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Wing and a Prayer

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Subject: Henry Hathaway, Ten Gentlemen from West Point, Diplomatic Courier, Shoot Out, China Girl (1942 film)
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Wing and a Prayer

Wing and a Prayer
1944 theatrical poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Walter Morosco
William Bacher
Written by Jerome Cady
Starring Don Ameche
Dana Andrews
William Eythe
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Glen MacWilliams
Edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • July 24, 1944 (1944-07-24)
Running time
92 min
Country United States
Language English

Wing and a Prayer (also known as The Story of Carrier X) is a black-and-white 1944 war film about the heroic crew of an American carrier in the desperate early days of World War II in the Pacific theater, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Dana Andrews and Don Ameche.[1][2] Although arguably a classic propaganda movie, it was appreciated for its very realistic portrayal and was nominated for the 1944 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.


In the days just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American people are asking "Where is our navy? Why doesn't it fight?" Gravely weakened by the disaster, the Navy comes up with a plan to trap the Japanese fleet, by using one carrier as several ships to deceive the Japanese Navy into heading for Midway, where a showdown with them will be planned. Meanwhile, on the carrier charged with the mission, flight commander Bingo Harper (Don Ameche) is in charge of the bomber crews on one of the aircraft carriers that shouldered the burden in the desperate early days of the war. He is tough and sticks to the rules, while his young pilots behave more like youngsters and do not always follow his logic.

A new squadron led by Lieutenant Commander Edward Moulton (Navy Cross for actions at Coral Sea, Ensign Cunningham fails to follow the correct takeoff procedure and ditches his plane into the sea, Harper forbids him to fly again. Later, Cunningham saves the ship in a suicide attack on a torpedo from a Japanese plane.

In the meantime, a message is received from Navy headquarters. The carrier is ordered to travel deep into enemy territory, near the Solomon Islands, and make its presence known in order to deceive the Japanese about American fleet dispositions and intentions. However, they are under strict orders not to fight. When Moulton's bombers encounter some Japanese planes, they follow orders and retreat, but two planes are lost. Not knowing the plan, the pilots are furious. This is repeated several times in other widely-separated locations, driving the aviators to the brink of rebellion. However, the carrier accomplishes its mission: the Japanese believe that the sightings are of different American carriers, not just one.

Finally, the long-prepared trap is sprung. Deceived into believing that the American carriers are scattered across the Pacific, the Japanese are taken by surprise when the American fleet attacks their carriers. Many pilots are lost, but the Americans win a great victory. However, the last bomber, flown by Scott and very low on fuel, has trouble finding the carrier hidden by low clouds. Moulton begs Harper to turn on the searchlights to guide him in, but Harper refuses to risk betraying the carrier's location to any Japanese submarines that may be lurking nearby. Eventually, Scott's plane is heard crashing into the water when it runs out of fuel. Moulton and Harper quarrel, but in few minutes, it is reported that Scott has been picked up by a destroyer. Harper explains that he cares for all his pilots, but he is willing to sacrifice a few for the success of the mission.

Historical accuracy

The film loosely portrays actual historic events related mainly with the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. The scenario is, however, intentionally changed to justify the initial defensive rather than offensive posture of a US Navy reeling from the early Japanese victories in 1942. The Battle of the Coral Sea is justified as a calculated plot to deceive the Japanese into believing that the U.S. fleet was scattered and vulnerable, while the Battle of Midway is depicted as the eventual springing of this carefully laid trap which thereby caught the enemy at a disadvantage. In actuality, the losses at Pearl Harbor and the numerical superiority of the Japanese had the Americans operating constantly on the defensive in the early period of the Pacific war. It was mainly superior military intelligence, specifically the breaking of the Japanese code, that made possible the crushing American victory at Midway.

The aircraft used in the film were mainly Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bombers. These were contemporary with US Navy carrier aircraft designs during 1943 and 1944 rather than 1942 when the film is set. In a few scenes, Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters and Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers appear which would have been accurate for 1942. Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters play the part of Japanese 'Zero' fighters in the film. A Curtiss-Wright CW-22 also makes a very brief appearance as a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft. The carrier is the USS Yorktown, a typical Essex class, with filming by 20th Century Fox permitted by the Navy during her shakedown cruise in 1943.[3] The action on the carrier deck is convincing as well as the character of the pilots. Real footage is mixed with action shot on the carrier.

The movie title Wing and a Prayer was borrowed from a number one hit song in 1943, "Coming In On a Wing and a Prayer".[4]

In a bit of studio self-promotion, the carrier crew watches another 20th Century Fox picture, Tin Pan Alley, during this movie.



  1. ^ Variety film review; July 19, 1944, page 13.
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; July 22, 1944, page 118.
  3. ^
  4. ^ accessed October 13, 2010

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