Directed by David Miller
Drama / War / Action
John Wayne as Jim Gordon
John Carroll as Woody Jason
Anna Lee as Brooke Elliott
Paul Kelly as Hap Davis
Gordon Jones as Alabama Smith
Mae Clarke as Verna Bales
Addison Richards as Colonel Lindsay
Edmund MacDonald as Blackie Bales
Bill Shirley as Dale
Tom Neal as Reardon
Malcolm 'Bud' McTaggart as McCurdy
Flying Tigers chronicles the adventures of an independent mercenary American fighting force assisting the Chinese against the Japanese invasion just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Jim 'Pappy' Gordon is the leader of the Flying Tigers who is assisted in his daunting task by his right hand man, Hap Davis, and his beautiful girlfriend nurse, Brooke Elliot. Gordon has enlisted a ragtag group of pilots, including Blackie, a drinker who once got someone killed due to his neglect, but promises Gordon he’s reformed, and Woody, an aerobatic daredevil pilot who just quit a Chinese airline. Keeping this ragtag band of conflicting personalities together as a cohesive fighting unit would be hard enough, but the Flying Tigers are also short of fuel and ammo, not to mention outnumbered sometimes 8 to 1!
Blackie seems to be genuinely reformed and the troops take a liking to him. However, Woody cares nothing for the war or the people in it and is just going for the payoff every time they shoot down a Japanese plane. The situation comes to a head when Blackie’s plane is shot down. Woody focuses on his target instead of disengaging to cover Blackie as he parachutes to safety. As a result, Blackie is targeted by a Japanese fighter and gunned down. Gordon confronts him on his return and Woody insists there was nothing he could have done to save Blackie. Against his better judgment, Gordon allows Woody to stay. To make matters worse, Woody goes out with Gordon’s girl Brooke, and misses a night mission. Hap has been grounded from night missions due to his vision, but goes anyway to cover for Woody because otherwise Gordon wouldn’t be covered. Hap’s vision problem proves to be his undoing, and he is killed protecting Gordon. Gordon returns, devastated by Hap’s death, and discovers that Brooke was out with Woody. This proves too much for the old pilot to bear and he takes a suicide mission to bomb Japanese trains carrying supplies. Woody also feels badly about Hap’s death and decides to get in the fight for real this time. Will it be too late to save Gordon?
Notes: Technically the AVG didn’t see combat until December 20th 1941, which is a historical inaccuracy in the movie. Several scenes were taken from actual military footage of the time.
This was John Wayne's first war movie.