Flying Tigers

September 8, 2012
By HAL9000 PLATINUM, Springfield, Massachusetts
HAL9000 PLATINUM, Springfield, Massachusetts
23 articles 0 photos 0 comments

It is this reviewer’s opinion that David Miller’s Flying Tigers is not a great film, but when one takes into consideration the time in which it was made, it becomes apparent that the picture served its purpose. In 1942, when the film was released, the United States was involved in World War II, and I imagine the government teamed up with Hollywood execs with the intention of producing numerous movies with patriotic sentiments. The majority of these pictures would not classify as “high art”, but I can’t say that I blame the filmmakers for putting out such movies. After all, we are talking about the Second World War, and the country needed everyone to get behind the war effort. Flying Tigers uses a couple of techniques to help this message make an impact on audiences.

The most prominent element of propaganda in Flying Tigers is its simplicity. It has a simple storyline and simple characterization and this works because the more straightforward the message is, the easier it is for the audience to accept it. Take the American fighter pilots, for example. In reality, these people would likely be dealing with several complex emotions, but such a thing doesn’t function in the context of a propaganda film. Complexities divert the average audience member’s attention and may keep them from grasping the point altogether. So, in Flying Tigers, these pilots are relegated to one-dimensional archetypes, used to promote a false image of upbeat military living- in which the men are held together by the mutual desire to serve their country and “shoot down some Japs”. In addition to the characters, the story is very easy to understand. There are the “Flying Tigers” who fight the Japanese on behalf of the helpless Chinese villagers and there is the romance on the side between John Wayne’s heroic character (Named Jim Gordon) and an American nurse- a relationship that the audience is obviously supposed to accept as completely true and not worry about any details. Although simplicity is the defining characteristic (In my view) of Flying Tigers, there is more that went into making it such a successful propaganda film.

Repetition is a strong element of Flying Tigers. This is evident in a number of areas. For one, there is the consistent emphasis put on the message of “we’re all in this together” and an overall feeling of cooperation is pushed in just about every other scene. For instance, there is the scene in which a pilot is told to stay on the ground. He disobeys orders and dies as a result. This was clearly sending the message of doing our part to help instead of going out on impulse. It was stressing the importance of heeding orders and trusting in our superiors. Direct messages such as this are sent many times in the film- sometimes to specific groups of people. After the impulsive pilot’s death, John Wayne’s character goes to speak with the deceased man’s widow. In so many words, he both consoles her and tells her what she can do to help the cause on the ground (A direct letter to any widow of those serving). Another example of repetition in Flying Tigers is the constant dehumanization of the enemy by way of smoothly referring to them as something animalistic (“they light up like bugs”) or simply shortening their name (“a Jap” instead of “the Japanese). These kinds of references are slipped in nonchalantly throughout the film and this is done in order to subconsciously change the audience’s way of thinking about the enemy. This was the filmmakers’ more subtle way of handling repetition. When this name-calling method wasn’t being used, the director resorted to showing Japanese pilots bombing defenseless Chinese citizens. This is where imagery and sentiment comes in. You’ll notice when watching these bombing sequences that the only Chinese being bombed are children, the elderly or the sick (Or some combination of those). This was done to get the audience to sympathize with the cause and to feel that the work their American military was doing was noble and just. Accompanying these scenes are bombastic pieces of music- undoubtedly used to stir sentiments of patriotism and an inclination towards duty. The film even ends in this way. After a principle character sacrifices himself, the story concludes with the pilots heading out once again with the battle hymn of the republic unapologetically booming in a moment that should be drenched in melancholy.

It is all a grand manipulation. Flying Tigers is, without question, propaganda- made in the medium of film only for its added persuasive ability and its accessible nature. Every minute of David Miller’s picture is geared towards generating an image, a feeling, an ideal- all aimed at furthering the war effort. Its methods point to propaganda and I find it difficult to classify it as anything else. It’s not up for debate whether the film would work like this in today’s setting-much would surely have to be changed in order to relate to society’s contemporary mindset- what’s being discussed here is whether or not Flying Tigers could function as propaganda for the audiences of 1942 America. To that, I shall state (One final time) that it absolutely does. I would even wager that had it not been for the United States’ involvement in WWII, Flying Tigers never would have been made.

The author's comments:
This is more an examination of the film's functioning as propaganda than a straight-up review. It's only in the Movie Review section because there is no "Film Essay" section (If that makes any sense).

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