying in a climactic air battle. But due in part to the urging of British Air Minister Lord Beaverbrook, this was changed and the story's lightness was emphasized even more, so as to distinguish the film from other, more propagandistic, war movies of the time. Zanuck had arranged for the full cooperation of the Royal Air Force and was open to Beaverbrook's suggestions. In exchange he got unprecedented support from the British, who set the facilities of the Air Ministry at Fox's disposal, arranged for aerial combat footage to be shot by British crews, and established a council to provide technical advice. (Zanuck also got the U.S. government's permission to use military planes and Canada's permission to shoot at a training field.)
But the aerial footage, which would be combined in the finished film with miniature work and studio shots, was the key item. The R.A.F. equipped some planes with cameras mounted on gun carriages, set to automatically roll when the cannon started firing, and under the direction of a British film crew, thousands of feet of footage were shot over six months showing actual dogfights above England and Germany. Two cameramen, Otto Kanturek and Jack Parry, were killed when their camera plane was shot down. Kanturek had over 100 cinematographer credits to his name, including Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich (1940).
The rest of A Yank in the R.A.F. was shot on Hollywood stages and California locations, including the Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, Calif., standing in for an R.A.F. base near London. Actual bombers were being finished on an assembly line during filming, and the air plant workers simply wore R.A.F. uniforms instead of their usual white jumpsuits. These scenes [cut from the finished film] required a retinue of FBI officers, army officials and various police department officers to be on hand to monitor the filming, which a press release claimed did not delay plane production by even one minute.
For the climactic sequence showing the battle and evacuation of Dunkirk, director King found suitable locations along the California coast, especially at Point Mugu near Oxnard, and also at an 18-acre lake dubbed "Lake Michigan" that had previously been built by Fox and used for In Old Chicago (1937). Zanuck spared no expense for the Dunkirk sequence; in fact, after seeing the first week's rushes, he increased the scene's budget from $150,000 to nearly $200,000, boosted its shooting schedule to 28 days, and lengthened the overall film's running time to accommodate the extra footage. Over 1000 extras were used, and the scene received much attention from the studio publicity department and the national press, who praised the scene's staggering realism. ("The most thrilling episode ever pictured," declared The Hollywood Reporter.) The only real problem in shooting the sequence was the day when director King suddenly had to do without hundreds of extras. It turned out they had been sent to the set of John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941) (another Zanuck production) to be Welsh coal miners for the day! Both pictures required extras who were experienced in marching in unison.
The battle and evacuation of Dunkirk has been portrayed on film many other times, including in Mrs. Miniver (1942), Dunkirk (1958), Weekend at Dunkirk (1964), Atonement (2007) and others, but some of the footage from A Yank in the R.A.F. was later used in documentaries about the battle, and that is why for some viewers certain shots here, impressive and dramatically composed, will look familiar.
The excitement of the combat scenes was only one element of the movie to exhilarate critics and audiences. Another was the pairing of Tyrone Power (replacing the originally intended Henry Fonda) and Betty Grable. "What a team!" Henry King later recalled. "Both are as good as they've ever been in this," gushed The New York Times. Power was a superstar after recently appearing in The Mark of Zorro (1940) and Blood and Sand (1941), and Grable was riding a wave following Down Argentine Way (1940) and Moon Over Miami (1941). Starting in 1942, Grable would enter the rankings of top 10 female box-office draws and stay there for a decade. She was also THE pinup girl for American soldiers around the world, and Zanuck knew that to pair her with a soldier character in a new movie was pretty much a box-office guarantee. (A studio press release from the time claimed "one out of every fifteen boys in uniform calls Grable his 'sweetheart.'") Our introduction to Grable in A Yank in the R.A.F. is a long panning shot of her legs as she steps out of an ambulance and runs across the street, and one can only imagine the delight that this must have created in audiences at the time. Grable's presence also allows the film's strange concoction of musical comedy romance and war movie to work; since she was associated with the former on screen and connected to the latter by virtue of her pinup girl status, audiences had no problem accepting her in the film, or accepting the film as a whole, and A Yank in the R.A.F. became an enormous hit.
