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A Guy Named Joe

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A Guy Named Joe
A Guy Named Joe (1943) online.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVictor Fleming
John E. Burch (assistant)
Screenplay byDalton Trumbo (screenplay)
Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (adaptation)
Story byChandler Sprague
David Boehm (story)
Produced byEverett Riskin
StarringSpencer Tracy
Irene Dunne
CinematographyGeorge J. Folsey
Karl Freund
Edited byFrank Sullivan
Music byHerbert Stothart
Alberto Colombo
Distributed byLoew's Inc[1]
Release dates
  • December 23, 1943 (1943-12-23) (New York City)
  • March 10, 1944 (1944-03-10) (United States)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,363,000[3]

A Guy Named Joe is a 1943 American romantic fantasy drama film directed by Victor Fleming. The film was produced by Everett Riskin, and starred Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson. The screenplay, written by Dalton Trumbo and Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, was adapted from a story by Chandler Sprague and David Boehm, for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story.[4]

The film is notable for being Van Johnson's first major role. It also features the popular song "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)" by Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk, performed in the film by Irene Dunne.

Steven Spielberg's 1989 film Always is a remake of A Guy Named Joe,[5] and stars Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman. Always updates the story for a 1989 setting, exchanging the World War II backdrop to one of aerial firefighting.[6]


Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy) is the reckless pilot of a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber flying out of England during World War II.[Note 1] He is in love with Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Dorinda Durston (Irene Dunne), an American civilian pilot ferrying aircraft all over the United Kingdom.[7] Pete's commanding officer, "Nails" Kilpatrick (James Gleason), first transfers Pete and his crew to a base in Scotland, then offers him a transfer back to the United States to be a flight instructor. Dorinda begs him to accept; Pete agrees, but goes out on one last mission with his best friend Al Yackey (Ward Bond) to check out a German aircraft carrier.[Note 2] Wounded after an attack by an enemy fighter, Pete has his crew bail out before going on to bomb the carrier and then crashing into the sea.

Pete then finds himself walking in clouds, where he first recognizes an old friend, Dick Rumney (Barry Nelson). Pete suddenly becomes uneasy, remembering that Dick went down with his aircraft in a fiery crash. Pete tells Dick, "Either I'm dead or I'm crazy." Dick answers, "You're not crazy." Dick ushers Pete to a meeting with "The General" (Lionel Barrymore), who gives him an assignment. He is to be sent back to Earth, where a year has elapsed, to pass on his experience and knowledge to Ted Randall (Van Johnson) at flight school, then in the South Pacific, where Ted is a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilot. Ted's commanding officer turns out to be Al Yackey.

The situation becomes complicated when Ted meets the still-grieving Dorinda, now a ferry pilot with the Womens Airforce Service Pilots in New Guinea.[Note 3] Al encourages Dorinda to give the young pilot a chance. The pair gradually fall in love; Ted proposes to her and she accepts, much to Pete's jealous dismay.

When Dorinda finds out from Al that Ted has been given an extremely dangerous assignment to destroy the largest Japanese ammunition dump in the Pacific, she steals his aircraft. Pete guides her in completing the mission and returning to the base to Ted's embrace. Pete accepts what must be and walks away, his job done.



A Guy Named Joe introduced Van Johnson in his first major role. When the filming was partially completed in 1943, Johnson was in a serious automobile accident. The crash lacerated his forehead and damaged his skull so severely doctors inserted a plate in his head. MGM wanted to replace Johnson, but Tracy convinced the studio to suspend filming until Johnson could return to work, which he did after four months of recovery. He then went on to become a major star. Because the movie was filmed before and after the accident, Johnson can be seen without and with the forehead scars he bore from then on.[9]

During Johnson's period of recovery, Spencer Tracy recorded broadcasts for Armed Forces Radio and visited hospitals along the California coast, shaking hands, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and occasionally appearing at the Hollywood Canteen, where he would sing "Pistol Packin' Mama" to the soldiers. Irene Dunne was required to begin work on another already scheduled MGM picture called The White Cliffs of Dover, resulting in her having to perform in both pictures simultaneously after Johnson returned. She later described the difficulties this entailed: "I’ve always lived the characters I played, and to be these two entirely different women at the same time was unbearable.”[10]

