With the war in the Pacific raging, the time has come to tell the story of one of the pioneers of aviation who did her bit for her country. She was Tonie Carter (Rosalind Russell) and back in 1932 was qualifying for her pilot's licence when on her first flight solo she bumped into another plane trying to land. This minor collision was not her fault, it was the fault of a far more experienced flyer, Randy Britton (Fred MacMurray) and he stepped in to prevent Tonie from being grounded for sixty days, though when he realised she was a woman he almost had second thoughts. Yet their destinies were inextricably linked...
Amelia Earhart was one of the most captivating celebrities of the years between the wars of the early twentieth century, and the manner of her mysterious disappearance was the source of much debate both then, and stretching into the future. There were a few theories, some more believable than others, about why she should have vanished over the Pacific with her navigator in a would-be record breaking trip, but the popular one around the period of the Second World War was that she had been killed by the Japanese, either shot down or captured and executed because she was spying for the American government.
Therefore when this film came to fictionalise Earhart's story with Flight for Freedom (with her widower's permission), as the title indicated the much needed patriotism of the era was well to the fore in the telling, building up the aviatrix as a war heroine because the nation needed such figures to swell the pride and inspire the actions of the public. Watching it now at points this was so heavily emphasised as to become mildly laughable, but crucially it was not the whole story, and by not sticking to the biopic conventions in that they had based Tonie on Amelia but were happy to alter various aspects of her life and career for dramatic effect they concocted an intriguing yarn which spoke to the way women were being emancipated to an extent because of the war.
As you could tell from the introduction to Tonie, she and Randy are set to be a romantic couple, but the lifestyle they lead means they will not be content, not because it is dangerous, but because they simply don't have the time to spend with each other, so grab a few days down the years here and there to rekindle the affair that by all rights should have offered them the love of their lives. It's an unusual structure and one which supplied a plot more interesting than a simple tug of war between career and home that a more conventional movie might have settled on. Complicating matters further is Tonie's mentor Paul Turner (Herbert Marshall) who designs her aircraft and has designs on her as well.
Paul is a nice guy, but you can tell he just doesn't have the excitement his rival Randy does for Tonie. As her renown grows, we see her compete in her first air race where she makes the mistake of flying too high (ah - symbolism!) and nearly crashes when she passes out, which in a less enlightened film would have indicated to us ladies just were not cut out for this pilot lark, yet here spurs Tonie on to complete a record breaking journey to prove she is as good as she believes she is. Not that she's arrogant, as played by Russell she's down to earth and decent, the sort of person you'd like to think Earhart was, one of the actress's best devised performances when she could so easily lapse into caricature if not held in check, but there was none of that in Flight to Freedom. If this is hampered by the painting of the Japanese as cartoonish villains and the fact you knew how it would end, the romantic angle provided a strong contrast to the novel setting both in the skies and on the ground; underrated. Music by Roy Webb.