As America was preparing to enter World War II, Warner Brothers was sounding the call to arms with its cinema. With 1941's Dive Bomber, they made a non-war war movie that was in three-strip Technicolor and offered Errol Flynn as a man ready for action. He stars as Lt. Douglas Lee, MD, a navy doctor who operates on the best friend of the squadron commander, Lt. Cmdr. Joe Blake (Fred MacMurray, on loan from Universal) and is unable to save him. As such Blake hates Lee and nurses a grudge. Meanwhile, Doug teams up with a flight surgeon, Lt. Cmdr. Lance Rogers (Ralph Bellamy), as they look for a way to prevent men from blacking out during high-altitude flights. And since altitude sickness is what killed Blake's best friend, he's obviously acting out of some guilt. Douglas does his research and in his tests bumps back into Blake, who he also uses him as a guinea pig. Eventually the two men become best of friends in their quest to find the ways to survive the hazards of high altitudes. Directed by Michael Curtiz, Dive Bomber has a bunch of flying scenes (with some special-effects work), and the always engaging narrative hook of two men, set up as enemies, forming a grudging respect and eventual camaraderie (a formula that's been successful in everything from L.A. Confidential to Blades of Glory). But these men are just flying test missions, since the film was set in the isolationist America of 1941 and with no one in the cast engaging in anything remotely like battle, there are no real action scenes (unless flying and passing out counts as action). But the three-strip shots of the planes are gorgeous, and Curtiz was a wonderful framer, with some well-crafted shots, considering the oppressive bulk of the early Technicolor process. Unfortunately, this is the sort of movie that Howard Hawks could have directed while on vacation, and though Hawks was supposedly going to direct Casablanca and handed over the reigns to Curtiz, that subsequent classic was well served by Curtiz's professionalism. When called upon to bring the story out, Curtiz was usually lacking, and as such this meandering effort (running at a leisurely 132 minutes) never takes off. Warner Home Video presents Dive Bomber in an excellent full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with DD 1.0 audio. The film restoration is impressive considering its pedigree (namely, an older title that's not very good). Extras include the film's theatrical trailer and the short featurette "Dive Bomber: Keep 'Em in the Air" (8 min.). Keep-case, or slimcase in "The Errol Flynn Collection, Vol. 2."
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