This not a bad movie but come prepared for a representative collection of tropes from every other flight combat movie out there, with some from Only Angels Have Wings thrown in for good measure.
The movie is the story of the all-volunteer Flying Tigers squadron that fought missions against the Japanese in China in 1941-42. It was thus made almost contemporaneously with these activities.
Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne) commands the squadron. He is well respected by his men and loved by nurse Brooke Elliot. As the movie begins, we see the carnage wreaked on little children in a refugee shelter by Japanese bombers. The vastly outnumbered fighters of The Flying Tigers wipe out the bombers but not without the loss of a rookie pilot who, however, heroically lands his plane before dying. Gordon has a whole collection of the personal effects of these heroes in his desk drawer.
He goes to Rangoon to pick up supplies and replacement pilots. One he brings back is his old buddy ace pilot Woody Jason (John Carroll). Woody is in it strictly for the money — the men are paid per mission and per “kill”. His avarice causes him to take a bunch of unjustified risks that make him unpopular with the rest of the pilots. The final straw comes when he arrives too late for a mission he was supposed to back Gordon on and all because he was out with Gordon’s girl. Will the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor show Woody the error of his ways?
The movie moves along at a good clip and there are lots of exciting flight sequences. Evidently, pilots grounded because of their eyesight, disgraced pilots seeking redemption, and sacrificial lambs had become de rigeur for this kind of movie by this early date. I especially enjoyed seeing Anna Lee and look forward to more of her. Wayne is awfully good too.
Flying Tigers was one of the highest grossing movies of 1942 and broke all box office records for a film made by Republic Pictures.
The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound, Recording; Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Victor Young).