Comedy

Jane Wyman’s Love Letter to Aviation

Flight attendant school, circa 1951.
Flight attendant school, circa 1951.

A person can get a little jaded about air travel. You know – cramped legroom, unscheduled delays, highly contagious people.

There was a time when commercial airline travel was portrayed as exciting, even romantic. One example is the 1951 comedy, Three Guys Named Mike (1951).

Jane Wyman plays a delightful, almost-too-helpful woman who becomes a flight attendant with American Airlines. During the course of the film, she keeps meeting – and falling in love with – men named Mike. Soon she’s collected three Mikes and now has to figure out a flight plan.

But she also has A Job To Do. She flies across the country, serving meals to passengers, making children comfortable, and cleverly rebuffing advances from older (and obviously married) men.

While she’s single-handedly personalizing the airline industry, she charmingly juggles the Mikes³, and ends up receiving marriage proposals from each of them.

Wyman is adorable in this film, and it’s easy to see why the Mikes³ fall in love with her. Look at her in the gif below. It’s her first day on the job, and she’s desperately trying not to be overwhelmed:

Jane Wyman's first day on the job.
Jane Wyman’s first day on the job.

Growth in commercial air travel exploded after WWII, and the aviation industry in the United States quickly became the biggest in the world. Flight schools opened, airports were built, and thousands of new jobs were created, including positions for airplane mechanics and flight attendants.

Three Guys Named Mike captures this fevered time in aviation history, and characters describe flight in awestruck terms. One of the Mikes³, a pilot, talks about his life-long fascination with flight, and says a person is “not really alive unless you’re in the air.”

It is a fun film with lots of amusing lines – for the first two acts, that is. Sadly, the script veers away from beholding the Wonders Of Flight to sorting out the love quadrangle during the third.

In our opinion, shifting gears from a romantic comedy to a drama makes the film less interesting. We don’t want an analysis of everyone’s feelings, for pete sake! We want to be dazzled by air travel and Wyman’s ability to shuffle the Mikes³ around.

However, outside of the romantic sludge, this film is a sharp, funny love letter to aviation. The planes themselves are the real heroes of this picture, the way they’re filmed with such admiration.

Below is an example to show you what we mean:

3-guys-named-mike

Look at this gorgeous tracking shot. The camera itself seems to fly underneath the engines, towards the front of the plane, while keeping the two women in the centre of the frame. We ask you: Is this not a thing of beauty?

There are plenty of worshipful shots like this. Shiny new planes are filmed from outside and in, from underneath (while landing), from over top (while flying), and even from inside the cockpit, looking down through the clouds towards the ground.

Everything about flight appears glamorous, whether it’s air traffic controllers inside the control tower, or happy baggage handlers on the tarmac. There’s no shortage of merriment at the airport!

Now, Three Guys Named Mike is basically a propaganda piece for the airline industry in general – and American Airlines in particular. But watch it anyway. Even though this film is over 60 years old, it presents a fresh look at the remarkable achievement known as air travel.

Notes:
  • To learn more about the growth in commercial aviation after WWII, click HERE or HERE.
  • For a more detailed review of Three Guys Named Mike, click HERE.

Three Guys Named Mike: starring Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel. Directed by Charles Walters. Written by Sidney Sheldon. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951, B&W, 90 mins.

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15 thoughts on “Jane Wyman’s Love Letter to Aviation

  1. I’m incredibly pleased to see that my little recommendation was appreciated. And thank you so much for linking to my post!

    It’s great that you point out Charles Walters’s direction. He was never a big, showy director, but he did a lot of interesting things with the camera — maybe it was because he had been a choreographer so he knew how to choreograph the camera’s movements. Wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your recommendation was fabulous! This is such a great movie, one I never would have heard of if not for your review.

      As for Charles Walters, I’m not that familiar with his career, but I agree that his directing is gorgeous in this film. Who knows how many people he inspired to work for airlines with his lovingly-photographed airplanes?

      Like

  2. I loved watching Pan Am long back. My fascination with flights is so much that i know i have taken 53 flights so far (with count of domestic vs international).

    Seems i would love this fascinating tale. Jane looks so wonderful, no wonder the 3 Mike’s couldn’t resist 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 53 flights! You truly are an experienced traveller. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this film, especially when comparing today’s airline travel to the way it’s portrayed in this film.

      Is another trip on the horizon?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not at all familiar with this film worth, but I’d love to watch it. SO what if it’s propaganda? I’d love it for the look back at the industry. When I was a young boy, Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport began receiving jet aircraft. We’d pile into our car for the 45 minute drive to the airport for Sunday morning breakfast after Mass. With no need for security checks, he sat in one of the restaurants that bordered the runways.Funny how, over the years, passenger comfort level has decreased as technology advanced and reduced travel times. Heck! I’d put up with a slightly longer flight for 2 inches more leg room. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How exciting that would be as a kid, to watch the planes landing & taking off from such a vantage point.

      You must try to see this movie. It will get you excited about air travel all over again…although it can’t give you that extra 2″ of legroom.

      Like

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