THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: one God in a cockpit…
“God is My Co-Pilot” is a flag-waving WWII movie released in 1945. It is based on the smash hit autobiography of Robert Lee Scott, Jr. Scott served as a technical advisor and did some stunt flying for the film. It is true to his story and certainly retains the spiritual theme. The film had the full cooperation of the Air Force which provided several P-40s and B-25s and AT-6s to masquerade as Zeros.
A montage takes Scott (Dennis Morgan) from jumping off a roof with an umbrella to a secret mission to India as a bomber pilot. Along the way he gets his first sermon from the family black guy about the need for God instead of luck in the cockpit. Scott remains skeptical for most of the film. The interlude in India gets the requisite exotic locale in and clues us in on two facts. One, there are belly dancers in India. Two, WWII air crewmen said things like “jiminy crickets” and “jumping jehosafats”. God would approve.
After a stint flying the Hump into China, Scott hooks up with Gen. Chennault (Raymond Massey) and Father “Big Mike” (Alan Hale). He is assigned a fighter and helps defend the base against an attack led by the legendary “Tokyo Joe” (Richard Loo). This is one of the most hilarious scenes in war movie history as the opposing pilots trash talk through the dog fight. Naturally the Japanese speak American. Here is a sampling:
Tokyo Joe: “Okay, you Yankee Doodle Dandies, come and get it. I’m going to drop one right in Chennault’s lap. Where are you gangsters? Come on up and get a load of that scrap metal you sold us.”
Johnny: “Now repeat after me. Your mother was a turtle, your father was a snake and you’re a good Jap.”
Crew chief: “Why you dirty retail monkey!”
Johnny: “One meatball in the side pocket.”
Scott turns into the star of the unit and his home town follows him like Joe Dimaggio. He duels with Tokyo Joe, but they both run out of ammo before they run out of zingers. He flies Father Mike through a storm which inspires the priest to give a sermon about what a wonderful co-pilot God would be. The sun emerges as though to smack Scott upside the head. In the climactic duel, Tokyo Joe is outnumbered two to one and even the samurai sword he carries on board does not make up for Scott’s co-pilot.
“God is My Co-Pilot” is unique in balancing its flag-waving propaganda with cloying religiousity. That is not a winning combination, although the movie was a hit with those patriotic Bible-thumping rubes that made up 1940s audiences. Sorry, greatest generation grandparents, I couldn’t help that one. Even if you take out the sermons and the lame taunting, the dialogue is atrocious. The music matches it. The action is fair. The dog fights are not “Wings” worthy, but they are swirling. We get a lot of cockpit views and bullet holes in the glass indicating death. Planes tend to blow up and no one parachutes. The movie has a large amount of droning. The acting is average. Earnest, but not scene-chewing.
Was it a good Christmas present? If God is asking – yes! Otherwise, I would have preferred a lump of coal.
grade = D