Directed by Josef Von Sternberg
Drama / Comedy / Mystery / Romance / War
John Wayne as Col. Jim Shannon
Janet Leigh as Lt. Anna Marladovna, also known as Olga Orliev
The United States Air Force
Jay C. Flippen as Maj. Gen. Black
Paul Fix as Maj. Rexford
Richard Rober as George Rivers
Roland Winters as Col. Vassily Sokolov
Hans Conried as Col. Matoff
Ivan Triesault as Gen. Dmitri Langrad
John Bishop as Maj. Lester Sinclair
Perdita Chandler as Georgie Rexford
Col. Jim Shannon is stationed at an airbase in Alaska during the cold war when he is notified that a soviet plane is circling overhead. He orders the plane to be brought in peacefully, if possible. When the plane lands, all are surprised to find the pilot is a beautiful young lady named Anna Marladovna. She announces she wishes to defect for refusing to follow orders. After questioning in which Anna refuses to reveal any Russian secrets, Shannon is ordered to seduce her to gain her confidence. To achieve this they let her fly with Shannon and they both impress each other with their flying skills. They fly down to Palm Springs, CA for a weekend getaway and Shannon impresses Anna with what she considers to be 'capitalist luxuries'. Shannon discovers Anna is about to be deported and instead decides to marry her to keep her in country. After they return to the base, Shannon is informed that Anna has been sending intel back to Russia and she is a spy. The military brass develop a plot to send Shannon to Russia with her to spy on them. Shannon returns and tells Anna that she will be imprisoned and deported for being a spy. Together, they 'steal' a couple of planes to fly back to the Soviet Union. Upon arrival, Shannon is questioned, but skillfully only reveals information the soviets already possess. Anna discovers that Shannon is a spy as well and that the soviets are drugging Shannon with chemicals to erode his mental capacity so he will reveal his secrets. Anna confronts Shannon with this information, and threatens to reveal his nature to her superiors. She quickly discovers that her feelings get in the way of her duty, and rescues Shannon flying back to America to live a life of 'capitalist luxury'.
Notes: Howard Hughes co-produced this flight movie, with the Air Force contributing top of the line aircraft to the production. Famed pilot Chuck Yeager flew for the film. Although shot in 1949 and 1950, various delays between Howard Hughes and the Air Force delayed the release of the movie until 1957. By the time it was released most of the aircraft shown in the movie had already been replaced with newer models.
According to his biography, Jet Pilot was Howard Hughes’ favorite movie and he watched it often.
Director Josef Von Sternberg was most famous for his seven films that he made with Marlene Dietrich. He went on to teach Film aesthetics at UCLA, where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of the band The Doors were amongst his students.
When referring to the movie, John Wayne himself is quoted as saying, “It is undoubtedly one of my worst movies ever!”