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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Classic Film Revew: Flight For Freedom (1943)

A highly-fictionalised account of the life of aviator Amelia Earhart, Flight for Freedom trades on the long-discredited theory that Earhart was doing a job for the US Government when she died. Released at the height of WWII, it is full of propaganda and has an agenda that threatens to sink the film on many occasions. If the story hadn't framed itself as a 'true story' and tethered itself to Earhart's memory then it wouldn't have been so bad but, as it was, it comes across as sheer propaganda. However, that's not to say the film didn't have some merits.

It stars Rosalind Russell as Tonie Carter (the fictional version of Earhart), Fred MacMurray as fellow pilot Randy Britton and Herbert Marshall as Carter's flight instructor and potential husband Paul Turner. Early in the film, Carter has an altercation with Britton that leads to romance but he's a sexist hotshot who flies off on his next mission and she doesn't hear from him for two years. When he returns, his renewed arrogance leads Carter to throw her efforts into creating flying records. Finally, after agreeing to marry Paul, she is encouraged by the US Government to do one more flight to enable them to take pictures of some Japanese islands and finds Rnady Britton as her navigator.

The love triangle provides some tension throughout the film but, really, it feels like an unnecessary distraction from the very valid achievements of the Earhart-based heroine. On occasion, it seems to fall back into the 'woman unable to do anything without men' mindset when, in actual fact, she's more accomplished than most of the men she comes into contact with. The romance with Britton feels laboured on MacMurray's part, but this may be because we see Carter's reactions more. However, there was one moment where Britton is on the phone to Carter at a pivotal moment in her career and the camera focuses only on him until the conversation is over: considering what this moment was leading up to I thought it detracted from the importance of Carter and related her once again to the men in her life.

All criticisms aside, Rosalind Russell's performance is as excellent as ever. Even with a story that falters, she portrays Carter with her trademark subtlety and there is an undercurrent of fear regarding her acceptance that runs through the first half of the film. There is one excellent scene towards the end of the film between Russell and MacMurray where they talk about their relationship and, for me, that scene was the best of them all because it was so raw and honest. Equally worth a mention is Eduardo Ciannelli as Johnny Salvini, the owner of a bar pilots frequent. His scenes are quite amusing, giving lulls in what is actually quite a heavy film.

This is undoubtedly propaganda - and the representation of a Japanese spy is ridiculous - but seen in the context of the period that's understandable. If they hadn't linked this story to Earhart then I would've enjoyed it more but Russell's performance was enough to make it partly enjoyable.

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