George Collins (Franchot Tone) is a skilled American pilot, stranded on Java with five other pilots and a Dutch commander (Steven Geray) in the spring of 1942. After having their base bombed by a Japanese plane, the commander must choose a pilot to take up their one working fighter jet and prevent further destruction of their base.
Collins has a daring plan, and the skill to carry it out. He thinks they should attach a bomb rack to their jet, and bomb the aircraft carrier from which the Japanese plane came.
It’s a dangerous mission which could kill Collins, but the commander sees no better solution. He sends George up in the jet, and as they wait to see whether his mission is successful, the remaining pilots reflect on George’s pre-war life.
Pilot No. 5 was directed by George Sidney, from a story and screenplay by David Hertz.
Pilot No. 5 is one of those films I simply couldn’t pass up on the chance to watch, because of its cast. Alongside Tone, the film’s roster includes Van Johnson, Gene Kelly, and Marsha Hunt. (Lucky lady, that Marsha Hunt, with both Gene Kelly and Franchot Tone vying for her affection!)
Though I’m a fan of all of these stars, the performances here are just fine, none particularly memorable. They’re suited to the material, but not career-bests for anyone. I do always enjoy seeing Gene Kelly in his more dramatic roles, so he was a highlight.
The real draw here is the story, a simple but engaging journey through a man’s life. It’s got romance, successes, losses, heartbreak. The history between Collins and [KELLY] adds an interesting element to the film.
Some action is brought in at the end, showing Collins on his mission (which is well-staged and quite thrilling to watch), but the film is largely told in flashback has his friends/fellow soldiers reflect on his life.
There’s high tension at camp as Collins’ mission could very well turn fatal. His story is shared to pass the time and to occupy their minds, but also to sort of pre-memorialize him! For the viewer, this flashback structure works well, really making us root for Collins to returns safely.
The ending of Pilot No. 5 is somewhat startling, quickly showing the outcome of the mission with no hint as to the aftermath. It was a bit abrupt of a wrap-up for me, but I liked the film on the whole. It easily held my interest, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes slice-of-life character studies.