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Jet Pilot (film)

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Jet Pilot is a 1957 Cold War adventure-romance film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh It was written and produced by Jules Furthman and presented by Howard Hughes Filming lasted more than eighteen months, beginning in 19491 The last day of shooting was in May 1953, but the Technicolor film was kept out of release by Hughes due to his tinkering until October 1957, by which time Hughes had sold RKO Universal ended up distributing Jet Pilot2

The film went through several directorial changes, after Sternberg's work between October 1949 and February 1950 After that, Philip Cochran supervisor of aerial sequences, Furthman, Edward Killy unit production manager, Byron Haskin for the model work and Don Siegel also directed scenes Siegel's weren't used, as did Howard Hughes himself3 All were uncredited as directors or second unit directors

Although Jet Pilot was publicized as showcasing the US Air Force's latest jets, by the time it was finally shown most of the aircraft in the film were obsolescent or obsolete, being supplanted by more modern aircraft In one aerial scene, the two lead characters fly a Lockheed F-94 Starfire to test a radar approach to intercept a propeller driven Convair B-36 bomber

Jet Pilot was reportedly Howard Hughes's favorite film, one he watched repeatedly in his later years


  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Cast
  • 3 Production
  • 4 Reception
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


A Russian defector lands a jet fighter aircraft on an American airstrip The base commander, Air Force Colonel Jim Shannon John Wayne is surprised to find that the pilot is an attractive woman, Lieutenant Anna Marladovna Janet Leigh When she asks for asylum, but refuses to disclose any military information, Shannon is assigned to seduce her They fall in love Worried about the possibility of deportation, Jim marries her without permission

When they return from their unauthorized honeymoon, Major General Black Jay C Flippen takes Jim aside and informs him that his new wife is a spy, sent to relay information back to the USSR The Americans decide to play along, and escalate the situation

Shannon goes home to tell Anna that she is to be imprisoned for years, then deported when she is finally released To save her, they hatch an escape plan, steal an aircraft and fly to Soviet airspace Their arrival is not shown, but Anna is criticized for allowing Shannon to crash the more advanced American aircraft when Russian fighters closed in, rather than fighting back She says that she considered shooting him, then decided that he would be more valuable for his knowledge than the plane would have been

While they are there, Shannon discovers that Anna is pregnant Shannon is then assigned to help test new aircraft, a pretext for drugging him and pumping him for information about American aircraft He learns much about Soviet capabilities from the questions he is asked, while only giving up outdated information in return When Anna discovers this, she initially plans to turn him in, learns he is to be drugged into permanent insensibility, then lets her personal feelings override her sense of duty She finds herself under suspicion, disposes of the agent sent to keep an eye on her, steals an aircraft and escapes back to the West with Shannon


As appearing in Jet Pilot, main roles and screen credits identified:4

  • John Wayne as Col Jim Shannon
  • Janet Leigh as Lt Anna Marladovna Shannon / Capt Olga Orlief
  • Jay C Flippen as Maj Gen Black
  • Paul Fix as Maj Rexford
  • Richard Rober as FBI Agent George Rivers
  • Roland Winters as Col Sokolov
  • Hans Conried as Col Matoff
  • Ivan Triesault as Gen Langrad
The two Soviet aircraft featured in the film were based on the Bell X-1 and Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star


Hughes intended to make a "jet-age" Hell's Angels to the extent that the flying scenes were the most important element, and led to his obsessive re-editing that stretched into years5 The lead actors fretted that the screenplay was "silly" with Wayne only taking on the role because he thought it would make a political statement, but soon realized it would become "one of the worst films" he would ever make6 Wayne would later recall, "The final budget was something like four million It was just too stupid for words"7

Location filming took place primarily at Edwards Air Force Base and Hamilton Air Force Base, California, with full cooperation from the United States Air Force8 Much of the filming of flying scenes was done at Edwards using a North American B-45 Tornado bomber as a camera aircraft Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, was assigned by the US Air Force to fly for the film9 Yeager would fly in the X-1, staged for the film cameras, on May 20, 195010

