This film made in 1951 is more akin to the jingoistic American flag waving films that John Wayne made during the war years. Films like "The Flying Tigers", "The Fighting Seabees" and "Back to Bataan" spring to mind. It is essentially a paen to the Marine Flying Corps of WW11 who fought in the Pacific theatre. Wayne plays the new Squadron leader who's no nonsense approach clashes with the more softly softly attitude of his executive officer played by a pugnacious Robert Ryan, one of Hollywood's truly great actors. Ray wisely concluded that ex boxer Ryan was one of the few actors who could whup Wayne's ass and might therefore prove himself a worthy antagonist to the big man. The believable clashes between the two are cleverly interspersed with real action footage of Pacific fighting.
The film was made at the behest of then RKO chief billionaire Howard Hughes who liked nothing better than a good aviation film. One can only imagine that arch tinkerer Hughes would have placed great pressure on cult director Nicholas Ray to conform to his own particular wishes. With this and mega star Wayne who was also notorious for doing things his own way, it his hard to recognise the uniquely gifted individual artistic stamp of Ray who made such brilliant films as "In a Lonely Place" and "Johnny Guitar". Hard to believe that this essentially generic and predictable war film was directed by cult great Ray. The film itself is entertaining enough. The clash of Hollywood titans Wayne and Ryan is always watchable, although I did have to laugh at the grimacing Wayne as he gave those wicked Japs what for! He seemed to have been copying the expressions of Japanese pilots in "The Flying Tigers"! The film also boasts one of the finest support actors of that period in Jay C Flippen. All filmed in impressive technicolor including the combat footage, the film looks pretty good for its age! One scene of a pilot ejecting out over a raging sea battle is hugely impressive. Whilst it is certainly not a great war film it is worth watching.