DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Flying Leathernecks

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, May 3, 2004.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Flying Leathernecks

    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1951
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 102 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Standard
    Audio: DD Mono
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Snap Case

    The Feature:
    May 4th is a big day for fans of Warner Bros. with the long awaited and anticipated release of the Marx Brothers Collection together with the 2003 box office release of The Last Samurai. Not to be overlooked are three vintage war films from the Warner library, Back To Bataan (1945), starring John Wayne and Anthony Quinn, Battleground (1949) starring Van Johnson and the feature film, Flying Leathernecks starring John Wayne and Robert Ryan also being released the same day. Battleground was originally an MGM film while the other two were RKO productions.

    Major Dan Kirby (played by John Wayne) is the new commander in charge of a USMC squadron during the struggle for the Guadalcanal during the Second World War. Unfortunately, the group is ill equipped having lost most of their planes, weaponry and fuel in earlier battles. Kirby’s executive officer is Captain Griffin (played by Robert Ryan). Kirby is a no-nonsense martinet, while his right hand man “Griff”, is a laid back “soldier’s C.O.” whose leadership skills are vastly favored by the men, though not always as effective.

    Much of the film is centered around the varying styles of leadership between Kirby and Griff and the tensions that are caused within the outfit due to the differing methods. The situation finally comes to a head when Griff exclaims to the Major, "I've had a belly full of you!" After their present assignment is completed, Kirby fails to recommend Griff as his successor due to his perceived inability to take charge and lead the troops. After his return home, the newly promoted Kirby is then asked to complete another assignment where Griff would, yet again, be his executive officer. This time, the Captain realizes his responsibilities as a leader will be scrutinized more than ever and decides to follow the advice instilled upon him by the gruff commander. M/Sgt. Clancy (played by Jay C. Flippen) provides the comedic relief as the supply Sgt. who scrounges and steals anything that’s not fastened down as supplies that are greatly needed by the squadron.

    Clearly, by the time 1951 rolled by, RKO, the famed studio responsible for so many of the truly classic films we love today was on its last leg and had seen better days. The studio was now considered to be a laughing stock and the pariah of the entire industry. Ironically, the relatively new owner, Howard Hughes, saw fit to include his name for the first time as an on screen credit for this film in the form of “Howard Hughes Presents”, which as you can see has been left on the cover. Thankfully, John Wayne’s presence and star power, at least helped the film break even.

    Much to talk about with the video presentation filmed in glorious Technicolor, some good - some not so good. Probably, the best way to sum up the look of this film would be say that it was “inconsistent”. When it looked good it was good, but when it looked bad, it was bad.

    As the film starts, we see signs of heavy grain and artifiacting which, thankfully, didn’t last long. The colors for the most part, looked great. They were extremely vibrant and nicely saturated. Skin tones were nice although they looked slightly red at times. Black levels were at a satisfactory level and whites were equally clean and crisp.

    The level of image detail was for the most part satisfyingly sharp with occasional softness. Needless to say, many of the scenes were shot outdoors and many of those scenes looked quite dimensional. There was a minimal amount of fine grain present, which appeared to be appropriate. There were occasional instances of light shimmer but it was never bothersome. There were also frequent bouts of light speckle throughout the entire film. As for dirt and scratches, there was a moderate amount of dirt and dust present throughout the film accompanied by a number of vertical scratches.

    Unfortunately, I witnessed more edge enhancement in this film than I have seen in a long time. It was particularly noticeable and bothersome during the many flight sequences which clearly outlined many of the planes. I’m usually fairly forgiving of EE, but this was rather severe.

    Also worthy of mention was the stock footage that was used throughout the film. I can appreciate with budget concerns etc. why this footage was used but much of it is painful to watch and is painfully contrasted when it kicks in compared to shots of the film itself. It’s either a testament to how good the film actually looks or how bad the stock footage really is – and to be fair, I’m certain a little of both.

    There are many examples of perfection during this video presentation, unfortunately it is hampered by several issues that are problematic.

    Not much here to speak of. Thankfully the track sounded clean and natural and was free of any hiss or annoying crackling.

    Dialogue was always exceptionally clear and bold and was never compromised during the many action scenes that took place throughout the film.

    Although the track is rather thin and limited in its ability, it does what it needs to be done and never faltered.

    Special Features:
    The only special feature included is:
    [*] The Theatrical Trailer. It’s obvious that very little, if any, work has been done to this as it looks pretty rough.

    Final Thoughts:
    Clearly, the theme of this film is to reflect the difference in leadership styles and command decisions that must be made and the men whom ultimately pay the price for those decisions, one way or another, whether it be the ultimate sacrifice or by dealing with the aftermath. While Griff preferred to lead by being “one of the guys”, Kirby’s style of leadership was harsh and firm. It was not that he felt the men’s fears were unreasonable, but rather that they had no place during combat. Discipline was of the utmost importance. However, we are also shown the contrast between Griff who displays his emotions for all to see, and Kirby who is struggling privately with his own emotions over the deaths of the men in his command.

    Another film that immediately comes to mind that deals with differing styles of military leadership is the more effective, Twelve O’Clock High (1949) in fact, so much so, it is even used as a tool in leadership training. While Flying Leathernecks might not necessarily be on par with the Gregory Peck classic, you can hardly go wrong spending two hours with John Wayne and Robert Ryan.

    Release Date: May 4th, 2004
  2. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist

    Feb 8, 1999
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    Robert Harris
    Flying Leathernecks was produced before the period of wet-gate printing, which enabled technicians to hide scratches and other abrasions on film elements.

    And yes, these Kodachrome elements do look properly awful. But simply put, that's what they looked like.

    I can't recall any other feature film which makes as much use of 16mm Kodachrome battle (gun camera) footage, and all of this footage, which shows obvious generational loss in added grain, contrast and damage is the antithesis of that found in the rest of the production, which is late three-strip Technicolor, either shot in studio or on location in the vast dangerous hills most likely just outside of Los Angeles.

    Late to the game of WWII pro-military feature productions, the film (which is certainly fun as a Wayne vehicle) seems like a "me too" production.

    During the same war (actually leading up to that same war), German "documentarian" Leni Reifenstahl created her legendary Triumph of the Will for the Nazi party. Apparently one of the major generals was left out, but was given his own short production to make up for the political oversight.

    While I'm in no way equating this film with a Nazi production, the point being made is that the Marines of the Air or Flying Leathernecks finally, six years after the end of the war, received their own deserved production, highlighting their bravery and technical part in WWII.
  3. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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  4. Bill Parisho

    Bill Parisho Stunt Coordinator

    Jan 16, 2004
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    Excellent review as always. However, while I might not go wrong with a John Wayne/Robert Ryan movie, I think I'll pass on this over-priced, snapper cased, overrated film. I will pick up Back to Bataan and Battleground. Much better films, although I'm dismayed that Bataan has no extra features.
    Bill Parisho
  5. Randy Korstick

    Randy Korstick Producer

    Feb 24, 2000
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    Never cared for this film but I like Wayne's Flying Tigers. Every copy I've seen has always had awful color. I would be curious to see what this looks like. I must also recommend the far superior Twelve O' Clock High. Gregory Peck's finest performance.

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