If Air Cadet appears to be a thinly veiled US Air Force recruitment propaganda film rather than a simple military drama, it should probably come as no surprise. Made in 1951 during the second year of the Korean War, Air Cadet is a tale of training daring-do with all the excitement of flying the new fangled jet planes thrown into the attractive mix. Add to that mixture the active involvement of the US Air Force in production and it’s very easy to see this as propaganda masquerading as drama.
Indeed we are told, in an opening title, that everyone but the principal leads in the film are the real military staff serving on the real Air Force base which served as the location for filming. The Air Force involvement in filming is at the very core of the movie. And it makes it as enticing as possible, even pointing out how more polite the commanding officers are in the Air Force rather than the Army.
Directed by Joseph Pevney, who later went on to helm the original TV series of Star Trek, the film is a simple buddy movie about romantic and professional rivalry. We follow four cadets through initial training through to flight training and on to the final tests for fighter pilot. Will they make it through? Will personal antipathy between tutor and student be overcome? Let’s face it, it’s fairly likely. All in all it’s a serviceable business – the friendship as well as professional and romantic rivalry is just about enough to drive the plot. Our cadet heroes are all different enough to represent the possible recruits who might be sat out in the audience, and by the end everyone manages to put their personal animosities behind them to get out into the blue yonder. The stars are Stephen McNally and James Best – Rock Hudson also makes an appearance.
This is the first time Air Cadet has been released on DVD in the UK and it is out now. It’s main fascination will be for people who enjoy the social history of wartime propaganda – and perhaps the occasional completist Star Trek fan.