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:
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:
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.
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.