Another senior jet pilot who flew in the movie was USAF Major Charles Rayburn Cunningham, who later became a long-time resident of Corpus Christi, Texas He and another senior jet pilot, USAF Ret Lt Col Glen M "Johnny" Johnson, flew for John Wayne and Janet Leigh

The F-86A Sabre jets depicted in the early sequences were actual operational aircraft of the 94th Fighter Squadron, the first unit so equipped in the USAF, shortly after their conversion to the type in 1949 Yeager would also fly the F-86A in a series of aerobatic maneuvers, under the direction of "air boss" Paul Mantz who coordinated the aerial sequences11

Location filming for the Russian air base was done at George Air Force Base, a World War II air base with many of its wartime structures still intact, giving the base a primitive appearance The 94th FS and its parent 1st Fighter Group were actually based at George during filming, and had just finished a deployment to Ladd Air Force Base, Alaska, as depicted in the storyline

The "Soviet parasite fighter" that Shannon flies is actually a Bell X-1, the first supersonic aircraft design in the world Note 1

The "mother ship" for the Soviet parasite fighter is actually a Boeing B-50, a development of the B-29Note 2 The "Yak 12" at the film's beginning is a black-painted Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star; the black fighter that appears near the finale, taxiing on the parking ramp, and the unpainted fighter that Olga is to test fly, are both Northrop F-89 Scorpions An F-86 Sabre is used to depict a Russian chase aircraft, painted in dark colors, high visibility orange, and gray juxtaposed to obscure its actual silhouette


Despite the obvious similarities to other successful films including Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka 1939, Comrade X 1940, as well as the more recent dud, The Iron Petticoat 1956, by the time Jet Pilot hit the screens, it looked dated and received universally poor reviews9 Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, referred to it as "silly and sorry", doomed by a "weak script, poor direction and indifferent performances by all" and concluding, that it was far from being Hughes's next Hell's Angels12 For aviation fans, even the aerial scenes were greatly reduced, as much of the principal photography had taken place early in 1950, making Jet Pilot something of a historical curiosity13

See alsoedit

  • List of American films of 1957
  • John Wayne filmography



  1. ^ The footage of the "Soviet parasite fighter and mother ship" matches the same footage used in the movie The Right Stuff of the B-29 and Bell X-1 taking off for the first supersonic flight
  2. ^ The Soviets reverse engineered the B-29 from three examples that made emergency landings in the USSR during World War II and produced 847 of them as the Tupolev Tu-4 "Bull"


  1. ^ a b "Detail View: 'Jet Fighter'" American Film Institute Retrieved: June 2, 2014
  2. ^ Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p 57
  3. ^ Barlett 2004, p 168
  4. ^ "Credits: Jet Pilot" Turner Classic Movies Retrieved: December 17, 2012
  5. ^ Roberts and Olson 1997, p 351
  6. ^ Munn 2004, p 130
  7. ^ Munn 2004, p 131
  8. ^ Farmer 1989, p 14
  9. ^ a b "Notes: 'Jet Pilot'" Turner Classic Movies Retrieved: December 17, 2012
  10. ^ Farmer 1989, p 16
  11. ^ Farmer 1989, p 24
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley "Jet Pilot 1957; Screen: 'Jet Pilot' lands; Film at Palace barely gets off the ground" The New York Times, October 5, 1957
  13. ^ Farmer 1989, p 28


  • Barlett, Donald L and James B Steele Howard Hughes: His Life & Madness New York: W W Norton & Company, 2004 ISBN 0-393-32602-0
  • Farmer, James H "Hollywood Goes To Edwards" Air Classics, Vol 25, No 8, August 1989
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies" The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989
  • Munn, Michael John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth London: Robson, 2004 ISBN 978-1-86105-722-8
  • Roberts, Randy and James S Olson John Wayne: American London: Bison Books, 1997 ISBN 978-0-80328-970-3

External linksedit

  • Jet Pilot on Internet Movie Database
  • Jet Pilot at the American Film Institute Catalog
  • Jet Pilot at AllMovie
  • Jet Pilot at the TCM Movie Database

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