A YANK IN THE R.A.F. saluted an embattled Britain and fed fighting spirit to war-spooked Americans in 1941. Though naively frivolous about impending peril, it hit the target zone as an audience-pleaser, with an $8,900,000 gross the 4th biggest hit of the year. Ads shoved subtlety aside by exhorting “ROLLICKING ROMANCE! GLORIOUS ADVENTURE!” Clocking another smash for Tyrone Power, it also gave Betty Grable, 24, her first serious dramatic role, and she comports herself honorably. Yes, her legs are on view, which probably got another 20,000 guys to sign up for flight school. *
Daredevil pilot ‘Tim Baker’ (Power) gets paid to shuttle bombers from Canada to England, but when he finds former flame ‘Carol Brown’ (Grable) has joined the Royal Air Force as a WAAF girl (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) he impulsively signs up for action to win her over with his newfound sense of duty. Some actual combat gives him a crash course in maturity.
“If Tim bailed out, he’ll get back. I know it. I’m sure of it! Why, he’s had a hundred forced landings. Once he was lost in a snow storm—for a whole week. Everybody said he couldn’t be alive. They gave up the search! Then one day, he was brought into town on a sled, by a couple of Indian squaws. And another time, at the State Fair, he was skywriting…all of a sudden the motor fell out of his plane. People screamed! And he made a perfect landing, right in front of the governor’s grandstand! ”
The stars are a good match, the production is well-mounted (plenty of planes available), Henry King directs smoothly. The script by Darrell Ware and Karl Tunberg doesn’t hew closely to truth-in-advertising about just how bad things might get, and the cavalier behavior exhibited by Power’s brash joker is comic book level. When the original screenplay and some test showings had Ty perish (heroically, of course), that was changed after the British military establishment requested the studio let him live because they didn’t want to give US audiences the impression that Americans helping Britain might actually, uh, die.
There’s a fairly large scale Dunkirk segment, and the daring pilot Paul Mantz handled the aerial sequences. The Special Effects team grabbed an Oscar nomination (buzzed by another airpower airing, I Wanted Wings). John Sutton plays Power’s Brit superior officer who also courts Betty: he was more believable later as the swinish Inquisitor dispatched by Ty’s Captain From Castile. On the droll roll, Reginald Gardiner provides some lighter moments as another flight officer/ drinking partner/sacrificial example.
In smaller roles are Ralph Byrd (best known for jutting his jaw as Dick Tracy in six movies and on TV), Richard Fraser, Ethel Griffies (later to warn us about The Birds), Fortunio Bonanova and Dennis Hoey. 98 minutes.
* James Cagney led the way a year earlier as Captain In The Clouds, then Warner’s scooped 20th by releasing International Squadron a few months before ‘Yank‘, but that mission to mediocrity starred Ronald Reagan, who hardly stood a chance against Tyrone Power. Warner’s did give Errol Flynn a shot, though, with Dive Bomber, and Abbott & Costello added Keep ‘Em Flying. After these optimistic dry runs, the events of Dec.7th 1941 made everything official. Between 1939 and 1945 FDR’s aroused American colossus cranked out 324,750 aircraft. “Game over, man! Game over!”
Power went on to fight the Nazis on film in Crash Dive and then suited up for real—and as a pilot—for the Marines, doing duty in the Pacific during the struggles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa.