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    Men of the Fighting Lady DVD Review

    MGM Warner

    Aug 02 2014 01:26 PM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

    Men of the Fighting Lady, a Korean War film which was released in 1954, is admirably realistic and surprisingly (considering the political climate of the time) anti-war in tone. The based-on-fact screenplay by Art Cohn is an adaptation of two Saturday Evening Post articles: "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea" by James A. Michener and "The Case of the Blind Pilot" by Commander Harry A. Burns, USN. The film is now available as a very nice addition to the Warner Archive library of made-to-order DVDs.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Warner Brothers
    • Distributed By: Warner Archive
    • Video Resolution: 480P/MPEG-2
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
    • Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono)
    • Subtitles: None
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 20 Min.
    • Package Includes: DVD
    • Case Type: Standard DVD Keep Case
    • Disc Type: DVD-R
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 07/23/2014
    • MSRP: $21,99

    The Production Rating: 4/5

    During the Vietnam War I served for nearly two years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard, spending many long days and nights in the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea. Although the name of the aircraft carrier in Men of the Fighting Lady is never mentioned, most of the carrier footage was shot aboard USS Oriskany, which like my ship was an Essex-class carrier. "Fighting Lady" actually was the nickname of USS Yorktown, another Essex-class carrier, but Yorktown never saw action during the Korean War, which likely explains why the screenplay does not refer to the ship by name. Because of my own Navy experience I was very interested to see how Hollywood would depict life aboard an aircraft carrier during wartime. I am happy to report that the film is authentic in most respects.

    The film opens with author James Michener (Louis Calhern) coming aboard the aircraft carrier while it is at sea. He is there to interview the ship's flight surgeon, Commander Kent Dowling (Walter Pidgeon), who has a story to tell about significant events which occurred during the recent Christmas season. The film introduces several of the pilots who fly daily combat missions over North Korea. Lieutenant Commander Paul Grayson (Frank Lovejoy) is the squadron commander, who has created some discontent among the other pilots because of his penchant to fly in dangerously low to attack his targets. The most unhappy of the pilots is Lieutenant Commander Ted Dodson (Keenan Wynn), who was decorated for heroism while a pilot during World War II. That war made sense to Dodson, but he openly questions why the United States is involved in a "police action" in Korea (suprisingly, the word "Commie" is uttered only once during the film). Other notable pilots in the squadron who play important roles in the film include Lieutenant (JG) Howard Thayer (Van Johnson) and Ensign Kenneth Schechter (Dewey Martin).

    The pilots are frustrated and somewhat disgruntled. Every morning they attack and inflict damage upon a North Korean railway yard, and by late afternoon the damage is repaired and the trains are back in business. The attacks are causing damage, and they require the North Koreans to spend valuable time and materials making repairs, but there does not seem to be any progress. This situation is reminiscent of my experiences during the Vietnam War. I was not a pilot, but I was responsible for sending out the ship's strike plans and bombing reports. As was the case in Korea, we repeatedly attacked the same targets, only to see them quickly repaired by the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong. In some respects Vietnam was even worse, because many of the bombing targets were only "suspected” targets due to the fact that so much of the terrain was obscured by dense foliage.

    But I digress. The pilots aboard "The Fighting Lady" debate whether they should risk their lives and their planes by attacking at lower altitudes, or if they should fly their missions as safely as possible and ensure that they will one day be home with their loved ones. The debate goes well beyond an academic exercise when one of the pilots is temporarily blinded after his plane is hit by flak. It is one thing to talk about taking care of number one, but what must someone do when the chips are down for a fellow pilot, even against long odds?

    The footage of the carrier's flight operations is as authentic as I have seen in films of that era. As noted, most of the take-offs and landings were filmed aboard USS Oriskany (CV-34). Attentive viewers will observe that some of the stock footage was filmed on different carriers, but that does not distract from the story. Some of the footage is truly remarkable, including one spectacular and disastrous crash landing (be sure to take notice of how quickly the ensuing fire is controlled). Carrier pilots tend to be cocky, and that comes across in Men of the Fighting Lady. During the Vietnam War carrier pilots were allowed to paint nicknames of their planes. My favorite nickname among Bon Homme Richard's planes was one dubbed "Yossarian."

    Director Andrew Marton keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace, and the aerial footage is quite exciting. The cast includes some of MGM's most reliable character actors, all of whom turn in solid performances. The film raises questions about the wisdom of fighting in Korea, but in the end leaves those questions unanswered. Ultimately soldiers and sailors cannot get overly wrapped up in the big picture - they fight their wars one day at a time, focused on doing their duty and looking out for their comrades.

    Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    This made-to-order DVD is presented in anamorphic 1.75:1. I have seen some comments which claim that the film was shown in theaters at the Academy ratio, but online references such as IMDB say that 1.75:1 is correct. I leave it to the aspect ratio experts to argue over that, but the framing looks fine to me. Colors are accurate and pleasing, and the occasional uses of stock footage fit reasonably well with the rest of the film. Contrast is generally good. There is some occasional brief flutter, but overall the video is fine.

    Audio Rating: 3/5

    The mono audio obviously has inherent limitations, but the soundtrack is clear and clean and no anomalies were noted. The sounds of takeoffs and landings, as well as the combat scenes, actually have some surprising punch to them.

    Special Features: 1.5/5

    The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer, which is shown in 4:3 and is in very good shape.

    Overall Rating: 4/5


    Men of the Fighting Lady is a welcome addition to the Warner Archive library, and it is recommended for fans of war films. It can be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

    Reviewed by: Richard Gallagher
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    10 Comments

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    Bob Furmanek
    Aug 02 2014 03:04 PM

    Wonderful review, Richard!

     

    MGM went 100% widescreen on May 4, 1953 and this began filming nearly six months later on October 19.

     

    1.75:1 is the correct aspect ratio.

     

    http://www.3dfilmarc...r-of-widescreen

      • Richard Gallagher, Dr Griffin and ScottGros117 like this
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    Robert Crawford
    Aug 02 2014 03:20 PM

    I almost watched my disc of it today, but instead viewed Duel at Diablo BD.  I'll remedy that first thing tomorrow morning though so thanks for the review.

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    Richard Gallagher
    Aug 02 2014 03:22 PM

    MGM went 100% widescreen on May 4, 1953 and this began filming nearly six months later on October 19.

     

    1.75:1 is the correct aspect ratio.

     

    http://www.3dfilmarc...r-of-widescreen

     

    Thanks, Bob! I was pretty sure that was the case, but I'm glad to have you confirm it.

      • Bob Furmanek likes this
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    Bob Furmanek
    Aug 02 2014 03:56 PM

    Any time, Richard. Just ask!

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    Robert Crawford
    Aug 03 2014 06:22 AM

    Thanks, Bob! I was pretty sure that was the case, but I'm glad to have you confirm it.

    Finally, I was able to watch this fine film in widescreen.  I've been waiting for many years finally see it that way.

     

    Funny, seeing a really young Jerry Mathers as one of Ted Dodson's kids.

      • Richard Gallagher and Bob Furmanek like this
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    theonemacduff
    Aug 03 2014 10:35 PM

    Nice review, especially the memories of Vietnam. The only carrier flick I can think of from that later war is Flight of the Intruder, which is okay, but it tries a little bit too hard to catch the tone of 1940s war flicks to really shine on its own. I had a friend years ago who served on the Enterprise, but his final tour was up before there was a big Navy Air presence in Vietnam.

    Photo
    ScottGros117
    Aug 04 2014 08:46 AM

    Wonderful review, Richard!

     

    MGM went 100% widescreen on May 4, 1953 and this began filming nearly six months later on October 19.

     

    1.75:1 is the correct aspect ratio.

     

    http://www.3dfilmarc...r-of-widescreen

    Mr. Furmanek's endless reservoir of knowledge saves the day again! Thank you, sir!

    Photo
    Richard Gallagher
    Aug 04 2014 07:30 PM

    Nice review, especially the memories of Vietnam. The only carrier flick I can think of from that later war is Flight of the Intruder, which is okay, but it tries a little bit too hard to catch the tone of 1940s war flicks to really shine on its own. I had a friend years ago who served on the Enterprise, but his final tour was up before there was a big Navy Air presence in Vietnam.

     

    I have the Vietnam Service Ribbon with three stars but I only saw Vietnam once. In October, 1970 we anchored in Danang harbor for three hours one morning. It was never entirely clear to me why we were there, but I later heard that it supposedly was to demonstrate how pacified the Danang area had become. I didn't go ashore but I went up on the flight deck to look around so I would be able to say that I saw what Vietnam looks like.

     

    I've often thought that the USS Forrestal fire in 1967 would make an interesting film. The fire killed 134 sailors and nearly killed John McCain, whose plane was hit by a rocket. The survival of the ship was touch and go before the fire was finally controlled.

     

    Attached Image: USS Forrestal Life Magazine.jpg

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    Everett Stallings
    Aug 05 2014 08:58 AM

    Will be getting this.

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    Bob Furmanek
    Aug 05 2014 09:16 AM

    Mr. Furmanek's endless reservoir of knowledge saves the day again! Thank you, sir!

     

    You're very kind Scott, thank you!

     

    This film has not been seen in widescreen for nearly sixty years. Major kudos to Ned Price and his staff at Warner Bros. for trusting the documentation and presenting these early widescreen films in the correct aspect ratio.