The War Lover is a 1962 British black-and-white war film directed by Philip Leacock and written by Howard Koch loosely based on the 1959 novel by John Hersey, altering the names of characters and events but retaining its basic framework. It stars Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner, Shirley Anne Field, Ed Bishop and features a young Michael Crawford.
The war itself is not the most important element of the film. Instead it focuses on the character of Captain Buzz Rickson played by McQueen and his determination to serve himself and get what he wants – in the process antagonising everyone.
|The War Lover|
American cinema poster
|Directed by||Philip Leacock|
|Produced by||Arthur Hornblow, Jr.|
|Screenplay by||Howard Koch|
|Based on||The War Lover|
by John Hersey
Shirley Anne Field
|Music by||Richard Addinsell|
|Edited by||Gordon Hales|
Columbia British Productions (Columbia Pictures)
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
In 1943, Captain Buzz Rickson (Steve McQueen) is an arrogant pilot in command of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber nicknamed The Body. While stationed in Britain during the Second World War, one of the bombing missions is aborted because clouds obscure all potential targets, but Rickson ignores the order to turn around and dives under the clouds. He completes the mission, at the cost of one of the bombers in his squadron and its entire crew. Rickson revels in the fighting and destruction; when he is assigned to drop propaganda leaflets on a later mission, he makes his displeasure felt by buzzing the airfield. His commanding officer tolerates his repeated insubordination because he is the best pilot in the bomber group. Even so, when he asks the flight surgeon his opinion, the latter is uncertain whether Rickson is a hero or a psychopath. However Rickson's crew, especially his co-pilot, First Lieutenant Ed Bolland (Robert Wagner), trust his great flying skill.
Between missions, Rickson and Bolland meet a young English woman, Daphne Caldwell (Shirley Anne Field). Although she is attracted to both pilots, she quickly finds out what kind of man Rickson is and chooses Bolland. They soon begin sleeping together. She falls in love with him, although she suspects he will leave her behind and return to America at the end of his tour of duty.
Meanwhile, Bolland becomes increasingly disillusioned with Rickson and his arrogance and his callousness. Rickson pressures his navigator, Second Lieutenant Marty Lynch (Gary Cockrell), into transferring to another crew, because he questions his orders and behaviour. Lynch even says that Rickson is the kind of man who would have fought on either side. Soon afterwards, family man Lynch is killed in action. His friend Bolland takes it hard and blames Rickson.
Rickson meets a prostitute but does not do more than give her money to buy a dress, provided she looks in the mirror and calls herself "Daphne". When the crew is near the end of the required 25 missions to complete a tour and rotate back home, Rickson makes a move on Daphne, visiting her in her flat after Bolland has returned to the base. Rickson plans to embark on a second tour of duty, while his rival goes home. Daphne rejects his forceful advances, telling him she loves Bolland, but Rickson tries to make Bolland think otherwise.[Note 1]
Finally, on a long-range bombing mission to Leipzig, Colonel Emmet (Jerry Stovin) B-17 is shot down during the attack, leaving Rickson in command, Sergeant Bragliani (George Sperdakos) one of the waist gunners is wounded during the Messerschmitt attack run and is hit in the hand but he is still able to shoot, Rickson'S B-17 reaches Leipzig and the B-17's drop bombs during the attack, Rickson's B-17, is badly shot up and one crew member, the ball turret gunner, Sergeant Sailen (Michael Crawford) – known as "Junior" – dies of his wounds. The B-17 limps back over the English Channel, its bomb bay doors stuck in the open position and one armed bomb still partially stuck on its rack in the bay. Approaching the British coastline near Dover, the air-sea rescue is contacted and the rest of the crew (except Sergeant Prien, who was killed off-screen) bails out. As the last two crew members escape, Bolland is waiting to jump out of the open bomb bay with Rickson, when he notices that Rickson isn't wearing his parachute. Rickson then kicks the unsuspecting Bolland out of the B-17's bomb bay, returns to the cockpit and tries to nurse the bomber back to base by himself, only to crash into the white cliffs on the Kent coast.
Bolland reports Rickson's death to Daphne in Cambridge, who says: "It's what he always wanted." The pair of lovers walk away together.
The War Lover was filmed in Britain at RAF Bovingdon in Hertfordshire, RAF Manston in Kent, around Cambridgeshire (including in the grounds of King's College, Cambridge), and at Shepperton Studios in Surrey.
Three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers formed the main aerial component in the film and were composed of one B-17G and two postwar PB-1W Coast Guard rescue aircraft located in the United States. After extensive modifications, the three warbirds flew the arduous transatlantic crossing to Britain. Martin Caidin, who would later write the novels on which the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man and the film Marooned were based, was one of the pilots who flew the B-17s for the film. Caidin chronicled the adventures of the crossing in the book Everything But The Flak.
The War Lover was shot in 1961 and released in the United States on 25 October 1962. The film opened in London in June 1963. Some short but rare footage of actual air combat is included – especially the attacking Messerschmitt Bf 109G armed with 20 mm cannons firing at the B-17s. The film also makes use of the crash landing footage from the 1949 film Twelve O'Clock High.
Mike Reilly, a stuntman, doubling for Wagner, was killed during the production of The War Lover when he fell to his death in a parachuting accident.
In 2003, Sony Pictures colourised the film but to date the colour version has never been released on video.
The War Lover was unfavourably compared to other wartime aviation epics like Twelve O'Clock High (1949) and suffered in comparison. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times focused on the lack of interesting characters in the film. "But the fellows who sit in the cockpit of the one plane on which the actions center are a dull pair and are rendered even duller by poor acting and weak direction. Steve McQueen, is the emotionally-mixed-up pilot who tries to steal his co-pilot's girl. Robert Wagner is the co-pilot and Shirley Anne Fields is the girl. Altogether they make what at best is an average drama of love and jealousy into a small and tepid expose of one man's absurd cantankerousness."
In a similar vein, the review of The War Lover in Variety noted, "...the central character emerges more of an unappealing symbol than a sympathetic flesh-and-blood portrait ... The scenario seems reluctant to come to grips with the issue of this character’s unique personality – a 'war lover' whose exaggerated shell of heroic masculinity covers up a psychopathic inability to love or enjoy normal relationships with women."
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Films directed by Philip Leacock