The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress

Produced in 1943 by the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps, released April 13, 1944, by Paramount Pictures through the War Activities Committee of the Office of War Information, 35mm Technicolor negative, 1.37:1 screen ratio, mono sound, 45 mins.

Memphis Belle at Mud Island - 1
DVD poster for 1990 film




This film is a war documentary produced by one of the "Hollywood Colonels," William Wyler, who joined the Air Force Film unit and recorded the sights and sounds of the last mission of a B-17 bomber known as the Memphis Belle, named after the girlfriend of the pilot. The men and plane were filmed during the bombing raid on the submarine pens in Wilhelmshafen, Germany, "just one mission of just one plane and one crew in one squadron in one group of one wing of one Air Force out of fifteen United States Army Air Forces." It used handheld 16mm and 35mm cameras inside the plane to give the perspective of the crew. Wyler in fact combined footage from several missions to represent this last 25th mission of the plane, a mission that was actually a milk run with no casualties and no difficult landing. He also used film shot by the 8th AAF Combat Camera Unit. Wyler wanted to film a flak burst but never was able to get one: "I could never get one explosion because how the hell do you know where one's going to explode? Once the cloud is there it's too late. All that flak so close to us, and I could never get the explosion." From October 1943 to March 1944, Wyler edited in the U.S. the 20,000 feet of film he shot in Europe, producing a 45-minute color film that was considered beautiful and dramatic. A narrator told the story of the 10 crewmen as examples of simple average American boys doing a tough job.


revised 11/21/02 by Schoenherr | Filmnotes