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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 26 December 2012
Saw this when it was first released as a kid. Its still exciting,notwithstanding the passaage of time,and what I particularly like about it now,is that it carries a sense of good old fashioned values and "morality"with it,and a little lesson in basic leadership,things that we've tended to become a little cynical about in the modern era. With Wayne,the good guys usually won in the end,and maybe thats something we need to be reminded of,now and again
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 October 2012
This white and black film made in 1951 tells the story of airmen of US Marines Corps during the battles of Guadalcanal (August 1942-February 1943) and later Okinawa (April-June 1945). John Wayne and Robert Ryan play two main roles.

The film begins with Major Daniel X. Kirby (John Wayne) arriving with new planes and pilots on Henderson Field, the only airfield Americans have on Guadalcanal. Kirby is also there to take command of the fighter squadron based on Henderson Field, much to the disappointment of almost all the pilots who hoped this post will go to the very popular Captain Carl Griffin (Robert Ryan). But as the battle of Guadalcanal goes on and butcher's bill increases, there will be finally little time for personal grudges. Much later, the few survivors of this desperate battle will meet again during the bloody Okinawa campaign, during which they will fly better planes, but also face hundreds of Japanese fighters and kamikazes...

This is a very honest, solid war film, made in this pretty jingoistic style characteristic to the movies from 40s and 50s. This film is inspired by real events and tries seriously to stick to historical realities. John Wayne's character (Major Kirby) was modeled on a real person - Major John L. Smith, an ace who downed 19 Japanese fighters and bombers during the Guadalcanal campaign flying from Henderson Field and who received later Medal of Honor for this achievement.

American air units on Guadalcanal were nicknamed Cactus Air Force, from the coded name "Cactus" given to this island during the campaign. The bloody and by moments pretty desperate fight waged by airplanes operating from Henderson Field is really well described in "Flying Leathernecks". The fight in the air was not always the most dangerous part - Henderson Field was almost daily subject to bombing and strafing by Japanese air planes operating from Rabaul and Buka airbases and almost every night Japanese warships shelled American airbase.

The Japanese had also in the mountains of Guadalcanal a heavy long range gun (a naval piece mounted on wheels) which kept a daily schedule of slow rate irregular firing on Henderson Field. By avoiding any fire patterns the Japanese made certain that pilots and mechanicians who ventured on the airfield in the open could never know if it was not precisely the moment when a heavy shell was already on its way towards them... Unable to locate and silence this gun (nicknamed "Pistol Pete") for many months, Americans hated it more than any other "atractions" the Japanese got for them. Another "frequent flyers" shown in this film are Japanese observation planes (each of which was always called "Louie the Louse") venturing frequently over Henderson Field and always bringing soon after an air raid, naval bombardment or a couple of salvoes from "Pistol Pete"... This always present threat from this "death from above" is also well shown in this film.

Relations between people and dialogs are pretty good. Kirby is the lonely guy in charge, who must press his men to give the maximum, knowing that as a result many of them will die. Griffin is a more human, more compassionate character - but exactly for that reason he is not the right person to command in such a terrible, long battle. This weakness of character will finally catch up with him much later during the battle of Okinawa, in an absolutely devastating manner... This conflict of discipline vs. compassion reminded me of a much better earlier film, "Twelve o'clock high" with Gregory Peck, which I believe was at least partly an inspiration for "The flying leathernecks".

There is some humor in the film, mostly provided by Master Sergeant Clancy, the chief mechanician of fighter squadron, able to repair virtually any damaged plane. He is also the greatest thief of fuel and spare parts on Guadalcanal and the most feared serial pilferer of food, cloth and liquor warehouses in all Pacific War Theatre. The fate will also catch up with him ultimately...)))

US Air Force offered generous support to make this film and as a result we can see some good air sequences - also, some real World War II footage was included in the film. However, in one point the film had to differ from reality - in 1942 Cactus Air Force fighters were Grumman F4 Wildcats, but in 1951 there were no more even one such a plane operational in US Air Force or US Navy, and therefore the planes we see in the film are more modern and more powerful Grumman F6 Hellcats. On another hand, for Okinawa battle in 1945, US Marines air units used Vought F4 Corsairs and in 1951 there were still hundreds of those available - and therefore we can see them also in this film.

In conclusion, this is a good war film, still very watchable, sticking pretty close to the historical truth and definitely a must for all John Wayne's fans - however it never was exactly an immortal masterpiece and it also aged a tiny little bit. Still I liked it. Watch it and enjoy!
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Here John Wayne trades his cowboy outfit for a WW2 pilot uniform and takes on the Japs a Guadalcanal. John Wayne is his usual self and is still a cowboy.

The movie is still very watchable, it combines historical footage and dogfights and since it is all B/W it works out well and war movie buffs will like it.

All in all it is a good John Wayne movie and a decent old War Movie but no masterpiece. Good enough to include in a collection.
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on 16 January 2014
I found this film to be excellent the story line was just brilliant and the action in it was just awesome.
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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.
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on 5 April 2014
I love john wayne movies an have quite a good collection an a wide selection of his films so I am well pleased and so is my husband
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on 13 January 2015
another fast and great classic movie in a pacific war time setting
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on 28 August 2015
Exellent one of my ALL TIME movies. Many thanks .
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on 10 August 2016
Just as expected
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on 15 October 2012
Arrived within the despatch date. As with any John Wayne film this is excellent. John Wayne being John Wayne which is why I love to watch his films.
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