Jet Pilot (1957)

Jet Pilot (1957)

“General Black, I’m a jet man — not a gigolo!”

An Air Force colonel (John Wayne) falls in love with a beautiful Soviet pilot (Janet Leigh) who claims she wants to defect, but is actually a spy.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Cold War
  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Hans Conried Films
  • Janet Leigh Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Josef von Sternberg Films
  • Spies
  • Strong Females

The origin story of this lackluster Cold War romantic “comedy” — Josef von Sternberg’s final directorial outing — is that Howard Hughes wanted to make a jet-age update to his 1930 film Hell’s Angels, but was so obsessed with getting every detail right that it took seven years from initial filming to release, at which point the jets featured in the film were already outdated.

It’s a fairly ridiculous male fantasy featuring a busty female lead who is Russian but speaks English without any accent at all, and is sexy in all the “right” ways — including loving juicy steaks, beautiful lingerie, and fast planes.

Bosley Crowther was merciless in his review for The New York Times, referring to it as a “dud” that’s “silly and sorry,” and noting that “if it lacks for dramatic vitality, which it most certainly does, you can blame that on a weak script, poor direction and indifferent performances by all.” The one redeeming quality is beautiful cinematography by Winston Hoch, with Leigh looking simply dreamy in all shots.

Peary likely includes this title in his book for its one-time historical notoriety, but it no longer holds that status, and certainly isn’t must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography (primarily of Janet Leigh)

Must See?
No; you can definitely skip this one.


2 thoughts on “Jet Pilot (1957)

  1. First viewing (5/29/21). Skip it.

    Tepid, bordering-on-boring variation on ‘Ninotchka’, even though not overtly so. It’s a Cold War-intrigue romance without anything resembling the humor of the Wilder film. For a von Sternberg movie (though a number of others contributed direction, including Hughes), it’s rather lacking in energy outside of the aerial photography.

    The film (not surprisingly) wasn’t received well on release but, years later, it was reassessed by Andrew Sarris as having “humor and sensuality” (!), and that the “highly entertaining” (!) work “soars in an ecstatic flight of speed, grace and color”. Cripes!. what movie was *he* watching?!!

    Wayne sort of walks through the whole thing as though only mildly interested but Leigh (even without the slightest hint of a Russian accent or much by way of foreign demeanor) acquits herself rather nicely throughout. (She exhibits a certain haughtiness early on which would show up a few years later in her early scenes in ‘Psycho’). In the last 15 minutes, Hans Conried arrives – making an impression in a thankless role that affords the finale some welcome complication, though it can’t do enough to pull up the film’s momentum at that point.

    The script, by the way, is by Jules Furthman – who had worked with von Sternberg and Hughes as well as Howard Hawks before , so the female lead being a male fantasy is not all that surprising. What *is* surprising is that his script is so awful – though his writing career was just about to reach its end.

  2. ⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Deeply silly slab of slickness (as you say Sylvia it looks great); enjoyable as a guilty pleasure and the flying scenes are cool. Top Gun (1986) for the ’50s and probably about as good certainly on an equal footing dramatically with characters of pure cardboard. That said I think I’d rather watch Wayne and Leigh anytime over Cruise and co.

    Guilty pleasure territory and I agree, not must see in any way shape or form. But probably a fun view on a Friday night with beer, pizzas and friends to have a personal MST3K style riff.

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