"A Yank in the R.A.F", was one of the first of Hollywood's productions that was designed to draw home audiences to the happenings overseas as the shadow of war crossed over Europe. Although done in a light vein this production has much to commend it, namely a wonderful teaming (the only time ever), between Box Office heartthrob Tyrone Power at his most handsome and the future queen of war time Hollywood Betty Grable. This combined with exciting aerial photography done in England and a steller British supporting cast helps make this film an entertaining and timely view on the effect war has on nations and its peoples.
The story tells of a brash young cocky American Tim Baker (Tyrone Power)who decides to make good in the coming war situation by making a fortune ferrying bombers over to England as it goes into direct conflict with Germany. Only thinking of his own profits he unexpectedly encounters former love Carol Brown who between her nightclub engagements is doing her bit for the local war effort by working for the medical corps. Determined to get her back after an earlier bad ending to their relationship Tim decides to join up with the R.A.F to impress her with his sincere attentions. Once in the R.A.F however Tim encounters some rivalry from upright Commander John Morley (John Sutton) who is everything that Tim isn't, proper, responsible, reliable and a true gemtleman, and who is equally smitten with Carol. The story chronicles the back and forth feelings that Carol has for both men, knowing full well that Commander Morley is by far the best prospect for marriage and a proper relationship , while all the time knowing that Tim, with all his faults is the one she really loves. Once the R.A.F starts to see active service however Tim unexpectedly finds a purpose in his life. A daring raid over Germany and his participation in the evacuation of Dunkirk open his eyes to the reality of war and he sees for the first time what is worth fighting for in our democracy. The fade out finds Tim injured but this time a true hero and worthy of Carol's affection despite him retaining his roguish manner and eye for a pretty girl which Carol realises, like it or loath it, will forever be part of his character.
"A Yank in the R.A.F", was one of Twentieth Century Fox's biggest productions for 1941 and no expense was spared in bringing this romance in the eye of war to the screen. In their only teaming together Tyrone Power and Betty Grable work very well together making their two characters, despite the unbelievable circumstances of their day to day existence, seemingly real and appealing. The script provides ample opportunities for their best assets to be regularly put on display for the audiences benefit, namely Tyrone's stunning looks and Betty's famous legs soon to be immortalised into Hollywood Folklore. The film however is not all froth and bubble. A real attempt is made to begin to educate the audience about the approaching crisis in Europe and some of the battle scenes and aerial photography is superb in displaying the frightening consequences of war. Directed with typical gusto by Tyrone Power's favourite director Henry King the action is never allowed to slacken and the romantic interludes are incorporated well into the action sequences with their more serious intention. The film is certainly a star vechicle for the two Fox stars however the supporting British cast create the necessary atmosphere of war time London. John Sutton has the possibly thankless role of Commander Morley, Tyrone's superior and rival for Carol's attentions however he breathes real life into what is potentially an "other man", role and makes us care what happens to the solid , upright British soldier. The always excellent Reginald Gardiner as Flying Officer Roger Pillby, the man always after a good time who tragically is killed trying to save his mates in combat also is excellent and in a small part British actress Ethel Griffies as Lady FitzHugh provides just the right elements of efficency and British crustiness to make us feel we are definately part of the air raid practice that she is responsible for running.
The film, while undoubtedly a piece of Hollywood romance, was important in a number of ways. It certainly began the real build up in Betty Grable's career which saw her become a great symbol of what was worth fighting for at home. Tyrone Power was at the peak of his Box office drawing power at this time just prior to him going into the armed forces. It cemented his stardom and proved that audiences would still like to see him in more serious themed movies in the future. Importantly it made US audiences aware that the coming conflict was something that would affect all of them , not just Europe and for that purpose the film had good propaganda value. I see the film as an entertaining film from Hollwood's war time period which is certainly not totally realistic but tells an entertaining story with engaging lead actors in Tyrone Power and Betty Grable at their peak.