A Yank in the R.A.F (1941): Classic Movie Review

A Yank in the R.A.F.

A Yank in the R.A.F. is an interesting but uneven example of the type of morale-boosting film produced by Hollywood before the entry of the United States into World War II. Along with films like Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Confirm or Deny  (1941), the film demonstrated support for our European allies, especially England, and sought to influence Americans to join the fight.

Tyrone Power plays Tim Baker, a cocky American pilot who, as the title says, joins the R.A.F. Tim makes great contributions to the war effort, while having an up-down relationship with old flame Carol (Betty Grable) in his off hours. Tim has charisma to spare, but he’s not exactly reliable, and in fact is a “worm” to Carol until the very last scene. Would she be better off with British officer Morley (John Sutton)?

Tim really would be an absolute worm (again, Carol’s term) if he weren’t Tyrone Power. He’s brash, thoughtless, bossy, and rude. Carol would be crazy not to choose Commander Morley…except for the fact that Tim is, well…Tyrone Power! Somehow that squares things (grin). Nonetheless, the film’s ending is curiously ambiguous.

Grable is fine as the all-American girl in London, and I really liked John Sutton in this. Reginald Gardiner has an excellent supporting role.

The film has some very intense sequences mixed with lighter moments. The scene where Tim wakes after escaping from the Germans and tries to identify where he is by the sounds he’s hearing is quite well done. When the camera pulls back to reveal he’s in a hospital the relief one feels is palpable.  Additionally, the air battle footage is exciting, particularly the climactic sequence at Dunkirk.

I’m curious what was behind Tim’s constant gum-chewing. Perhaps that was meant to differentiate him as an American in England? It beats smoking, I guess. In some films from the era that I’ve seen recently, smoking seems almost like a weird behaviorial tic; the characters can’t function without keeping their hands busy with cigarettes. It’s interesting to consider that something so normal in the era depicted seems fairly foreign from the vantage point of decades later.  Of course, these days many people can’t seem to function in public without keeping their hands busy texting or manipulating other electronic devices. Maybe film of that will look strange to viewers a few decades from now!

The movie has a good feel for England, even though everything but the aerial footage was shot in the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised if the London Underground sets were shared with Fox’s film set during the Blitz, Confirm or Deny (also released in 1941).

This 98-minute film was directed by Henry King, a longtime Fox director who made many fine movies in a variety of genres. King worked with Power several times, including directing his first big starring role in Lloyd’s of London (1936). It was filmed in black and white by Leon Shamroy,with R.A.F. footage shot in England by photographers including Ronald Neame, who is 99 years old!  The film mixes actual aerial film with Oscar-nominated special effects. A Yank in the R.A.F.  is available in a good print on DVD as part of the Fox War Classics series. The only extras are a trailer and additional trailers for other Fox war films. (This movie has also had a VHS release).

Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast.  Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.  Visit her website at http://www.laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com.