Flying Tigers (Blu-ray Review)

Flying-TigersAnother wartime film to celebrate memorial day comes from Olive Films on May 13.  This one is the propaganda dogfight film Flying Tigers, starring the legendary John Wayne.  This tale of Japanese hunting mercenary pilots taking the sky for some crafty dogfights was a mass hit with critics and general audiences back in 1942.  It was also nominated for three Academy Awards (taking home none of them); Best Effects (Howard Lydecker, Daniel J Bloomberg), Best Music (Victor Young) and Best Sound (Daniel J Bloomberg).  The film is known for its fantastic dogfight sequences that were a working of using planes, models and actual wartime footage.

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Jim Gordon, not THAT Jim Gordon, is the leader of a flight unit not sanctioned by the American government during the time of World War II.  They call themselves the “Flying Tigers”.  They basically go on a bounty system, taking to the air in their Curtiss P-40 fighters to shoot down Japanese planes.  These men are combat thrill seekers with money and patriotism their motivation.  An old friend of Jim’s, Woody Jason enlists.  And his hot headed, arrogant attitude begins to stir things up for the unit and much drama (and dogfights) ensue as a result.

Aside from starring the Duke, this film’s legacy is one that I’m not sure many are going to follow or have heard of.  But, this film in particular (as well as a couple others similar) you can trace Star Wars roots back to.  George Lucas was inspired by these dogfights when making Star Wars and wanted to modernize and recapture the feel and technique of the sequences but in space with X-Wings and Tie Fighters.  If you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan and you’re not reminded of Wedge Antilles and everyone’s favorite Red Six Porkins, I’d be very surprised.  From the cockpit shots to the dives and movements of the planes, you’ll very much see the battle of the first Death Star.  There’s even ground canons to boot.  As an added bonus, the engines in the film have the exact same sound the Millenium Falcon has when its hyperdrive is busted in The Empire Strikes Back.

With that Star Wars educational section done, I will say the dogfight scenes in this film are an absolute delight.  No, not all the effects hold up and plenty of the model work is obvious, but you gotta look at what they’re trying to accomplish here and give credit to the fact that this was 1942.  The work done here is incredibly impressive for that time.  And I really enjoy the model work as there’s a charm to it and I like when I can see the best of intentions behind it.  They were working really hard to make the movements and shots look very lifelike.  I can appreciate this kind of stuff far more than some crummy weightless CG effect work.  Surprisingly for a commercial film of this era, these fights doe include some brutal kill shots as well as plenty of blood.

Between the dogfights we get some decent drama work.  A younger John Wayne leads the pack and its always fun to go back and see that the guy was an actual actor and not just the “pilgrim” schtick that kind of comes mainly from his later years.  Wayne doesn’t give an amazing performance in this one, but a very understated one.  He moreso becomes one with the material instead of trying to become bigger than it.  The rest of the acting is a bit of its time, but nothing is too incredibly theatrical and the camaraderie of this unit does manage to shine through.   Scenes coming between dogfights do serve up plenty of interesting drama and character work in their own right, but some of it can’t escape the feeling that we are just ticking down to the next aerial blasting match.

As a reminder, this was a patriotic propaganda film of 1942 coming on the heels of the United States finally joining in on World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Watching today its quite noticeable and does feature a ton of anti Japanese slang and treatment.  They are referred to as “Japs” throughout and pretty much treated as an inhuman evil.  Which, to the United States back in this era was likely the case to people.  Times were very different.  This film did work like gangbusters, and was a big hit, firing up America and did bring in some award nominations.

While I’ll never be able to see Flying Tigers with the eyes of someone my age living in 1942 America and truly feel its impact, the film has plenty of merits.  It’s had its influence in places such as the aforementioned original Star Wars.  While the scenes between the dogfights may at times feel like filler, they may feel even moreso because those dogfight scenes are so engaging.  They’re a lot of fun.  Its an interesting piece of film history to look back upon.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1:37.1

Clarity/Detail: While there is plenty of distortion in the source, the image under looks pretty good.  Textures look solid, but things like faces and the like can run a little smooth.  There is some good detail on cockpit glass and texture on surfaces.

Depth: This is a reasonable well rounded picture between characters in the foreground and backdrop items.  My one wish though is that the dogfight scenes would have been more 3 dimensional and less flat.

Black Levels: Blacks get pretty dark in poorly lit nighttime scenes and tend to get even more grainy and some detail is lost within the darkness.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: This film has a rough print its transferred from.  There is a plenty of grain, scratches and dirt present.

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Audio Format(s): English Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics:  This mono track features a great balance between effects, score and dialogue.  Effects are clean and crisp and have a wide variety of volume.  Each main item is clear and distinct.  There is an analog vinyl hiss type sound as a sort of ambiance, but to me that’s part of the charm of an old lossless track.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is front and center, at an ideal volume and clear to hear.

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Maybe the “O” in Olive Films is actually a zero for zero bonus features.  I’m just yanking your chain Olive Films 😉

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I really enjoyed Flying Tigers quite a bit and mainly for its technical achievements with the dogfighting scenes.  Olive Films brings it to Blu-ray with a good transfer of an aged print.  If you’re ok with films having this sort of old print look, then you’ll be just fine with the picture.  The bummer is that there’s no bonus material for the film at all.  Collectors should definitely pick this one up, but might want to wait until the price comes down a little as $27 is a little much for such a bare release of a film.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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