Flying Tigers (film)

Flying Tigers (film)

Flying Tigers is a 1942 black-and-white war film, starring John Wayne and John Carroll as mercenary fighter pilots fighting the Japanese in China prior to the U.S. entry into World War II.

The film was nominated for three Oscars: Best Effects, Special Effects for Howard Lydecker (photographic) and Daniel J. Bloomberg (sound); Best Music for Victor Young; and Best Sound, Recording for Daniel J. Bloomberg.


Jim Gordon (John Wayne in his first war film) leads the Flying Tigers, a legendary unit not sanctioned by the American government at the time. His men fly Curtiss P-40 fighters against Japanese bombers and fighters in the skies over China. The pilots are a mixed bunch, motivated by money (they receive a bounty for each plane shot down), patriotism or just the thrill of combat.

One day, old friend Woody Jason (John Carroll) enlists. An arrogant, hot-shot aviator, he starts causing trouble immediately. When the Japanese raid the base, the enthusiastic new arrival goes after them, taking a plane without permission, not realizing until too late that it has no ammunition. As a result, he is shot down. He is unharmed, but the precious plane is a wreck. As time goes on, he shows that he has little use for teamwork, alienating and endangering the other pilots...particularly Blackie Bales, who is picked off while parachuting from his crippled plane because Woody ditched him to chase another "Mitsy."

In a subplot, Woody starts romancing nurse Brooke Elliott (Anna Lee), who had been waiting for Jim to notice her. One night, they go on a date. When he is late getting back for a patrol, Jim's right hand man, "Hap" Smith (Paul Kelly), secretly takes his place. Unfortunately, he had been grounded because his vision had deteriorated, particularly at night. In the resulting dogfight, he is unable to judge distances accurately and winds up dying in a collision with a Japanese raider. This proves to be the final straw; Jim fires Woody, explaining that "It's out of my hands now. None of these men will ever fly with you again. And they HAVE to fly."

A day later, Jim receives word that a crucial bridge has to be destroyed. The target is so heavily defended, the only way that has a chance of working is to sneak in undetected with a single cargo plane and bomb it, but it would be a one-way trip. Jim volunteers, but Woody invites himself along, much to Jim's irritation. They are able to bomb the bridge only after a crucial supply train has crossed. The plane is hit and catches fire. Jim bails out, expecting Woody to do the same. Instead, Woody flies the plane into the train, destroying it at the cost of his own life.

The next day, Jim reads a letter Woody wrote to him just before the fateful mission. As Woody's last will and testament, it asks Jim to "Give my silk scarf to the next hedge-hopper who takes this for an easy racket." Jim does so; smiling, he admonishes the young replacement: "Take good care of this; it belonged to a pretty good flyer."



Actual Flying Tigers Lawrence Moore and Kenneth Sanger were technical advisors.

Historical accuracy

  • The film had little to do with the American Volunteer Group, the real "Flying Tigers"; unlike the movie characters, the AVG pilots were all recruited from active or reserve U.S. military forces, were in Asia with the knowledge and approval of the White House, and were not in combat before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • John Wayne's character is nicknamed "Pappy." This was real-life Marine fighter ace Gregory Boyington's moniker. Boyington (the inspiration for the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep) did in fact fly with the Tigers until early 1942, when he was dishonorably discharged.
  • Movie models were used to portray the Curtiss P-40 aircraft the Tigers actually flew although they were only static mock-ups.
  • Actual combat footage was used in some of the scenes.
  • John Wayne's character arrives at the base on the one-off Capelis XC-12, a failed design that found a new life as a non-flying movie prop. It also was used in the film Five Came Back.

See also




  • Dolan Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Schnepf, Ed. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Oriss, 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.

External links

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