Some movies age gracefully, becoming classics of cinema. Others show the passing of time in dated attitudes and setting; a little dusty and creaky, they're sometimes still worth a viewing. Then there are the films that grow more and more rotten as the years go by, until they're unearthed and raise up a horrible stink. A Yank in the RAF is one of the latter: a simply dreadful movie whose only potential redeeming value is in demonstrating how times have changed in the sixty years since the film was made.
A Yank in the RAF is a World War II film, and since it was made in 1941, it's fairly evident from the start that it's going to be a feel-good propaganda piece. With the United States still officially neutral, World War II was still a European business to viewers on the west side of the Atlantic, and A Yank in the RAF reflects this light and relatively unconcerned attitude. The film introduces us to Tim Baker (Tyrone Power), a U.S. pilot whose daring and can-do attitude (along with a highly developed sense of greed) leads him to fly over to England.
England at this time was suffering from German air raids, but A Yank in the RAF would have us believe that really, it's like there's no war on at all! Those wacky Brits have plenty of goofy air-raid drills with volunteers wearing tags around their necks that say things like "broken arm," "head wound," and the like, but actual evidence of a war in progress, such as broken buildings, bombs falling, or anyone looking even stressed (much less injured or homeless) is nowhere to be seen. The main concern in the lives of the RAF soldiers is, in fact, how to get front-row seats at the nightly chorus girl song-and-dance number... where Carol (Betty Grable) is doing her best to cheer the troops by prancing around in almost nothing.
Introducing the character of Carol leads us into the really dreadful nature of A Yank in the RAF. Unrealistic wartime England and a lack of an interesting plot make for a dull or silly movie, not a terrible one. The kicker is that the way the characters behave is positively chilling.
You see, when hot-shot pilot Baker turns up in England, he runs into Carol, who is none other than his ex-girlfriend, who ditched him after he cheated on her. She wants nothing to do with him, and says so in the clearest and most unambiguous terms. But as we all know (right?) when a girl says "no" to a man, she really means "yes"... and if she keeps saying no, well then, a real man will just keep after her until she gives in, because after all, that's what she really wants, right? Ugh. In a series of scenes that could go straight into a "identifying sexual harassment" video, Baker hounds Carol, forcing his attentions on her as she tries to get away from him. In one particularly uncomfortable-to-watch scene, he bullies her into letting him accompany her home, and in the taxi, oozes up next to her and drapes his arm around her shoulder while she is trapped in the corner. But it gets worse... much worse. Baker insinuates himself into Carol's apartment, against her protests, and forcibly grabs her and starts kissing her. I was rooting for a sharp knee in the you-know-where, whereupon the agonized Baker could be booted out of her apartment (and her life), but instead Carol suddenly "sees the light," gives in, and declares her undying love for Baker which she had felt all along, you see. Ugh. I felt like washing out the inside of my brain after seeing this scene.
If Baker wasn't doing enough for the cause of sexual harassment, the plot (such as it is) introduces his British counterpart, Baker's commanding officer, who takes a liking to Carol... and starts stalking her. But it's all fun and games, and she should feel flattered that these men are taking an interest in her, right? By the end of the film, I was thanking my lucky stars that I live in the twenty-first century, in which Carol could have slapped a restraining order on both of her slime-ball would-be boyfriends and gone on to have a normal life.
Apart from the dreadful gender relations, there's not much to like in A Yank in the RAF anyway. If you are a die-hard World War II buff, you might be interested in the film for its historical value as a propaganda piece, and because it includes some bits of actual air combat footage. The skilful use of special-effect models to create some combat plane sequences is also of mild interest. But as for entertainment value, forget it.
A Yank in the RAF looks quite respectable, given its age. The film is presented in the 1.33:1 ("Academy") aspect ratio, which is the original theatrical aspect ratio for this 1941 film. The black and white picture is fairly clean in terms of noise; some print flaws and scratches do appear throughout the film but they don't distract from the image. Contrast is adequate, and most scenes are well-lit anyway, so the slight lack of detail in darker areas doesn't cause much of a problem.
The soundtrack, which is offered in stereo or mono, weighs in as about average for films of its era. The stereo track has a somewhat flat and muffled sound to it, which leads to the occasional bit of dialogue being lost. However, the overall track is quite clean, with no hissing or distortion apparent.
A Yank in the RAF offers subtitles in English, French, and Spanish to go along with the English soundtrack.
A Yank in the RAF includes a trailer for the film along with trailers for a number of other DVDs in the Fox War Classics line.
Skip this dreadful movie at all costs. There are better war movies out there by far.