Thunder Birds (1942)

78-79 mins | Drama | 20 November 1942

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was A Tommy in the U.S.A. The picture's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Thunder Birds [Soldiers of the Air]." Thunderbird Field, an air school in Arizona, was one of three Arizona-based training ground for many pilots from the United States, Great Britain, China and other countries belonging to the Allied Nations. The field was owned by agent, theatrical producer and amateur pilot Leland Hayward, according to a 4 May 1942 Life article, although a studio press release asserted that Joan Fontaine and her husband, Brian Aherne, were also co-owners of the property, which began as a school for civilian air pilots. According to HR news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, the picture was shot on location in Arizona at Thunderbird Field and Falcon Field, both near Phoenix, and at a ranch near Mesa. The files also note that in exchange for being permitted to film at the two air fields, the studio was required to build a swimming pool at each facility.
       According to a 24 Dec 1941 HR news item, the studio purchased a magazine story entitled "Spitfire Squadron," written by Arch Whitehouse, with the intention of incorporating "some of the information and dialogue for use in the temporarily titled A Tommy in the USA ." According to the legal files, Whitehouse's material was not used and was purchased only as protection because of its similarity to a first draft completed by contributing writer Laurence Stallings. A Nov 1941 ... More Less

The working title of this film was A Tommy in the U.S.A. The picture's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Thunder Birds [Soldiers of the Air]." Thunderbird Field, an air school in Arizona, was one of three Arizona-based training ground for many pilots from the United States, Great Britain, China and other countries belonging to the Allied Nations. The field was owned by agent, theatrical producer and amateur pilot Leland Hayward, according to a 4 May 1942 Life article, although a studio press release asserted that Joan Fontaine and her husband, Brian Aherne, were also co-owners of the property, which began as a school for civilian air pilots. According to HR news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, the picture was shot on location in Arizona at Thunderbird Field and Falcon Field, both near Phoenix, and at a ranch near Mesa. The files also note that in exchange for being permitted to film at the two air fields, the studio was required to build a swimming pool at each facility.
       According to a 24 Dec 1941 HR news item, the studio purchased a magazine story entitled "Spitfire Squadron," written by Arch Whitehouse, with the intention of incorporating "some of the information and dialogue for use in the temporarily titled A Tommy in the USA ." According to the legal files, Whitehouse's material was not used and was purchased only as protection because of its similarity to a first draft completed by contributing writer Laurence Stallings. A Nov 1941 HR news item announced that executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck had purchased a story called "Thunderbirds" by Carl Krueger, but it is unlikely that the story, which was about "the first group of U.S. Army pilots on the Atlantic ferry shuttle," was used for the final picture. The legal records, as well as the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, indicate that Frank S. Nugent worked on a story outline for the picture, but the extent of his contribution to the released film has not been determined.
       A Jul 1941 HR news item stated that Len Hammond had been assigned as the picture's associate producer, and that it was a "follow-up" to the studio's recently completed A Yank in the R.A.F. (see below). In Oct 1941, HR noted that Bruce Humberstone had been assigned to direct the film. Dec 1941 HR news items stated that Archie Mayo was due to direct the picture, and speculated that the picture's theme and title would be changed due to the U.S.'s entry into active fighting in the war. According to a Feb 1942 HR news item, Dana Andrews was originally signed for the "romantic lead opposite Gene Tierney," and a Feb 1942 studio press release announced that James Gleason had been signed for a supporting role. A Mar 1942 HR news item includes the following actresses in the cast, although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed: Dorothy Dearing, Vivian Mason, Mary Scott, Claire James and Elaine Fenwick. Although Iris Adrian is credited in the role of "Saleswoman" by the Var review, her scenes were reshot with actress Joyce Compton. Thunder Birds marked the producing debut of screenwriter Lamar Trotti. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
24 Oct 1942.
---
Daily Variety
16 Oct 42
p. 3.
Film Daily
19 Oct 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Dec 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 41
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Dec 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Feb 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 42
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 42
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 May 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jun 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 42
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jun 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 42
p. 4.
Life
4 May 42
pp. 59-61.
Motion Picture Daily
19 Oct 1942.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Oct 42
p. 958.
New York Times
29 Oct 42
p. 19.
Variety
21 Oct 42
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d unit dir
2d unit dir
Dir of retakes
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
Commentary
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Loc mgr
Bus mgr
Dir of pub
STAND INS
Stunt pilot
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor dir
Assoc
SOURCES
MUSIC
"The Army Air Corps Song" by Robert Crawford
"Deep in the Heart of Texas," music by Don Swander.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
A Tommy in the U.S.A.
Release Date:
20 November 1942
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 28 October 1942
Production Date:
mid March--6 May 1942
addl scenes 1 June--4 June 1942
addl seq and retakes July 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
20 November 1942
Copyright Number:
LP12146
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
78-79
Length(in feet):
7,251
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8419
SYNOPSIS

