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Film / Keep 'em Flying

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Keep 'em Flying is a 1941 musical comedy directed by Arthur Rubin and starring Abbott and Costello with Martha Raye, Carol Bruce, William Gargan and Dick Foran. It was the third musical service comedy from the duo, released in 1941 in the wake of the peacetime draft of 1940.

Arrogant, but brilliant stunt pilot Jinx Roberts (Foran), and his two bumbling ground crewmen Blackie and Heathcliff (Abbott and Costello) decide to join the Army Air Corps after being fired from a carnival. Just before joining, Jinx falls for lounge singer Linda Joyce (Bruce). In the Cal-Aero Academy of the Air Corps, Jinx finds that Linda has become a USO hostess, his former co-pilot Craig Morrison (Gargan) – with whom he has an icy relationship – is now his instructor at the academy, and Linda’s brother Jimmy (Charles Lang) is his new bunkmate. Jinx quickly proves a natural, but arrogant as ever. While Jimmy is a fine pilot, he’s reluctant to fly solo as he’s been terrified ever since his father’s plane crashed years ago. Blackie and Heathcliff get into and out of trouble, double-dating the twin Phelps sisters, conservative Barbara and wacky Gloria (both played by Raye), and taking a land torpedo – and later a biplane – for accidental rides. Jinx decides to try to impress Linda by helping Jimmy with his problem, but Jinx’s help may be the last thing Jimmy needs.

Hilarity Ensues.

Released in the wake of the Army Air Corps. being retooled into the US Air Force some five months prior, the film was largely seen as a bit of a step down from their previous movies, but was still a success, being credited with increasing volunteer numbers for the Air Force.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Jinx Roberts is a brilliant stunt pilot, and the best in the flight school, but initially brash, arrogant, and reckless. He gets better.
  • Actor Allusion: When Jinx suggests the trio join the military, Blackie and Heathcliff look at each other, and ask "Buck Privates?", a reference to Abbott and Costello’s first film in a starring role.
  • Batter Up!: In the carnival at the beginning, Blackie and Heathcliff are working a baseball-throwing carnival game with a mechanical batter. Blackie keeps hitting the button controlling the batter at inopportune times, clobbering Heathcliff. It gets worse when Heathcliff kicks the batter in annoyance, and it starts malfunctioning.
  • Deadly Rotary Fan: While riding the land torpedo, Heathcliff sits a little too far back and nearly gets hurt by its propeller. Later, Jinx uses his own plane’s prop to cut Craig’s parachute strings and save his life.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Since the military doesn't allow women, Blackie, Heathcliff, and Jinx form a "Woman-hater's Union" to keep themselves from getting distracted. It doesn’t last for more than a few minutes, as Jinx immediately falls hard for Linda, and it really seemed more an excuse to mooch money off "treasurer" Heathcliff anyway.
  • Identical Twin Mistake: Because they never see them at the same time until they go to a date at the carnival, Blackie and Heathcliff are baffled by Gloria and Barbara Phelps swapping interest in one of them, but not the other, and switching personalities constantly (The laid-back, snarky Gloria vs the more upright Barbara).
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: After accidentally starting a plane while they’re in it, Blackie and Heathcliff toss it all over the skies in terror and confusion without actually getting hurt. Eventually, the ground crew decides it’s too much for them after getting buzzed enough times, and they take shelter in a garage.
  • Insufferable Genius: Jinx starts off as this, a brilliant but arrogant pilot who slacks off, seemingly ignoring his lesson on a land torpedo only to recite the instructor’s lesson word-for-word. He grows a great deal humbler after nearly killing Jimmy.
  • It's Raining Men: The graduation ceremony has the new pilots and instructors parachuting to the ground from overhead, but Craig’s parachute gets tangled in the plane’s tail fin, putting him in a nasty spot. Blackie and Heathcliff end up parachuting out of another plane, and it goes even more chaotically.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Jinx has three girlfriends waiting for him upon leaving the carnival, but seems infatuated by Linda – at least partly because she has zero patience for his crap.
  • Literal-Minded: When ordered to "taxi" a plane off an airfield, Heathcliff tries to hail a cab in order to move it.
  • Living Shadow: While looking for Gloria in a carnival haunted house, Heathcliff gets so spooked that his shadow runs off without him.
  • Military Maverick: Jinx is extremely competent, but poorly disciplined, prideful, and tends to do things his own way… right up until one of his stunts nearly kills another student, and he’s promptly washed out.
  • Must Make Amends: Jinx is legitimately horrified that Jimmy nearly got killed, and doesn’t argue when he’s ejected from the school. When he sees Craig in a dangerous position with his parachute wrapped around a plane’s tailfin, he briefly tries to ignore it before going up unordered, alone, to save the man himself.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: After Jinx makes his intentions towards Linda for his "trophy room" clear to Jimmy, Jimmy belts him across the mouth – then tells Jinx he’s Linda’s brother.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: Abbott and Costello get into a heated argument over phones only a short distance apart and fail to realize the people they're yelling at are each other.
  • Tempting Fate: At the very end, having parachuted safely to the ground with Blackie, Heathcliff tells Gloria he’ll never leave the ground again… until a nearby plane propeller kicks on, catching his parachute and blowing him into the sky.
  • Tunnel of Love: After fooling around in the carnival’s haunted house, everyone heads into one of these for a musical number.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Jimmy’s got a bit of a problem with flying solo, ever since he saw his father die in a plane crash. He’s soon the last member of the flight school to have not gone up solo.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Jinx forces Jimmy to fly solo by taking him up in a plane, then jumping out with a parachute. Only problem is, the throttle is jammed. The result is a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Jimmy keeps his head enough to kill the fuel and glide in, but he ends up making a very rough landing and goes off in an ambulance, and everyone is outraged at Jinx.
  • We Need a Distraction: So Jinx can get some alone time with Linda, Smokey tells Jimmy he’s wanted on the phone. Heathcliff wastes Jimmy’s time on the phone with a giant screaming argument full of Insane Troll Logic, then cheerily walks off with him, Jimmy unaware that Heathcliff was on the other end.