Flight Command

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Flight Command
Flight Command FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Frank Borzage
Produced by J. Walter Ruben
Frank Borzage (uncredited)
Written by Harvey S. Haislip (story and screenplay)
John Sutherland (story)
Wells Root (screenplay)
Starring Robert Taylor
Ruth Hussey
Walter Pidgeon
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by Frank Borzage Production
Release date
  • December 27, 1940 (1940-12-27)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $837,000[1]
Box office $2,292,000[1]

Flight Command is a 1940 American film about a cocky U.S. Navy pilot who has problems with his new squadron and with the wife of his commander. It stars Robert Taylor, Ruth Hussey and Walter Pidgeon. Flight Command has the distinction of often being credited as the first Hollywood film glorifying the American military to be released after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, a year before the U.S. entered the conflict.[2]


Hotshot ensign Alan Drake (Robert Taylor), fresh from the flying academy at Pensacola, Florida, wants to be accepted by the pilots of an elite squadron, nicknamed the "Hellcats", to which he has been posted in San Diego. He gets off to a bad start, making a nearly disastrous landing attempt in heavy fog against orders, then disqualifying the squadron during a competitive shooting exercise by colliding with the target drogue when shooting at it. He also asks out Lorna (Ruth Hussey), a woman he has met, not knowing that she is married to the squadron commander Billy Gary (Walter Pidgeon).

But he is earnest and contrite, and both his flying and his social errors are readily forgiven. Although initially reluctant to accept a recent trainee (they nickname him "Pensacola"), soon enough his fellow pilots do. He mixes with them at the Garys' large house, which the sociable couple have opened as an unofficial officers' club.

Drake also proves himself when he helps Lieutenant Jerry Banning (Shepperd Strudwick) solve a problem in a blind-landing apparatus he is developing. Just after Commander Gary is sent out of town on assignment, Banning decides the apparatus is ready to test in fog—but it fails and he is killed. Working with Banning's assistant, Drake soon identifies the problem, but no further testing is allowed.

Banning had been a friend of Lorna Gary's since childhood, and is not her first friend to die. She sinks into a deep depression, made worse because she knows her husband will expect her to hide her feelings, deal with the facts, and carry on. Drake is finally able to reach her and convinces her to keep her mind occupied with activities. She goes out with him for walks, drives, tennis; he amuses her with jokes. At a restaurant she reaches for his hand and realizes she is falling for him. She quickly breaks away and says she cannot see him any more. As soon as her husband returns, she tells him she needs to leave him for a while. She explains that she cannot again hide her feelings and carry on after a tragedy, as he expects; but he just says she should have said so before. Not mentioning Drake, she also says that she has changed. He tells her to leave if she must, but he still loves her and hopes she will come back to him because she loves him.

Because Drake and Lorna were seen together, some of the squadron believe he must have seduced her. Out of respect for her privacy, Drake gives no explanation but merely files a resignation letter, which Commander Gary reluctantly puts through channels. While waiting for a response, they participate in an emergency search and rescue, during which Gary's engine fails and he is badly injured in a crash-landing. Drake acts against orders to rescue him, but San Diego is under a heavy fog. Fortunately Banning's equipment is still on Drake's plane, and he is able to use it to land safely.

In response to a telegram, Lorna Gary returns to San Diego and visits her husband in the hospital; their marriage is saved. She explains what happened between her and Drake; his reputation is saved. And Drake's resignation is refused because he is too junior to leave the Navy; his career with the squadron is saved. All is well.

Although operational in 1940, the Grumman F3F series was obsolete by the time the US entered World War II.[3]



Flight Command had impressive aerial scenes due to the full cooperation of the US Navy, with the loan of VF-6 squadron, flying Grumman F3F biplanes.[4] Noted film pilot and aerial sequence director Paul Mantz was the "air boss" on the production, in charge of all the flying scenes.[5] The USS Enterprise based in California and operating during maneuvers off Hawaii, also featured prominently in the production.[6]

Taylor was especially busy in 1940, with three films in production. He also starred in MGM's Escape and Waterloo Bridge.[7][N 1]


Flight Command was received as a mild attempt to bolster patriotic spirits, but as Bosley Crowther of The New York Times observed, the film had some obvious strengths as well as annoying encumbrances."... as usual in these big flying pictures, the actual air shots are beautiful— the scenes of planes flying in tight formations above the majestic clouds, dropping away in screaming power dives, taking off and landing on a carrier's deck. Then you feel it really has wings. Otherwise, 'Flight Command' is just a routine adventure film— exciting for the youngsters, no doubt, but rather pulpy for a grown-up's taste."[8]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records, the film earned $1,445,000 in the US and Canada and $847,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $707,000.[1]


A. Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.[9]



  1. ^ Taylor was caught up in the excitement of flying and obtained his own flying license as a result. During World War II, he served as a US Navy flying instructor.[4]


  1. ^ a b c "The Eddie Mannix Ledger." Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study (Los Angeles). Retrieved: August 3, 2014.
  2. ^ Eames 1982, p. 158.
  3. ^ Crosby 2002, pCommander. 77.
  4. ^ a b Nixon, Rob. "Articles: Flight Command (1940." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 3, 2014.
  5. ^ Wynne 187, p. 161.
  6. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 15.
  7. ^ Malkin 1994, p. 869.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Flight Command (1940); Emphasis on defense in "Flight Command" at the Capitol." The New York Times, January 17, 1941.
  9. ^ "Nominees and Winners: The 14th Academy Awards (1942)." oscars.org. Retrieved: June 21, 2013.


  • Crosby, Francis. Fighter Aircraft. London: Lorenz Books, 2002. ISBN 0-7548-0990-0.
  • Eames, John Douglas. The MGM Story: The Complete History of Fifty Roaring Years. London: Octopus Books Limited, 1982, First edition 1979. ISBN 978-0-51752-389-6.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.

External links[edit]