Lafayette Escadrille (1958)
William Wellman aka “Wild Bill” wound up his directing career with this somewhat biographical look at the WW1 fighting squadron that Wellman was a member of. For this black and white WB picture Wellman is saddled with Tab Hunter in the lead role of a United States citizen exiled from his home land who hooks up with David Janssen and company in France. Off to flight school we go where we the viewers can spot Clint Eastwood and Tom Laughlin as back ground cadets hoping to get their wings.
Considering this film is from the man who gave us the silent Oscar winner Wings as well as John Wayne’s The High and the Mighty this has to be considered a let down as there is very little action in this film which seems to focus more on Tab Hunter and attractive leading lady Etchika Choureau. Admittedly my interest was the cast of up and comers from Janssen and Eastwood to stalwart character actor Paul Fix. Later in the film as Hunter has hit bottom there is a scene played out with Fix that is obviously effected by the production code of what and what can not be shown on screens at the time. Although the word brothel isn’t said it sure looks like Fix is headed to one with Hunter leading the way. Many of the scenes ring as hokey and training exercises are just plain goofy at times which makes the short 93 minute running time seem longer. It doesn’t help that it takes us 84 minutes to get into a dogfight.
Kind of a poor exit for Wellman and not up to the standards of classics like The Public Enemy. Supposedly he ran into difficulties with the front office and pretty much walked away from the film and the industry. I don’t doubt that the studio was playing up the Tab Hunter part as well as his romance with Choureau. The problem is it alienates the viewer from the excitement expected from the film’s backdrop and acting troupe.
As for a bit of trivia, film people look after there young. In the credits you will see a special screen shot introducing William Wellman Jr., Jody McCrea and Dennis Devine. I would like to have been more positive on this one but essentially for Eastwood completists of which I am among.