WAR DOC: The Fighting Lady: A Drama of the Pacific (1944)
It is hard to believe this is my 900th post. Who would have ever thought? I still am enthusiastic about this blog and have big plans for the future. I certainly will get to 1,000, God willing. For this special post, I decided to get personal.
This summer I took a trip to Corpus Christi to visit the USS Lexington. The aircraft carrier is the second Lexington. The first was sunk in the Battle of Coral Sea. The carrier is now a museum and an outstanding one. It was like going back in time to a period of history that fascinates me. I have, since middle school, been intrigued by the Pacific Theater more than any other theater of war. I started reading military history as a teenager and have read many books about the war in the Pacific, especially the naval war. A visit to an aircraft carrier has been on my bucket list for a while. I have already been on board two battleships (the Alabama and the Texas), a submarine (the Drum) and a destroyer (the Kidd). This was the cherry on top. To walk on the flight deck and explore the ship was awesome. To prepare for the visit, I watched the Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature for 1944. “The Fighting Lady: A Drama of the Pacific” was produced by the U.S. Navy and narrated by Lt. Robert Taylor. The popular actor, who starred in “Bataan”, was in the Navy during the war. He served as a flight instructor and made instructional films. This film covers the Yorktown (CV-10) from its passage through the Panama Canal. The ship sees action at Marcus Island, Kwajalein, Truk, and the Marianas.
The first half of the film covers life aboard the ship. One theme is that everyone in the crew is there to serve the pilots of the aircraft. The fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers are the reasons for the existence of the carrier. The ship is like a floating city. There are a wide variety of jobs. There are cobblers, barbers, laundrymen, dentists, and many others. There are the men who take care of the planes and the sailors who man the anti-aircraft guns. And there are the damage control personnel. The narrator personalizes some of the crew, including “Smokey”. Smokey was a veteran of Guadalcanal who became an ace. He is held out of flight operations until the final air battle chronicled in the movie. Another theme is only a small percent of the time is combat. The men have to find pastimes to alleviate the boredom when they are off duty. The main time-waster is scuttlebutt (rumors). They also watch movies.
The sound of “general quarters” breaks the routine. The Yorktown’s first action is a raid on Marcus Island. Gun camera footage shows fighters strafing. Sounds are edited in, including dialogue. Then the “ballet” of recovering planes. Next is Kwajalein and Truk. Footage includes shooting down Japanese planes, bombing and strafing, and some crash landings. Later, cameras on board the ship provide footage of a Japanese attack on the ship. Some of this is from the Marianas Turkey Shoot. Lots of Japanese planes go down. There are more crash landings. The film ends poignantly with a funeral at sea.
“The Fighting Lady” (an unusual title since the Lexington was usually referred to that way) is very effective propaganda. Mainly because it is not overt. It does have its moments like “these little monkeys [the Japanese] think they are fancy fliers”. But this leads to an accurate analysis that the reason we won air battles was our discipline trumped their acrobatics. For the most part, the narrator concentrates on explaining the roles of the men and the role of the carrier. As a tutorial on carrier warfare in WWII, it has no equal. You get a day in the life and some historical events. It is better and more entertaining than its closest fictional equivalents – “Wing and a Prayer”, “Flat Top”, and “Men of the Fighting Lady”. It must have had a positive impact on audiences in 1944. It’s one thing to read about it in newspapers and in letters home, it’s another to see it. The footage is amazing and the sound effects editing matches it. Surprisingly, the footage is not repetitive. And the faux dialogue adds to the footage, rather than coming off as hokey. There are many air combat movies that don’t get those two things right.
“The Fighting Lady” is a must-see for anyone interested in carrier warfare in the Pacific. It certainly deserved the Academy Award. Make sure you watch it before visiting the USS Lexington, or the actual USS Yorktown. The actual ship is a museum at Patriot’s Point near Charleston, South Carolina. I know that if I’m ever in the area, I’m going to go. After watching the movie, again. It is available on YouTube.
GRADE = A
Congratulations on 900 posts! I was just listening to an episode of the BBC's History Extra Podcast which interviewed Roland Emmerich on his recent film "Midway (2019)." Emmerich states that he had his crew watch "The Fighting Lady" in preparation for filing carrier operations and that his film references several scenes from this older movie.ReplyDelete
Good stuff. Thanks.Delete