Plot: What’s it about?
Even before the United States became involved in World War II, several American volunteer squads were battling the Japanese in the area of China. One such group is The Flying Tigers, a team of fighter pilots who duke it out in the skies and seldom come out the losing party. This team is the elite of the elite (think Top Gun) and their leader, Jim Gordon (John Wayne) is simply the finest pilot you’re going to find anywhere. While their skills in the air are excellent, not all of the battles take place in the skies above. The team has several colorful characters who have different interests and goals, but Gordon has to make sure the tension and differences remain minimal. If a problem were to surface on the ground between the men, it would jeopardize the lives of the pilots once they were in the clouds. One of the more colorful men in the unit is Woody Jason (John Carroll), an ace pilot who likes to showboat and who Gordon thinks is trying to steal his fiancee away from him. To be sure Gordon has a lot of personalities and issues to balance, but once he enters the air zone, he is all business and makes sure to keep his mind on the mission. But once he lands, will he be as stable if things go awry?
This movie falls into a category of interesting circumstances when it comes to this review. I had never seen this movie prior to this review copy, and since I had watched and reviewed a rather disappointing John Wayne movie, The Fighting Seabees, my expectations were lowered. After I viewed this film though, I was very pleased with the results and my faith in John Wayne has been restored. This one has some moments of sheer patriotism, but for the most part this is just a movie, not a public service announcement on the war. I was impressed with the overall storyline, which is quite similar at times to Top Gun and also the characters, which were colorful and interesting. The development seemed fleshed out and extensive, which was also a welcome notion after the dull and thin movie, The Fighting Seabees. This movie does portray Japanese folks in a savage light, but come on this is a John Wayne war movie, what did you expect. This is also a very bloody and violent movie, so make sure the little ones are away during this one. I recommend this film to fans of John Wayne and war movies, and I know I will be adding it to my personal collection.
This film was directed by David Miller, who has a long list of films under his belt, including some very interesting ones. While most John Wayne movies follow certain patterns and such and this is no exception, Miller manages to push some new ideas into this one, to give it a personal stamp of sorts. You expect violence with a war movie, but this one is unlike most Wayne war films, in that the violence is graphic, especially for the time it was made. But this is a strong point I feel, as it gives the movie a more mature, realistic angle. If you’re looking for more of Miller’s work, I suggest Beautiful Stranger, Drunk Driving, Fisticuffs, and The Happiest Man On Earth. While many John Wayne movies are a one man show, this one actually has a terrific supporting cast. Some of the more interesting substantial roles are played by Paul Kelly (The Square Jungle, Gunsmoke), Gordon Jones (The Shaggy Dog, The Absent Minded Professor), and Anna Lee (In Like Flint). The lead is played of course by John Wayne, who gives his usual performance, which is good but a little wooden. Wayne plays the war hero to utter perfection without a doubt, but his line delivery does leave a little to be desired. Also of note here is John Carroll (The Avengers, Zorro Rides Again), who plays the foil to Wayne very well and even manages to upstage The Duke at times.
Video: How does it look?
Flying Tigers is presented in the original 1.33:1 or full frame aspect ratio. As with The Fighting Seabees, this release has a poor condition source print, which means the screen is plagued by flecks and nicks. These are not minor in nature either, they are frequent and can be quite distracting. This is a black and white movie, so the contrast is of utmost importance. The contrast here is on the soft side, perhaps due to the condition of the source materials. This is by no means unwatchable, but it is not as good as we’ve come to expect from Artisan’s John Wayne Collection.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original mono track is included and does an adequate job of replicating the audio, but as with most war movies, this movie needs a surround sound remix. But this mix is solid and has no serious flaws, so I suppose I won’t complain too much. The musical score is terrific and sounds great in this mix, with no hiss or distortion to be heard. The effects also sound clear and effective, but lack the punch and impact a surround mix would offer. The dialogue shows no flaws either, the volume level is good and so is the clarity.
Supplements: What are the extras?
On this release you’ll find talent files and production notes.