Guy Named Joe, A: Romantic War Melodram, Starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson

A Guy Named Joe, a romantic war melodrama directed by Victor Fleming, revolves around a daredevil bomber pilot named Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy), who gets killed early on in a crash.  

A Guy Named Joe
A Guy Named Joe (1943) online.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Later on he returns in spirit to guide fledging airmen and Dorinda Durston (Irene Dunne), the woman he loved, through the hazards of war.  Things move smoothly until one of his airmen, Ted Randall (played by Van Johnson), falls in love with her.

Detailed Plot

Pete Sandidge (Tracy), a reckless pilot of a bomber during WWII, is in love with Women Airforce Service Pilot Dorinda Durston (Dunne), a civilian pilot ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic.  “Nails” Kilpatrick (James Gleason), Pete’s commanding officer, transfers Pete and his crew to a base in Scotland and then offers him a transfer back to America to be a flying instructor.

Dorinda, feeling that Pete’s “number is up,” begs him to accept. Pete agrees, but goes out on one last mission with his best friend Al Yackey (Ward Bond) to check out a German aircraft carrier. Wounded by an enemy fighter, Pete has his crew bail out before bombing the ship and crashing into the sea.

Pete, walking in clouds, recognizes his old friend, Dick Rumney (Barry Nelson). Remembering that Dick went down in a fiery crash, Pete says, “either I’m dead or I’m crazy.” Dick answers, “You’re not crazy.”

Dick arranges for Pete to meet “The General” (Lionel Barrymore) who sends him back to Earth to pass on his knowledge to greener Ted Randall (Van Johnson), first in flight school, then as a fighter pilot in the south Pacific. Ted’s commanding officer turns out to be Al Yackey.

The situation gets complicated when Ted meets the grieving Dorinda and encourages her to give the young pilot a chance. The pair gradually fall in love, and Ted proposes–to Pete’s jealous dismay.

When Dorinda finds out from Al that Ted has been given a dangerous assignment to destroy a Japanese ammunition dump in the Pacific, she steals his aircraft. Guiding her in completing the mission and returning to the base to Ted’s embrace, Pete walks away.

There is no “guy named Joe” character in this picture, but as one of the characters explains, “In the Army Air Corps, any fellow who is a right fellow is called ‘Joe’.”

What begins as a nice romantic fantasy about rivalry takes a turn for the worse, resulting in a schmaltzy melodrama about life-after-life.  With Pete as her “co-pilot,” Dorinda steals a plane intended for Johnson and flies off into the Pacific night on a bombing mission. 

Audiences in 1944 didn’t seem to care, however, and “A Guy Named Joe” was enormously popular at the box-office, probably due to its sentimental view of love and immortality, and the fact that women dominated the theatrical audience for Hollywood movies.

Scenarist Dalton Trumbo (who would be blacklisted) gives most of the wry and witty lines to Tracy, but there is not much chemistry between him and Dunne, or between Dunne and Van Johnson, who became a leading man due to the fact that many of the big stars (Gable, Stewart, Fonda) were fighting in the War.

Release Date: June 1, 1944

Running time: 121 Minutes

Spielberg Remake

Spielberg remade this film in 1989 , retitling it as Always, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman. The plot was updated to the present, exchanging the WWII backdrop to an aerial firefighting.


Oscar Alert:

Oscar Nomination: 1

Original Story by David Boehm and  Chandler Spargue


Oscar Context:

The winner was “Going My Way,” by Leo McCarey, which swept most of the Oscars in 1944, including Picture, Director, Actor, and Supporting Actor.



Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy)

Dorinda Durston (Irene Dunne)

Ted Randall (Van Johnson)

Al Yackey (Ward Bond)

Col. “Nails” Kilpatrick (James Gleason)



Lionel Barrymore

Barry Nelson

Esther Williams

Henry O’Neill

Don de Fore

Charles Smith



Produced by Everett Riskin.

Directed by Victor Fleming.

Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo.

Adaptation by Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, based on an original story by Chandler Sprague.

Production company: MGM

Distributed by Loew’s Inc.
Release date: December 23, 1943 (NYC); March 10, 1944 (US)
Running time 122 minutes
Budget: $2,627,000
Box office$5,363,000