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Film / Dive Bomber

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Dive Bomber is a 1941 American action drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, and Ralph Bellamy.

As Lt. Commander Joe Blake (MacMurray) and his squadron of US Navy dive bombers conduct maneuvers in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (not yet bombed!), one of his pilots loses consciousness during the dive — a common problem for dive bombers, due to the excessive g-forces — and crashes. The pilot is whisked to the hospital but Navy surgeon Lt. Doug Lee (Flynn) is unable to save him, as he dies on the table before they can operate.

Blake takes a dislike to Lee for both his failure to save Blake's friend and his brusque manner in announcing the death. Lee, however, is more affected than he seems by this failure. He joins the naval pilot program and gets certified as a pilot and a flight surgeon. Along with his boss, Lt. Commander Lance Rogers (Bellamy), Lee throws himself into solving the problems of high altitude flight, including the g-forces problem that killed Blake's friend, and the low-pressure and lack-of-oxygen problems that are mortal threats to pilots at over 35,000 feet.

The 12th and last film collaboration of director Curtiz and star Flynn. Not quite a World War II film, as the United States didn't enter the war until over three months after its release, but a propaganda flick quite clearly made with eventual American entry into the war in mind.


  • Artistic License – History: The need for pressure suits for high-altitude flight had been understood for a decade or so prior to this movie. An RAF pilot in 1936 flew at nearly 50,000 feet with a pressure suit.
  • As You Know: Lee asks another pilot what kind of acceleration forces dive bombers feel. The other pilot says "Between five and ten g," then helpfully tells the audience "that's five to ten times the force of gravity."
  • Blood from the Mouth: Blood streams from a pilot's mouth to let the audience know that he's hurt really badly. He dies on the operating table.
  • Divorce in Reno: Linda Fisher happily reports that after she went to Reno, Mr. Fisher is no longer an obstacle.
  • Everybody Smokes: A desperately (and as it turns out fatally) injured pilot is being whisked away to the hospital. His spine is nearly severed. Lee gives him a cigarette to smoke in the ambulance.
  • Impairment Shot: On multiple occasions the effects of hypoxia are shown with out-of-focus pilot POV shots.
  • Match Cut: Lee spins Anthony on a stool as he talks about the use of his pressure diagram. The film then cuts to a pilot's cabin being spun around on a centrifuge, with Anthony inside.
  • Mathematician's Answer: After being notified that he is no longer cleared to fly, Blake basically steals a plane so he can test the pressure suit. When a frantic Lee radios "What do you think you're doing?", Blake shoots back "I'm doing about 250 at 26,000 and going up!"
  • Riding into the Sunset: The last shot has Lee and the rest of the squadron flying off across the Pacific into the sunset.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Alexis Smith plays Linda Fisher, a hot lady who is very interested in Lee. She hardly has any effect on the plot and is really only there for eye candy.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The top hat insignia seen on the planes of Blake's squadron is that of a real bombing squadron which has been in continuous existence since 1919.
    • The "Schneider test", a test in which a pilot's circulatory system was examined and he was grounded if he failed, was a real thing that the Navy really used in the 1940s.
  • Technology Marches On: The bright color schemes used on the Navy aircraft would soon be replaced by darker colors when World War II broke out, and many of the aircraft models portrayed in the movie were obsolete and soon replaced by newer models.
  • Tested on Humans: Lee and Rogers do extensive testing with Blake and the other pilots, both in simulators and in flight, testing the efficacy of pressurized cabins vs. pressure suits.
  • Training Montage: Lee's flight training is shown via a montage which first shows a log book, in which someone writes whatever maneuver Lee practiced on a certain day, followed by a clip of Lee performing that maneuver.