James Cagney once praised Doris Day, his Love Me or Leave Me co-star, by saying she was such a good natural actress that it was almost subliminal. I think the same applies to Irene Dunne. Look at her performance as the grief-stricken World War II pilot in Victor Fleming's A Guy Named Joe. In MGM's 1943 WWII fantasy romance, Spencer Tracy starred as an ill-fated, often grumpy bomber pilot who makes her heart take wing.
The WASPs -- Women Airforce Service Pilots -- took the wheel of military aircraft. They flew non-combat missions to free the men for combat mission duty.
"You realize that you and I have never been up in a plane together? Alone, I mean?" That's what Dorinda says to the big lug she loves, Pete.
In foggy Scotland, Dorinda manages to catch a ride and flies in to surprise Pete. While giving him a big hello hug, she sees an aircraft on the ground. Through the fog, it's a somewhat ghostly image. We see that the image upsets Dorinda. "Pete, is that your plane?" she asks. Dorinda puts on a happy face but she's had a premonition. She confides to Al that Pete can't fly the mission even though he wants to because "his number's up." For all the wisecracks and squabbles, Pete is the love of her life. Her vulnerability pours out when they spend a night together and she can't convince him to take an assignment back in the States. She worries about him so much it makes her sick inside. She hates "...being afraid when a telephone rings. Being afraid when it doesn't." She calls him out on his "hero hunger" and being "a lone wolf in a service where men fly together." When Pete realizes how worried Dorinda is, he decides to give in.
Several Irene Dunne movies were remade. Deborah Kerr starred in popular remakes of two Irene Dunne classics -- Love Affair and Anna and the King of Siam which became An Affair to Remember and the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, The King and I. Cimarron, Back Street, Roberta, Showboat, Magnificent Obsession and The Awful Truth were also redone. Marilyn Monroe was doing Dunne's role in a remake of My Favorite Wife when her untimely death halted production. The project was later repackaged and became 1963's Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner. Day playfully mentions Dunne in the movie. A Guy Named Joe was no exception. It's makeover was Steven Spielberg's Always with Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss as Dorinda and Pete in 1989. Forest fires replaced Nazis in the Spielberg version.
The patriotic A Guy Named Joe was written by Dalton Trumbo, later one of the Hollywood Ten and a victim of blacklisting. In that dark political period of the late 1940s/1950s, he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Go figure. What a shame. His A Guy Named Joe was one of the top ten box office hits of the year.
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