This wartime documentary celebrates the successful return of the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle, named after pilot Robert Morgan's girlfriend, from its twenty-fifth and final bombing mission over German soil, but it also makes clear the fact that this was only one of many such planes filled with heroic young men prepared to die for their country and for freedom.
Director William Wyler basically takes the viewer through a typical day in the lives of the American men serving at an undisclosed air base in Britain. Ground crewmen prepare the B-17s for flight and load the bombs they will drop, pilots and crew receive their briefing on the mission ahead, death is delivered to the German homeland in the form of fire from the sky, and the pilots bring their bombers home - if they can. The bravery of the ten men who served onboard each B-17 bomber is beyond question; while these incredible airplanes earned the right to be called flying fortresses, each mission bordered on the suicidal. The bomber was a large and slow yet deadly aircraft; the pilots had to hold formation and concentrate on dropping their bombs amidst anti-aircraft fire from the ground, the pursuit and attack of much quicker German fighters, and constant bursts of flak all over the sky; with no fighter escort, the gunners stationed atop, behind, and astride each plane had their hands full trying to shoot down enemy planes.
This film, built around actual combat footage taken from 16mm and 35mm onboard cameras, presents a telling and impressively realistic look at the incredible dangers all bomber crewmen faced.
Some speak about the propaganda aspects of this film. It is true that the war in Europe raged on when the film was released by the War Department in April 1944, and it is also true that Wylie used footage from several missions as well as some film from a second air combat unit, but the heroism on display here rises far above propaganda. To return home from a bombing mission was a small miracle in and of itself, as can clearly be seen in the extensive damage to both crew and aircraft for many of those that did make it back to the base. What makes the Memphis Belle such a legend is the fact that the crew took the plane out on twenty-five bombing runs and returned home each and every time.
As the film shows us, this accomplishment earned all ten of the Memphis Belle's crewmen distinguished service medals, a visit from the King and Queen of England, and a trip back to the States to help teach future crewmen how to fly the B-17 bombers that continued to prove themselves instrumental in the eventual Allied victory over the Third Reich.
I might make note of the fact that this film is actually in color - not a vibrant sort of color but color nonetheless .Those with an interest in aerial combat or World War II in general should find much to interest them in this inspirational look at the Memphis Belle and the brave American men who flew her.