World War I flying ace Steve Britt goes to Thunderbird Field in Arizona, where he hopes to become a civilian flight instructor. Thunderbird Field is the initial training site for many American, British and Chinese military pilots, and Steve, who is too old to enlist in the Army Air Corps himself, wants to contribute to the war effort in any way he can. Steve's old pal, Colonel "Mac" MacDonald, recommends Steve for the post. Another reason why Steve moves to Arizona is so that he can see Kay Saunders, a former girl friend who lives on the nearby ranch of her grandfather, Colonel Cyrus P. "Gramps" Saunders. After Kay, who broke off her relationship with Steve because of his irresponsibility, rejects his advances, he then concentrates on his students. Among them is Peter Stackhouse, an English intern who requested a transfer from the medical corps to the RAF. Steve knew Peter's father, a heroic pilot who was shot down during World War I, and is therefore dismayed by Peter's adverse reaction to flying. Peter gets ill every time he goes up, and after it happens on numerous occasions, Steve tries to convince him that there would be no shame in serving in another branch of the military. Peter explains that all the men in his family have been flyers, and that after his brother was shot down recently, Peter promised his grandmother, Lady Jane Stackhouse, that he would join the RAF to carry on the family tradition. Peter's nausea when flying is due to a fear of heights caused by a fall from a horse during childhood, but Steve believes ... +


World War I flying ace Steve Britt goes to Thunderbird Field in Arizona, where he hopes to become a civilian flight instructor. Thunderbird Field is the initial training site for many American, British and Chinese military pilots, and Steve, who is too old to enlist in the Army Air Corps himself, wants to contribute to the war effort in any way he can. Steve's old pal, Colonel "Mac" MacDonald, recommends Steve for the post. Another reason why Steve moves to Arizona is so that he can see Kay Saunders, a former girl friend who lives on the nearby ranch of her grandfather, Colonel Cyrus P. "Gramps" Saunders. After Kay, who broke off her relationship with Steve because of his irresponsibility, rejects his advances, he then concentrates on his students. Among them is Peter Stackhouse, an English intern who requested a transfer from the medical corps to the RAF. Steve knew Peter's father, a heroic pilot who was shot down during World War I, and is therefore dismayed by Peter's adverse reaction to flying. Peter gets ill every time he goes up, and after it happens on numerous occasions, Steve tries to convince him that there would be no shame in serving in another branch of the military. Peter explains that all the men in his family have been flyers, and that after his brother was shot down recently, Peter promised his grandmother, Lady Jane Stackhouse, that he would join the RAF to carry on the family tradition. Peter's nausea when flying is due to a fear of heights caused by a fall from a horse during childhood, but Steve believes that he can overcome it. While Peter is continuing his training, he makes the acquaintance of Kay, who is attracted to the charming Englishman. Peter falls in love with her, and although Steve becomes his adversary on the romantic front, he vows to keep his feelings for Kay separate from his job as Peter's instructor. Mac and RAF Squadron Leader Barrett want to wash out Peter, who is the only one in his class who has not yet soloed. They stress the urgency of training pilots quickly, but Steve maintains that Peter has got the right stuff and threatens to quit if he is removed from the program. In a last ditch effort to get Peter over his fear, Steve takes him up on a flight then bails out of the plane. Despite a sudden dust storm, Peter flies brilliantly and rescues Steve, whose parachute is being dragged by the storm. The storm destroys Peter's plane, however, and Mac and Barrett, believing that the damage was caused by incompetence, kick Peter out of the school and fire Steve. That night, however, at a USO dance, Kay convinces Mac and Barrett to give them another chance. The next morning, Peter makes good on Steve's faith in him by executing an excellent solo flight. Kay tells Steve that she will marry Peter, then persuades him to stay on as an instructor at Thunderbird, where his expertise can help to win the war. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.