Incidentally, the genre mix also allowed Grable to tackle a few serious acting scenes, one of which required her to cry and took six hours to film. According to a press release, Grable was so exhausted that King sent her home to rest for a couple of days. "I've danced for days on end and never been so tired," Grable said. "Hoofing is easy work compared to crying."
A Yank in the R.A.F. is one of several movies produced just before or around the time of America's entry into WWII in which Americans join Allied forces as volunteers, but there is one film that followed just a few months later that was truly a knock-off: International Squadron (1941), a Warner Brothers B film starring Ronald Reagan. (In that film, however, the Reagan character does die at the end.) Another one with a very similar story, Eagle Squadron, was released by Universal in June 1942 and starred Robert Stack in the Tyrone Power/Ronald Reagan role. And in October 1942 came Flying Tigers, in which John Wayne plays an American flyer who joins the Chinese Air Force to fight the Japanese before the U.S. enters the war. (The Pearl Harbor attack occurs during the story.) Clearly, this was a story template that resonated.
A Yank in the R.A.F. was Oscar®-nominated for Best Special Effects, but lost to I Wanted Wings (1941). According to an item in the film's production file at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library, the studio eliminated the words, "Fire! Fire!" from the script "at the request of the Will Hays office, which has had complaints in the past because moviegoers sometimes think someone in the audience is shouting the words and they stampede for the nearest exit."
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Henry King
Screenplay: Darrell Ware, Karl Tunberg (screenplay); Melville Crossman (story)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: James Basevi, Richard Day
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Cast: Tyrone Power (Tim Baker), Betty Grable (Carol Brown), John Sutton (Wing Commander Morley), Reginald Gardiner (Roger Pillby), Donald Stuart (Corporal Harry Baker), Ralph Byrd (Al), Richard Fraser (Thorndyke), Denis Green (Flight Lieutenant Redmond), Bruce Lester (Flight Lieutenant Richardson), Gilchrist Stuart (Wales).
by Jeremy Arnold
Jeanine Basinger, The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre
Fox publicity notices on file at the AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library
Fred Lawrence Guiles, Tyrone Power: The Last Idol
Life Magazine, Sept. 22, 1941
Frank Thompson, editor, Henry King, Director: From Silents to Scope
A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) - A Yank in the R.A.F.
The working titles of this film were The Eagle Flies Again and The Eagle Squadron. After the opening credits, there is a written prologue stating: "The Producers wish to express their appreciation to the officers and personnel of the Royal Air Force whose cooperation, under difficult conditions, made possible the filming of the aerial scenes in this production." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the original story outline for the picture, dated October 25, 1940 and entitled The Eagle Squadron, was dictated by producer Darryl F. Zanuck. The Variety review also noted that "Melville Crossman," who is credited with "original story" in the onscreen credits, was Zanuck's pseudonym.
In Zanuck's original story, "Tim Baker" was to be killed at the end: "What we are working towards is a climax where Ty[rone Power] does some terrifically spectacular thing which ends in his death. During the early days of the present war, in fact, a few days after England came into it, Billy Fiske, the American sportsman and pilot, enlisted with the British Air Force. He was killed in defending England against an air raid, and in his last flight brought down three planes before he himself was shot down. We May be able to use this as a pattern for this part of our story." (William "Billy" M. L. Fiske III, an American former Olympian, joined the R.A.F. in September 1939, served with distinction and died on August 17, 1940 of injuries received during an engagement with German bombers). The scripts collection and a November 5, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item both noted that the story was based on the exploits of the American volunteers in the R.A.F. The news item, and another in early December 1940, indicate that Henry Fonda, Don Ameche and Mary Beth Hughes were scheduled to appear as the film's stars.
According to notes from a 25 November 40 conference with Zanuck and the production team, the death of "Tim Baker" would mean that an actor other than Power would have to play the part because "the serious objection to Ty would be that audiences would resent his dying at the finish, and not getting the girl." It was suggested that the part should therefore be played by either James Cagney or Fred MacMurray. The ending in which "Tim Baker" is killed was apparently filmed, however, and according to the September 13, 1941 Motion Picture Herald review, "the happy ending [was] filmed after early preview audiences protested the killing of the hero at Dunkirk."
