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Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air (1942)

Approved | | Drama, Romance, War | 20 November 1942 (USA)
A veteran American flyer trains new recruits, including the acrophobic son of his dead war buddy. Complications arise when the younger man falls in love with his mentor's girl.


William A. Wellman


Lamar Trotti (screenplay), Darryl F. Zanuck (original story) (as Melville Crossman)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Gene Tierney ... Kay Saunders
Preston Foster ... Steve Britt
John Sutton ... Peter Stackhouse
Jack Holt ... Colonel MacDonald
May Whitty ... Lady Jane Stackhouse (as Dame May Whitty)
George Barbier ... Col. Cyrus P. 'Gramps' Saunders
Richard Haydn ... George Lockwood
Reginald Denny ... Barrett
Ted North ... Cadet Hackzell
Janis Carter ... Blonde Red Cross Nurse Trainee
C. Montague Shaw ... Doctor
Viola Moore Viola Moore ... Nurse
Nana Bryant ... Mrs. Blake
Joyce Compton ... Saleswoman
Bess Flowers ... Nurse


Technicolor tale of honor and romance. This drama from 1942 was directed by Oscar-winner William A. Wellman, and features stunning aerial photography, that was highly advanced for the time. John Sutton stars as Peter Stackhouse, a British aviophobe who is nonetheless determined to become a pilot. Stackhouse's resolution comes from his desire to serve his country, and his strength is recognized by Steve Britt (Preston Foster), who becomes his patient teacher. The two men's bond is tested, however, when they both fall for the same girl (Gene Tierney). Written by R. Alberts

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


For two pilots, one woman became a conflict of interest.


Drama | Romance | War


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

20 November 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Tommy in the U.S.A. See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The movie is set and second unit filming takes place at Thunderbird Field, later renamed Thunderbird Field No. 1 after completion of a second field with the same name. It was located on Greenway Road and 59th Avenue in Glendale, Arizona and is today home for the Thunderbird Global School of Management.

The field was built by Del Webb in 1939 and was a business investment for several actors and producers including Jimmy Stewart. See more »


George Lockwood: Lockwood to Stackhouse: Don't worry about the parachute not opening. It has to: It's regulations.
See more »


People Like You and Me
Music by Harry Warren
Played by the band at the USO dance
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A solid little WWII propaganda film.
11 November 2009 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

Aside from Gene Tierney (who gets top billing), this film has no big-name stars. Preston Foster plays a nice guy who is an instructor at a military flight school in the Southwest. He's a great pilot and in love with Tierney. One of his students, John Sutton, is an odd case. He is in flight school even though he easily becomes air sick AND he's already a doctor. In real life, I strongly doubt that the military would have trained any doctor to be a pilot--as the really needed doctors and it would have been a shame to waste that training. However, this is a Hollywood film, so you'll need to suspend your sense of disbelief. As for Sutton's motivation, his father was a great WWI pilot who was friends with Foster and Sutton's brother (also a pilot) was just killed. So, to fulfill his family legacy he enters training school. Along the way, Sutton also falls for comely Tierney and this brings problems--Sutton adores Foster and doesn't want to hurt him--but Tierney is a hot tamale and has fallen for Sutton as well.

The main theme, aside from the romance with Tierney, is Sutton's fitness to be a pilot. Despite the family history, he somehow is NOT at home in the air and is a great risk to be washed out of the school. It's only with the help of Foster that he has any chance at all to make it.

This Technicolor film is highly reminiscent of a group of films about pilots in school during the war. Believe it or not, there were quite a few films like this, such as CAPTAINS OF THE AIR and I WANTED WINGS and all are grand entertainment due to excellent flying sequences and good acting. Despite Sutton and Foster no longer being household names, they also did a nice job in the film. While I really enjoyed the movie, I also realize that not everyone loves airplane films like I do. So, while I might like the films enough to give them an 8 or 9, I realize that for the average person out there, the films aren't quite as compelling. Still, it's a solid WWII propaganda film--an excellent movie to bolster the war effort and entertain at the same time. The only problems with the film, and they are minor, are that the plot is a tad formulaic and in a few scenes the plane did some turns and acrobatics no real plane at the time could have done. As I said, minor problems in an otherwise good film.

By the way, for some semi-insane dating advice listen to the guy playing Tierney's Uncle. The scene where he was giving advice to Foster made me smile.

Also by the way, while I said that Foster was mostly forgotten today, he and the Commander (Jack Holt) were pretty big stars back in the silent days. It's interesting here seeing them in roles suited to them in middle age, as they continued acting well past their days as top-billed stars.

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