Saturday, April 11, 2015



MATCH-UP:  “Battle of Britain” (1969) is an epic take on the famous air battle.  It is a British film with an all-star cast.  The movie takes the “Longest Day” approach of covering both sides.  The movie focuses on several British pilots, but also covers command decisions.  There is a romance thrown in for the ladies. 

                “Flying Leathernecks” (1951) is a John Wayne WWII movie that also stars the ever dependable war movie stalwart Robert Ryan.  The movie has a submarine-type plot set in a Marine Corps squadron.  Wayne and Ryan disagree on command philosophy and as a corollary Wayne is attempting to implement a new tactic of ground air support on Guadalcanal and then on Okinawa.

FIRST QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quantity

                “Battle of Britain”  =  21 minutes
                “Flying Leathernecks”  =  8 minutes

Battle of Britain                   10
Flying Leathernecks            6


                BoB tries to hit all the big historical moments and add in personal stories.  The subplots involving the British pilots are fictional and seem a bit cursory.  The real characters are in the higher command sphere and those scenes are nicely instructional.  Although the movie intercuts between both sides, there are no Luftwaffe characters that are developed which is an odd mistake considering the movie seems to have used the “Longest Day” template for its basic plot.  B

                Leathernecks has a typically predictable plot.  The dysfunctional command structure is nothing new, but it is aided by the two leads.  The movie is too patriotic which is surprising because it was not made during the war.  It does cover an actual tactical concept (ground air support), but does it in a simplistic way.  The movie crashes and burns in its atrocious home front scenes.  D

Battle of Britain                   18
Flying Leathernecks            12

THIRD QUARTER:  Realism and Accuracy     

                BoB is commendably accurate, but does take some liberties.  None of the pilots are actual people although Robert Shaw’s character resembles “Sailor” Malan and Falke is reminiscent of Adolf Galland.  The movie gives the textbook view of German strategic mistakes and although sadly lacking a time frame, hits some of the major German attacks like August 15 and September 15.  The “big wings” controversy is touched upon, but left hanging.  It does a good job covering the reason why the Germans shifted concentration to the British cities.  The movie had ten technical advisers, including Galland.  B

                Leathernecks is more fictional.  Kirby was based on Maj. John L. Smith who was awarded the Medal of Honor and shot down 19 Japanese planes while commanding the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal.  The debate over air combat versus close air support may have occurred so the movie might be a good summary of this, but it is handled very simplistically.  The movie uses a lot of footage of Hellcats when Wildcats were used on Guadalcanal.  D

Battle of Britain                   26
Flying Leathernecks            18


                BoB has few fighter squadron clichés partly because it is a battle movie rather than a small unit movie.  Many of the clichés depend on squadron dynamics and this movie does not feature that kind of plot.  We do get a mid-air collision.  An air field is bombed, but it is not by an opposing fighter squadron and is not in the form of throwing down the gauntlet.  There is a scene where a pilot breaks formation.  Actually, it is a flight of Polish pilots who leave their mother hen and is meant mainly for comic relief.  A

                Leathernecks has the gruff crew chief who also doubles as the clicheish scrounger.  Japanese fighters bomb their air field on Guadalcanal (with bombs they don’t carry, of course).  There are two separate incidents of pilots leaving formation to get a kill.  One of the main characters shows his readiness for command by sacrificing his best friend.  The movie throws in submarine clichés like the commander and the exec disagreeing about the commander’s tough love policy.  The exec comes over to the commander’s perspective. The commander is determined to fight the war differently and this causes dissension among the men.  D

Battle of Britain           36
Flying Leathernecks    24


                This was no contest which is as it should be in a match between a #1 seed and a movie that had to play its way into the tournament.  BoB is not only a highly regarded dogfighting movie, but one of the epic battle movies.  Although it is not in a league with its predecessor “The Longest Day”, it still had enough juice to handle an Old School John Wayne movie.   

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