One of the other reasons Johnson was allowed to stay was because a deal was made that Tracy and director Victor Fleming had to stop making Dunne's life miserable on set. Although she had been excited to work with Tracy, the actor took an instant dislike to her and endlessly teased her, sometimes driving her to tears. The deal was made, and Dunne and Tracy took the extra time caused by Johnson's recovery to re-shoot some of the scenes where their hostility was noticeable.[9]

Budget restrictions precluded location shooting, and all the flying scenes were staged at the MGM Studios. For an air of authenticity, footage shot at various United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) bases throughout the United States was incorporated via an exterior backdrop process.[11] Authentic aircraft were used, although they remained firmly on the ground. The pivotal scene with Irene Dunne flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning was recreated at Drew Field, Florida, utilizing a surplus P-38E which had been acquired from the USAAF, where it had been used as an instructional aircraft. Electric motors drove the propellers and allowed for an authentic run-up sequence.[9] The miniature work was the product of the same MGM special effects team of A. Arnold Gillespie, Donald Jahrus and Warren Newcombe that would later be responsible for Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944).[12]

During the scene where Tracy's character dies, he was shown making a suicidal divebomb run on a German aircraft carrier, despite the fact that Germany never had an operational aircraft carrier in service before or during World War II.[12]

After completion of the picture, the Production Code Administration (PCA) objected to its ending, which originally depicted Irene Dunne’s character crashing after bombing an enemy ammunition dump, thereby reuniting her with Tracy’s Pete Sandidge at the fade-out. The PCA held that this represented a wilful act of suicide, which, under the Code, could never be “justified, or glorified, or used specifically to defeat the ends of justice.” Dunne was flown in from Mexico City to film a revised ending.[10]

Aircraft used in the film


A Guy Named Joe premiered at the Capitol Theater in New York on December 23, 1943 to generally positive reviews.[9] Life Magazine summed up the critical reaction: "MGM's A Guy Named Joe manages to remain strong and exciting despite such weaknesses as verbosity and a climax that is pure Perils of Pauline."[9][13] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times considered it "a tricky excursion into metaphysical realms." that almost comes off.[14]

The film was eventually released nationally in the United States on March 10, 1944 and became one of the top-grossing movies of that year.[2]

The team of David Boehm and Chandler Sprague were nominated for the Best Story Academy Award in 1944, which was eventually received by Leo McCarey for Going My Way at the 17th Academy Awards.[9][4]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Box office

According to MGM records, the film earned $3,970,000 in the US and Canada, and $1,393,000 overseas, resulting in a profit of $1,066,000.[3]

See also



  1. ^ No USAAF B-25 units were ever assigned to the United Kingdom during World War II.
  2. ^ The only German aircraft carrier was the Graf Zeppelin; keel laid December 26, 1936, launched in 1938, but not completed and never put into service.[8]
  3. ^ No WASPs flew outside the continental United States during World War II.


  1. ^ A Guy Named Joe at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b James Curtis, Spencer Tracy Random House, 2011
  3. ^ a b c "The Eddie Mannix Ledger." Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study (Los Angeles).
  4. ^ a b "The 17th Academy Awards | 1945". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  5. ^ "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. " 'Always' review" Chicago Sun Times, December 22, 1989.
  7. ^ "The Air Transport Auxiliary".
  8. ^ Breyer 1989, p. 14.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Orriss 1984, p. 80.
  10. ^ a b Curtis, James (2011). Spencer Tracy: A Biography. NY: Knopf. pp. 476–501. ISBN 978-0307262899.
  11. ^ a b Orriss 1984, p. 79.
  12. ^ a b Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 50.
  13. ^ LIFE - Movie of the Week: A Guy Named Joe. Time Inc. January 17, 1944. pp. 39–45.
  14. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "A Guy Named Joe." The New York Times, January 9, 1944.
  15. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  16. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.


  • Breyer, Siegfried. The German Aircraft Carrier Graf Zeppelin. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1989. ISBN 978-0-9564790-0-6.
  • Dolan Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies." The Making of the Great Aviation Films. General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorn, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
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A Guy Named Joe
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