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Air Force, The Movie

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Did anyone see "Air Force" this morning? I had never seen it before, and was very pleasantly surprised. This was part of the Special Effects segment of 31 Days of Oscars. The movie, directed by Howard Hawks, had lots of special effects miniatures and stock footage battle scenes. I didn't think they(the miniatures) were great, but I suppose they were OK by 1943 standards.


Even though the story and the presentation were rather small-scale and the dialog was of the standard propaganda/patriotic type, the action moved along very briskly, and the performances were really excellent. Harry Carey (Sr.) was especially good as the veteran flight crew chief, and John Garfield and George Tobias were aces as the requisite "ethnic" soldiers, tough and comedic, respectively. I'm sorry to say I hated Gig Young's pencil-thin moustache. Very few men, let alone actors, look good in such a thing, IMO. However, his performance was very good, as were all the others. A well-directed and acted action movie. Very good of that type. You all should try to catch it if it's aired again.

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I've seen it several times over the years, and still love it. I like WWII propaganda (can never be too over-the-top for my taste), and this is a good one, not as stirring as Wake Island, but good. Love the footage of all the aircraft, also.

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It's been years since I've seen "Air Force," but I remember liking it a lot.


What struck me about the film was how it opened in darkness (right around the Pearl Harbor attack) and gradually moved to regular daylight as the Americans were able to fight back effectively against the Japanese. Usually, Howard Hawks' films avoid symbolism like this, so it caught my eye. I thought it was very well done.

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  • 3 years later...

We've seen this movie too many times to count; however it just dawned on us after viewing it this morning that it being made in 1943, where did the Japanese in the film come from? Were they Japanese-Americans from interment camps, were they Japanese-Americans that were in the U.S. Armed Forces that weren't allowed to fight and might be in the "media corps?" Anyone have any insight into any of these, and I'm assuming they are Japanese-Americans, that appeared in any of the war movies put out while there was actual war going on?

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I'm not aware that any Japanese-Americans appeared in Hollywood films during the 1942-45 period. The internment of the West Coast's Japanese-American population in 1942 was just about total, and the U.S. government wasn't about to let the Nisei and Issei out of the internment camps to dress up as Japanese soldiers. Moreover, I doubt that, under the circumstances, the Japanese-Americans themselves would have been eager to play such roles.


Overwhelmingly, the Japanese characters in World War II-era films -- from extras to featured actors -- are played by people of Chinese, Korean, or Filipino background. (The studios' attitude toward Asians at this point was, essentially, "They all look alike anyway, right?") Among the most often-seen Asian actors who played Japanese characters were Richard Loo (Chinese-American, born in Hawaii), Philip Ahn (Korean-American, born in L.A.), Keye Luke (born in Canton, China, grew up in Seattle), Victor Sen Yung (Chinese-American, born in San Francisco), and Benson Fong (Chinese-American, born Sacramento). And, of course, nationality was interchangeable for these actors -- they would play a Chinese character in one film and a Japanese in the next.


In addition, it was common for Caucasian actors to play Asian characters in this era of Hollywood filmmaking. I'm sure that if you look closely at some of those "Japanese" extras in AIR FORCE, you'll find some white dudes of smaller stature, with a bit of makeup. TCM often shows BEHIND THE RISING SUN, a 1943 RKO production that was just about the only American film of the war years that depicted Japanese characters who were even a little sympathetic -- but all of the major Japanese roles (and some minor ones) were played by American actors like Tom Neal, J. Carroll Naish, Mike Mazurki, and Margo (Mrs. Eddie Albert), while Ahn, Fong, Loo, and a host of other Asian-Americans handled the lesser (and less sympathetic) Japanese roles. Interestingly, Loo played a heroic (and very loyal) Japanese-American soldier in Samuel Fuller's THE STEEL HELMET (1951), an early film about the Korean War. But it wasn't until the late '50s and '60s that genuine Japanese-American actors -- Mako, Pat Morita, Jack Soo, James Shigeta, Pat Suzuki, George Takei, Miyoshi Umeki, and others -- started to gain prominence in American films and TV.


More than you wanted to know, right?

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