Tuesday, 15 June 2010

JET PILOT (1957)

A couple of years ago we were treated to the release of two long unavailable John Wayne aviation adventures (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY and ISLAND IN THE SKY) and now along comes another one. I've never seen JET PILOT on VHS or DVD before and as far as I recall not on television. Made under the banner of Howard Hughes it combines two of HH's great passions - aviation and pursuing young starlets. The film is a light romantic comedy masquerading as a spy story in much the same sub-genre as NINOTCHKA and SILK STOCKINGS but far below those templates in terms of quality. This is not to say that there isn't a lot for the cinephile to enjoy. For one thing it is the last film directed by the great Josef Von Sternberg. I don't know the circumstances but it certainly seems a strange project for Dietrich's svengali, the director of such classics as THE SCARLET EMPRESS and SHANGHAI EXPRESS and it seems that there is uncredited direction by Jules Furthman. Acting wise the film suffers from a rather stiff supporting cast which includes Jay C. Flippen and Wayne's old buddy Paul Fix as well as one scene from Hans Conreid. Praise must be given, however, to the two stars - John Wayne and Janet Leigh (the object of HH's desire) - as there is a real chemistry between them which I found completely charming and unexpected - not to mention quite sexy. The film was actually made in 1950 with the full co-operation of the U.S.Airforce. Because their co-operation was so full (they get star billing) the film's release was delayed for nearly seven years as some of the technology shown was still on the secret list - plus HH, as was his want, refilmed many scenes to keep up with the fast advance of aviation technology. The flying sequences are amongst the best I've ever seen and are a joy to watch. The stunt flying is mostly done by test pilot Chuck Yeager who later went on to be the first man to break the sound barrier in the X1 rocket plane which is featured heavily at the climax of JET PILOT masquerading as a Russian "Parasite fighter". Of course the movie is very much a piece of Red-baiting propaganda but as such it is a less offensive than Waynes's BIG JIM McLAIN. The film is slight and a bit silly with a totally unbelievable plot but once you accept that, if you like Wayne and don't mind eye-balling the gorgeous Miss Leigh, there is a lot to enjoy. The DVD I picked up was really cheap but the picture quality is absolutely superb. Rating ***

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