Flying Leathernecks Major Daniel Kirby takes command of a squadron of Marine fliers just before they are about to go into combat. While the men are well meaning, he finds them undisciplined and prone to always finding excuses to do what is easy rather than what is necessary. The root of the problem is the second in command, Capt. Carl ‘Griff’ Griffin. Griff is the best flier in the group but Kirby finds him a poor commander who is not prepared to the difficult decision that all commanders have to make – to put men in harm’s way knowing that they may be killed.
John Wayne and Robert Ryan raise the film to a higher level…
Any tension FLYING LEATHERNECKS has as a war film from the ’40s about the fight against the Japanese on Guadalcanal is bolstered considerably by the decent acting jobs done by JOHN WAYNE and ROBERT RYAN as men who are soon in conflict with each other over training methods. Wayne has his usual tough guy role, hard on the surface but soft inside, and Ryan is the man who stands up to him but soon appreciates him when the going gets rough.
Whatever inaccuracies there are in historical details (as pointed out by other reviewers) don’t really harm the story which is well photographed in Technicolor and includes a number of hard-hitting action scenes that are the best moments in the film. The domestic moments are the weakest elements of the story.
Wayne and Ryan are well supported by JANIS CARTER (as Wayne’s worried wife) and DON TAYLOR as a carefree soldier. Well directed by Nicholas Ray, it’s not as tense and exciting as it could have been but it passes the time efficiently in its own way with lots of actual war footage appearing in the action scenes.