Memphis Belle

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Memphis belle poster 2411.jpg

In the summer of 1943, a fierce air battle raged in the skies above Europe. Every day, hundreds of young airmen faced death as they flew bombing raids deep into enemy territory. Fewer and fewer were coming back.

Memphis Belle is a 1990 war movie based on the real-life story of the first bomber crew in the US 8th Air Force to complete a full tour of 25 missions over occupied Europe.

The movie follows the crew as they attend a squadron dance the night before their final mission, giving us the opportunity to meet them and some of the other crews (notably the rookies who will be flying next to them the next day), before dropping the news on them: they've all been expecting an easy target to ensure the crew will successfully complete the tour, but the target is actually Bremen, a heavily-defended aircraft factory wedged between a hospital and a school.

Watching their progress is Army Public Relations man Lt. Colonel Derringer, who plans to take the men on a publicity tour of the USA when they return. The officers have been told, but the pilot--strait-laced Dennis Dearborn (Matthew Modine) opts not to tell the men, to keep their minds on the job.

Of course, none of that will matter if the flak or the fighters get them first...

The Crew

  • Capt. Dennis Dearborn: Pilot (Matthew Modine)--Quiet, mild and obsessed with doing things by the book.
  • 1st Lt Luke Sinclair: Co-Pilot (Tate Donovan)--Loud, brash and devil-may-care.
  • Lt Phil Lowenthal: Navigator (D.B. Sweeney)--Morbidly convinced he's going to die.
  • Lt Val Kozlowski: Bombardier (Billy Zane)--Smooth-talker who claims he's been to medical school
  • Sgt Danny Daly: Radio Operator (Eric Stoltz)--Cheerful, red-headed Irish-American with a sensitive side. To be sure.
  • Sgt Virgil Hoogesteyer: Top Turret/Flight Engineer (Reed Diamond)--"The Virgin", obsessed with hamburgers.
  • Sgt "Rascal" Moore: Ball Turret (Sean Astin)--Obsessed with sex. Teases Virgil.
  • Sgt Eugene McVey: Left Waist Gun (Courtney Gains)--The religious one, from Cleveland.
  • Sgt Jack Bocci: Right Waist Gun (Neil Giuntoli)--Tough South Side type. Teases Eugene.
  • Sgt Clay Busby: Tail Gunner (Harry Connick, Jr)--Hick farmboy with a hell of a singing voice.
Tropes used in Memphis Belle include:
  • A Father to His Men: Dennis likes to think of himself as this. The others respect that he gives it his all, but they also mostly think he's a bit of a dork.
  • Airstrike Impossible: Bremen is known to be a murderously well-defended target.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Invoked by Luke, when trying to argue against Dennis' decision to circle around for another pass on Bremen.

Dennis Dearborn: Everybody, listen! I know you want to drop the bombs and get the hell out of here, but there are civilians down there. There's a school next door, and if we don't drop these bombs right in the pickle barrel, there's gonna be a lot of innocent people killed--
Luke Sinclair: What's the difference?! They're all Nazis!
Dennis Dearborn: Luke, shut up!

Virgil Hoogesteyer: Anyway, Danny, then I'm going to open a whole bunch of restaurants, exactly like the first one. So you can go to Detroit and get the exact same hamburger you got in Baltimore--
Danny Daly: Virge, nobody wants the same old food everywhere they go.
Virgil Hoogesteyer: Sure they do! It's comforting!

Craig Harriman: I have twenty-four crews up there. They are all special to me.

  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Luke wants to have a go at firing the guns, and succeeds in shooting down a German fighter--which crashes into the rookie crew's bomber. Like this.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: When one of the crew is injured, out-of-his-depth medic Val favors throwing him out of the plane with a parachute on, figuring that even if he's captured, the Germans will at least tend to his wounds and not just let him die. They decide to keep him on board.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Veterans complained of the Mother and Country scene listed in High Octane Nightmare Fuel tab--the death-rate on missions was so high that most developed a fatalistic attitude towards their death.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The movie is a fictionalization of a 1943 documentary about the Memphis Belle and her crew--in addition to using fictional names for the crew, the movie combines a number of events from throughout the B-17's career. The film's mission objective and location, for example, is based on the 20th (or 21st/22nd, depending on the source) mission that the bomber flew (the crew themselves flew four additional missions in other B-17s).
  • War Is Hell
  • World War Two