Major Chick Davis (Pat O’Brien) and Captain Buck Oliver (Randolph Scott) of the United States Army Air Force are stuck in a very important argument just prior to the States’ entry into World War II. They disagree on the method that should be used for bombing. Buck is a pilot and thinks that dive bombing should be used, while Chick thinks that precision bombing, conducted at high altitude, is the best way.
Chick wins the argument, and a bombardier training school is established in New Mexico. The school will be run by Burt Hughes (Anne Shirley), daughter of a well-respected general and love of Captain Buck. Chick is at first disapproving of Burt’s involvement in the program, but comes to see her merit… and sort of fall for her.
Meanwhile, Burt’s brother Tom (Eddie Albert) tries to make it through training with fellow cadets Jim Carter (Walter Reed), Joe Connors (Robert Ryan), and Chito Rafferty (Richard Martin).
Richard Wallace directs 1943’s Bombardier. Training scenes in the film were shot on location at Kirtfield Field in Albuquerque (now Kirtfield Air Force Base), with real cadets serving as extras.
There are plenty of films from the ’40s that lean toward propaganda, some more heavily than others. Bombardier falls on the pretty heavy end of the spectrum, made to show off an “exciting” new training program and military opportunity.
The film’s perspective on the bravery of bombardiers is clear from the very opening. Brigadier-General Eugene L, Eubank is “proudly” presented to the audience “courtesy of the War Department.” When he’s given the floor to speak, he calls bombardiers the “most important” part of the war effort, stressing the courage and skill that it takes to deploy bombs at the exact right moment during each mission, with just thirty seconds to act.
Whether or not the film inspired any young man to become a bombardier can’t be verified — but it sure tried its best. And even with its strong edge of propaganda, it was apparently quite popular with audiences.
There certainly is a lot to like about the film. A great cast of strong performers tells the story, including Randolph Scott and Robert Ryan. I also like the fact that the film isn’t all business. Plenty of time is devoted to the training process and the work of bombardiers, but personal stories are also told as well — Burt and Tom’s attempts to both escape and embrace their father’s reputation, and Chito’s sweet romance are two good examples. These add sweeter and more dramatic moments to the film, making it more interesting than just a routine examination of a training school.
In short — yeah, some of the film’s propaganda is over-the-top. (In one scene, a cadet who can think only of the destruction bombs cause during his training drills is lectured with a partly-religious justification for the war. In another scene, the entire cast and dozens of extras gather together to dramatically sing “Song of the Bombardiers.” In the climactic bombing, Japanese soldiers are shown beating an injured American man and carrying him on a cot/stretcher… donated to Japan in 1923 by the American Red Cross.) But if you can look past that heavy-handedness, Bombardier is an interesting flick. It had no trouble holding my attention the whole way through. A decent watch. The score: 3/5