An August 18, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Zanuck had just ordered the new ending to be filmed. According to the scripts collection, however, it was in late January 1941 that Zanuck changed his mind about "Tim Baker" getting killed in the end and "Wing Commander Robert Morley" coming to a romantic conclusion with "Carol Brown." Notes from a 31 January 41 conference with Zanuck reveal that Zanuck had discussed the problem "unofficially with some British officials," who felt that the lead character should not die because no more deaths should be shown than were "absolutely essential" to the story. The scripts collection and studio publicity note that also planned but deleted was an elaborate wedding between "Tim Baker" and "Carol Brown" at the end of the picture after "Tim" is discovered to be alive.
Although the scripts collections and the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at UCLA, note that Robert Hopkins worked on a "story outline" entitled The Eagle Flies Again, the extent of his contribution to the completed picture has not been confirmed. A November 5, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Hopkins was working on the screenplay, as was Martin Hudson, whose contribution to the release film has also not been confirmed. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Phillip Reed was tested for a role in the picture, and Ronald Sinclair was also to be included in the cast, but their participation in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, both the March 21, 1941 and March 28, 1941 versions of the film's script were rejected by the PCA because of "the inescapable suggestion" of an "illicit sex affair" between "Tim" and "Carol." The PCA also objected to a long drinking sequence in which "Tim and Roger" and shown "staggeringly drunk." The problems were eventually resolved and the picture approved. The PCA file also reveals that by August 8, 1941, the film had had three public previews.
Many contemporary sources remarked on the unusual amount of cooperation received by Twentieth Century-Fox from the British government and military in the making of the picture. According to studio publicity, Lord Beaverbrook, the British Air Minister, was consulted about the story and "expressed the wish that the comedy and romance might lift the film out of the usual category of war plots." Lord Beaverbrook "set the facilities of the Air Ministry at the disposal of the studio," and numerous contemporary sources noted that thousands of feet of film showing the R.A.F. in action fighting against German planes were sent to Twentieth Century-Fox by Britian. According to studio publicity, studio cameraman Otto Kanturek and his assistant, Jack Perry, went to England to film airplane fight sequences and were shot down and killed during a dogfight between R.A.F. and German fliers.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Life and studio publicity, portions of the film were shot on location at the Lockheed Air terminal in Burbank, CA, where all cast and crew members were required to submit proof of American citizenship to gain entry. The Dunkirk sequences were filmed on location at Point Magu, near Oxnard, CA, and at an artificial lake on the Twentieth Century-Fox backlot. The sequences, which took either 27 or 28 days to complete, employed over 1,100 extras, most of whom were American Legion veterans, had more than 2,000 special effects explosions and cost between $190,00 and $250,000. Additional shooting was done in Santa Ana, CA. A April 14, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that a German Messerschmitt airplane, shot down by the R.A.F. and sent to the studio for inspection and use in the film, was later put on exhibit at Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles and the proceeds were donated to British War Relief. A January 24, 1942 studio press release reported that Lt. Harold Barlow, an R.A.F. pilot used as Tyrone Power's flying double, had been shot down and taken prisoner in Germany.
Tyrone Power appeared in a special trailer, entitled "Three of a Kind," for the 1941 Twentieth Century-Fox film Charley's Aunt. In the trailer, Jack Benny, the star of Charley's Aunt, sits in the studio café and discusses his film with Power, who comments on A Yank in the R.A.F., and Randolph Scott, who talks about Belle Starr. No scenes of the three pictures were shown. A September 8, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the studio planned an "international broadcast" that would "include an American salute to the R.A.F. in London, and a greeting from the R.A.F. and the American Eagles to the people of the United States." Although details of the broadcast have not been confirmed, Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Power and Betty Grable attended the Hollywood premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, at which 10,000 spectators gathered, while New York Governor Herbert Lehman, Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia and Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal attended the New York City premiere. The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Special Effects (Photographic Effects, Fred Sersen; Sound Effects E. H. Hansen) category. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that in July-August 1941, pre-production began on A Tommy in the U.S.A., which Zanuck intended as a "companion picture" to the production. That film, which details the training of British pilots at an Arizona flying school, was released in 1942 as Thunderbirds.