Dive Bomber (1941): Errol Flynn in Oscar-Nominated WWII Propaganda Film, Directed by Michael Curtiz, Co-Starring Fred MacMurray

Dive Bomber
Dive Bomber - Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster


Produced with the assistance of the Navy, Warner Bros. made Dive Bomber as a WWII propaganda piece; fortunately, it was directed by pro Michael Curtiz.

The film is notable for both its Technicolor photography of pre-World War II US Navy aircraft. The vivid cinematography prompted the tagline: The stunning spectacle of color rides with you into the heavens! Bert Glennon was nominated for the Best Color Cinematography.

The plot is not historically accurate but it contains factual elements of period aeromedical research and real contemporary medical equipment.

This was the last of a collaboration between director Curtiz and actor Errol Flynn which began in 1935 and spanned 12 films, including some notable swashbucklers.

One of the first films to glorify a particular branch of the Armed Forces, Dive Bomber is one of the best star vehicles of Errol Flynn, then at the peak of his career.

Dealing with aviation medicine, the film told a story of the medical men practicing in the field and the pilots who were their patients and guinea pigs.

Errol Flynn looks dashing as a young Naval surgeon who decided to devote himself to aviation medicine after an injured pilot died on his operating table during surgery.

Flynn portrays a Harvard-educated doctor who is involved in heroic medical research on pilots, with Fred MacMurray as the skeptical veteran aviator who gets swept up in the project.

The film itself was handsome, containing many impressively shot and engrossing sequences, in the air and in the laboratory.

The movie is dedicated to the flight surgeons of the U.S. armed forces “in recognition of their heroic efforts to solve the immensely difficult problems of aviation medicine.”

Obviously, the Navy (and the public) was pleased with this salute to a group of dedicated men charting new paths in medical knowledge.

It was released on August 30, 1941, just months before the Pearl Harbor Attack.  A big commercial hit, Dive Bomber was made on a budget of $1.2 million, grossed $2.6 million at the box office.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Color Cinematography: Bert Glennon

Oscar Awards: None

Errol Flynn as LT Douglas S. “Doug” Lee, Medical Corps, USN
Fred MacMurray as LCDR Joe Blake, USN
Ralph Bellamy as LCDR Lance Rogers, Medical Corps, USN
Alexis Smith as Mrs. Linda Fisher
Robert Armstrong as Art Lyons
Regis Toomey as LT Tim Griffin, USN
Allen Jenkins as Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class “Lucky” James
Craig Stevens as Pilot Trainee, ENS John Anthony, USN
Herbert Anderson as LT “Slim” Markham, Medical Corps, USN
Moroni Olsen as CDR Martin, Medical Corps, USN
Dennie Moore as Ex-wife of “Lucky” James
Louis Jean Heydt as LT “Swede” Larson, USN
Cliff Nazarro as Double-talking Corpsman



Produced and distributed by Warner Bros. 

Produced by Hal B. Wallis

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Screenplay by Frank Wead and Robert Buckner, from a story by Frank Wead.

Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography: Bert Glennon, Winton C. Hoch
Edited by George Amy

Released: August 30, 1941

Running time: 133 minutes


TCM is showing this film on almost every Veterans Day, which enabled me to refresh my memory of it.