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"Red Tails" - {Blu-ray} - (Ed)
Edward McNulty
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

See Below


This fictionalized story of the Tuskegee Airmen, largely financed by George Lucas, chronicles just part of the fight on the ground required for the African American pilots to get the right to fight in the sky. Today, with blacks holding high rank in the Pentagon it's hard to understand the thick-headed prejudice of the World War Two era. To see how the intervention of the President's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, overcame the Army brass you need to see the HBO filmThe Tuskegee Airmen, also available on DVD.We see just a few scenes in which Clarence Howard plays a Washington-bound black officer who fights the military bureaucracy and prejudiced congressmen for his squadron's right to fly and fight. ***

This film focuses instead on the action in the skies where the pilots protected the B-17 bombers flying over Germany. The Germans had been able to lure away the fighters piloted by whites that were supposed to protect the bombers that the bomber attrition rate had climbed to an alarming rate. Ordered to stay with the bombers rather than engaging in dogfights, the Tuskegee pilots gave far better protection, and yet still managed to shoot down a great many enemy planes. The Airmen, the tails of their fighters painted red, performed so well that the once prejudiced bomber crews changed their views concerning African American pilots’ skills.***

The film succeeds far better as an action film than as one exploring the depths of racism of the time, there being little subtlety to the depiction of the prejudice whites. The computer generated aerial combat scenes overshadow the shallow dramatic ones, turning what could have been a sociological film into a comic book action movie. Indeed, with its stereotypical characters—there is the pipe smoking commander; a hot shot pilot who loves to show off his flying skills, a can-do maintenance man able to patch up a damaged plane overnight; a pilot with a drinking problem, a religious pilot with his picture of “Black Jesus” taped to his control panel, and a snarling Nazi airman whom we cannot wait to see going down in flames—and a bit of flag-waving the film reminded me a lot of those I enjoyed as a boy, films such as God Is My Co-Pilot and Flying Fortress. There is never any doubt that God is on the side of Americans killing Germans, nor is there any qualm raised about the civilian deaths caused by our massive bombing attacks. ***

Cuba Gooding, Jr., who plays the desk-bound major in charge of the squadron also starred in the far better 1995 cable film mentioned above. To discover the enormity of the racial barrier faced by the squadron at its very inception I urge you to see it. In this film when one pilot enters into a liaison with a local Italian beauty there is not a ripple of criticism from her family or from the Air Force brass. This may add interest for women viewers, but it brings into question the filmmakers' hold on the reality of the times when any attempt of a black man to date a white woman would have been met with harsh discipline.

Special Features:

Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War documentary

Five behind-the-scenes featurettes:

- George Lucas: Executive Producer

- Anthony Hemingway: Director

- Terence Blanchard: Composer

- The Cast of Red Tails -

- Movie Magic

Final Words:

Despite this and other shortcomings, the film does a service by bringing to a mass audience a little known episode in the long march toward racial equality. For another film more observant of the racism of the 1940s you might want to watch Spike Lee's Miracle at St. Anna.***


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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