McQueen's a Fighter not a Lover
Watching "The War Lover" now it made me think of the much more recent war movie "Memphis Belle" as they both focus on a team of service men flying dangerous missions over enemy territory whilst racking up missions edging ever closer to their 25th and ticket home. But there is more to "The War Lover" than just the danger that these men face as there is also the story revolving around hot shot pilot Buzz Rickson who despite being an arrogant and dangerous flyer is also an expert, but his arrogance affects those around him when he's not flying. And just for good measure there is a romantic storyline as well which merges with Rickson's arrogance. But whilst all these elements combine to make an entertaining movie with some nice in flight footage and drama it's not exactly memorable despite starring Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner.
The year is 1943 and ace pilot Buzz Rickson (Steve McQueen - The Magnificent Seven) loves the thrill of the fight, enjoying taking those extra risks when flying over enemy territory and gets pleasure from not only watching the bombs drop on enemy targets but returning after such dangerous missions. He is a law unto himself flouting orders and intentionally trying to annoy his superiors because he knows he is good and so do his men who trust him even when he leads them into danger. But his ego and arrogance is not confined to the skies leading to temperatures rising when he decides to go after friend Ed Bolland's (Robert Wagner - The True Story of Jesse James) girl Daphne (Shirley Anne Field).
So as already pointed out "The War Lover" is basically 3 storylines which interweave with each other to create this wartime drama. We have the romance as Lt. Ed. Bolland falls for English woman Daphne and we also have the dangerous bombing missions over Europe. But at the centre of all these is ace pilot Buzz Rickson who knows he is good and so is a law unto himself not only in the air but also on the ground as he decides to make a move on Ed's girl leading to raised tension between the one time friends and co-pilots.
The thing is that whilst individually these elements work, you do get to appreciate the fear the servicemen felt whilst also the dangers of flying over enemy land. And you do sense the tension rising between Buzz and Ed even before he makes a play for Daphne none of it ends up having a huge impact. We get a bit of romance, a bit of flying, a bit of Buzz being a law unto himself but none of it, not even the big finale as they try and limp back on their heavily damage plane, leaves you with anything truly memorable. That's not saying that "The War Lover" isn't entertaining because it certainly is but it is the sort of movie which if you saw listed on the TV schedule you wouldn't instantly remember having seen it.
And to be honest it is a shame because Steve McQueen's performance as the arrogant Capt. Buzz Rickson is exceptionally good. His issue with authority and his out of control ego continues to build throughout the movie with him doing what ever he pleases to who ever he pleases till he borders on being almost a maniac. But whilst some of what he does is plainly nasty such as going after Ed's girl Daphne we also get to see that he is a conflicted character who whilst flying has it all but down on the ground he doesn't have anything, his life is flying and without it he is a nobody. As such it makes us strangely feel for him despite also despising him for his callous attitude and McQueen is the one who gets that across gets us disliking him whilst also feeling for him.
McQueen's performance is not the only good one and Robert Wagner is more than solid as his friend and co pilot 1st Lt. Ed Bolland whose loyalty is stretched to the maximum as Buzz blatantly antagonizes him and those around them. You do get a sense that Wagner was cast more on looks than pure acting ability, especially as he has the main romantic storyline but he is convincing especially when he knows that Buzz is making a play for Daphne. Sadly Michael Crawford as Sgt. Junior Sailen is less convincing and his accent ends up being painfully wrong despite playing the young service man who is likeable because of his innocence.
What this all boils down to is that "The War Lover" is an entertaining movie and not only features a surprisingly good performance from Steve McQueen but also one which is almost as good from Robert Wagner. But sadly whilst entertaining it is not the most memorable of movies and is the sort of movie you would watch once but feel no urge to revisit.