MATCH-UP: “The Hunters” (1958) is a Korean War air combat film that was meant to be an epic, but is largely forgotten today. I tells the story of a veteran WWII ace who arrives in Korea because it’s the only war available and although he is considered a dinosaur, he feels he still has some fighter fighting left in him. His new squadron commander is a big fan and puts him in charge of an element that includes a beatnik and a sad sack alcoholic with low self-esteem. There is a romance thrown in to keep the women interested. The men will be busy ogling the F-86 Super Sabres.
“Flyboys” is a modern attempt to update the typical black and white WWI combat film. A heterogeneous group of Americans volunteer to serve in the French air force. The squadron is led by a cynical, war weary, heavy drinking veteran. Once the training scenes are over, it is a matter of who will survive a variety of dogfights. Meanwhile, the main character woos a local girl to keep the ladies who do not play video games interested.
FIRST QUARTER: Dogfighting Quantity
The Hunters = 9 minutes
Flyboys = 24 minutes
FIRST QUARTER SCORE:
The Hunters 7
SECOND QUARTER: Plot
“The Hunters” has a standard WWII combat style plot, but it does some unpredictable things with it. The romance is shoe-horned in, but it does not take a trite path. There is one totally off the wall character who will either irritate the Hell out of you or have laughing your ass off (not by intention). The movie flows smoothly through its battle followed by rest segments until it goes off the track with a preposterous last act. C
“Flyboys” is the dogfight equivalent of “Memphis Belle” and “U-571”. The plot is extremely predictable. Nothing occurs which you have not seen in much better movies. The heterogeneous unit is whittled down. There is a series of vignette style air battles. The movie throws in the requisite lame romantic subplot. Needless to say, the plot is bloated with clichés. D
SECOND QUARTER SCORE:
The Hunters 14
THIRD QUARTER: Realism and Accuracy
“The Hunters” is not based on a true story and all the characters are fictional (including Pell, believe it or not!). It gets the little details about the air war right and goes to some trouble to do it. The war is not spoken of in glowing, patriotic terms by the pilots. It’s their job to fight. They are not gung-ho which accurately reflects the attitude toward the war. Part of the cynicism is caused by the rules of engagement that allowed the Chicom MiGs to use the sanctuary north of the Yalu River to launch hit-and-run attacks on USAF planes. Tactics are rendered accurately. The movie invents a fictional foe dubbed “Casey Jones”, but there were a few high quality opponents who reached ace status in the war. B
“Flyboys” purports to be a true story. Specifically it claims to bring recognition to the American pilots who made up the Lafayette Escadrille. Cassidy is obviously meant to be Raoul Lufbery who became a famous ace and famously died when he jumped out of his burning plane sans parachute (no bullet in the head for him). Skinner does a better job representing Eugene Bullard, an African-American living in France who joined the squadron. None of the air battles appear to be based on actual events. Most egregious is the insulting use of only Fokker triplanes for all the German fighters (and they are all painted red except the evil German’s black). The CGI effects allow for some very unrealistic depictions of dogfights. D
THIRD QUARTER SCORE:
The Hunters 22
FOURTH QUARTER: Cliches
“Flyboys” is chock full of tropes. Cassidy is the cynical, war-weary, ladies’ man. There is an evil German named the Black Falcon. That’s right – the movie uses the oldest cliché in cinematic history. The bad guy wears black. The squadron parties hard and in that WWI specific cliché, they do this in spite of losing comrades. Rawlings goes to see Lucienne on a motorcycle. Rawlings maneuvers two German Fokkers into a mid-air collision. C
“The Hunters” also has a black helmeted foe with a cool nickname. However, Casey Jones is not really evil. He is just unfairly good for an Oriental fighter pilot. Pell fulfills the hot shot glory hound role. He gets his first kill by cutting in front of his element leader. B
The Hunters 30
In the battle between the Baby Boom dogfighting movie and the Generation X representative, the Old School movie deserved to win. The only advantage “Flyboys” had was the large quantity of dogfighting. I must admit I am from the Baby Boom generation, so I do not need to be entertained by extreme air combat. Some day CGI will be ready to make a great dogfighting movie. That day is not here yet.