A Guy Named Joe is a 1943 American romantic drama film directed by Victor Fleming. The film was produced by Everett Riskin, and starred Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson.
The screenplay, written by Dalton Trumbo and Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, was adapted from a story by Chandler Sprague and David Boehm, for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story.
Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy) is the reckless pilot of a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber flying out of England during World War II (see Trivia). He is in love with Women Airforce Service Pilot Dorinda Durston (Irene Dunne), a civilian pilot ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic (see Trivia). Pete’s commanding officer, “Nails” Kilpatrick (James Gleason), first transfers Pete and his crew to a base in Scotland, then offers him a transfer back to the United States to be a flight instructor. Dorinda 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 (see Trivia). Wounded after an attack by an enemy fighter, Pete has his crew bail out before going on to bomb the carrier and then crashing into the sea.
Pete then finds himself walking in clouds, where he first recognizes an old friend, Dick Rumney (Barry Nelson). Pete suddenly becomes uneasy, remembering that Dick went down with his aircraft in a fiery crash. Pete tells Dick, “Either I’m dead or I’m crazy.” Dick answers, “You’re not crazy.” Dick ushers Pete to a meeting with “The General” (Lionel Barrymore), who gives him an assignment. He is to be sent back to Earth, where a year has elapsed, to pass on his experience and knowledge to Ted Randall (Van Johnson) at flight school, then in the South Pacific, where Ted is a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilot. Ted’s commanding officer turns out to be Al Yackey.
The situation becomes complicated when Ted meets the still-grieving Dorinda. Al encourages Dorinda to give the young pilot a chance. The pair gradually fall in love; Ted proposes to her and she accepts, much to Pete’s jealous dismay.
When Dorinda finds out from Al that Ted has been given an extremely dangerous assignment to destroy the largest Japanese ammunition dump in the Pacific, she steals his aircraft. Pete guides her in completing the mission and returning to the base to Ted’s embrace. Pete accepts what must be and walks away, his job done.
- Spencer Tracy as Pete Sandidge.
- Irene Dunne as Dorinda Durston.
- Van Johnson as Ted Randall.
- Ward Bond as Al Yackey.
- James Gleason as “Nails” Kilpatrick.
- Lionel Barrymore as The General.
- Barry Nelson as Dick Rumney.
- Esther Williams as Ellen Bright, a USO hostess.
- .Henry O’Neill as Colonel Sykes.
- Don DeFore as James J. Rourke (as Don De Fore).
- Charles Smith as Sanderson.
- Addison Richards as Major Corbett.
- Kirk Alyn as Officer in Heaven (uncredited).
- Maurice Murphy as Capt. Robertson (uncredited).
A Guy Named Joe introduced Van Johnson in his first major role. When the filming was partially completed in 1943, Johnson was in a serious automobile accident. The crash lacerated his forehead and damaged his skull so severely doctors inserted a plate in his head. MGM wanted to replace Johnson, but Tracy convinced the studio to suspend filming until Johnson could return to work, which he did after four months of recovery. He then went on to become a major star. Because the movie was filmed before and after the accident, Johnson can be seen without and with the forehead scars he bore from then on.
One of the other reasons Johnson was allowed to stay was because a deal was made that Tracy and director Victor Fleming had to stop making Dunne’s life miserable on set. Although she had been excited to work with Tracy, the actor took an instant dislike to her and endlessly teased her, sometimes driving her to tears. The deal was made, and Dunne and Tracy took the extra time caused by Johnson’s recovery to re-shoot some of the scenes where their hostility was noticeable.
Budget restrictions precluded location shooting, and all the flying scenes were staged at the MGM Studios. For an air of authenticity, footage shot at various United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) bases throughout the United States was incorporated via an exterior backdrop process. Authentic aircraft were used, although they remained firmly on the ground. The pivotal scene with Irene Dunne flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning was recreated at Drew Field, Florida, utilising a surplus P-38E which had been acquired from the USAAF, where it had been used as an instructional aircraft. Electric motors drove the propellers and allowed for an authentic run-up sequence. The miniature work was the product of the same MGM special effects team of A. Arnold Gillespie, Donald Jahrus and Warren Newcombe that would later be responsible for Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944).
During the scene where Tracy’s character dies, he was shown making a suicidal divebomb run on a German aircraft carrier, despite the fact that Germany never had an operational aircraft carrier in service before or during World War II.
Aircraft Used in the Film
- Lockheed P-38E Lightning fighter (“static”, propellers turned by electric motors).
- North American B-25 Mitchell bomber (special effects scale model).
- Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer (static but flyable aircraft on loan from Luke Field Arizona).
- North American P-51A Mustangs as Luftwaffe fighters.
- Martin B-26 Marauders as Japanese bombers.
- North American Yale trainers (NA 64) at an unnamed BCTAP field in Canada.
- C-36 or C-40 in some scenes, C-47 and C-60 in others.
A Guy Named Joe premiered at the Capitol Theatre in New York on 23 December 1943 to generally positive reviews.
According to MGM records, the film earned $3,970,000 in the US and Canada, and $1,393,000 overseas, resulting in a profit of $1,066,000.
- The film is notable for being Van Johnson’s first major role.
- It also features the popular song “I’ll Get By (As Long as I Have You)” by Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk, performed in the film by Irene Dunne.
- Steven Spielberg’s 1989 film Always is a remake of A Guy Named Joe, and stars Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman.
- Always updates the story for a 1989 setting, exchanging the World War II backdrop to one of aerial firefighting.
- No USAAF B-25 units were ever assigned to the United Kingdom during World War II.
- No US female aircraft ferry pilots flew at any overseas locations.
- They were restricted to the continental United States.
- The only German aircraft carrier was the Graf Zeppelin; keel laid 26 December 1936, launched in 1938, but not completed and never put into service.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Victor Fleming and John E. Burch (assistant).
- Producer(s): Everett Riskin.
- Writer(s): Dalton Trumbo (screenplay), Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (adaptation), Chandler Sprague (story), and David Boehm (story).
- Music: Herbert Stothart and Irene Alberto Colombo.
- Cinematography: George J. Folsey and Karl Freund.
- Editor(s): Frank Sullivan.
- Production: MGM.
- Distributor(s): Loew’s Inc.
- Release Date: 23 December 1943 (New York City, US).
- Running Time: 120 minutes.
- Rating: A.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.