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It's World War II. Major Dan Kirby (John Wayne) is hard on his marines. His subordinate Captain Carl Griffin thinks the Major is overdoing it. But Kirby proves that there is a method to his madness after all.
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John Wayne and Robert Ryan co-star in Flying Leathernecks, Nicholas Ray's intense 1951 war movie that managed to appeal to RKO studio chief Howard Hughes's passion for thrilling aerial footage while supplying Ray's own fascination with the human psyche under near-inhuman duress. Wayne plays Major Dan Kirby, commander of a Marine Flying Corps squadron in the South Pacific of World War II. After witnessing the slaughter of men under his command at Midway, Kirby is battle-hardened and in no mood for the familiar style of his executive officer (Ryan). Emotions are further strained as Kirby's pilots are picked off one by one in grueling missions, leading to a crisis that ultimately forces each man to reevaluate his attitude toward sending men to their likely doom. The drama is built around extensive, startling documentary footage of battle action in the sky, but what makes Flying Leathernecks unique is its literate, psychologically probing script. --Tom Keogh
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