Wing and a Prayer (1944)
This is a Navy film made in 1944, set in early 1942. That says a lot to start--it's realistic, but it's also meant for support the troops, support the families back home, and avoid giving the enemy any information that might hurt the U.S. This one is set in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier, so there are both conventional sailors as well as pilots. Much of the movie is about ordinary down time, which builds up the interpersonal stuff, and gives the range of types on the ship--up to a limit (no minorities, for example).
There were a lot of movies made during the war about the war, and most employed a star or two to give them an audience. Here we have Dana Andrews, already a stalwart at this early point in his career, and Don Ameche, who was the bigger name at the time. But what makes the movies distinctive beyond this is always some twist, some specific aspect of the war that gets highlighted. The main one here is the ship is on a special mission to head toward the fringes of Japanese controlled water and give the impression that the U.S. Navy is scared and incompetent.
This makes for a lot of tension after awhile because the men really want to fight, and they are told to turn away. It's an interesting angle (with not a lot of historical truth to it, apparently). But it shows in part how the Navy had highly sophisticated plans that the average Joe couldn't and didn't know about. And so everyone should just be confident, everyone including all the folks watching it on Main Street, far from being able to help or knowing the truth.
The other unique twist is that one of the pilots is an Academy Award Winning actor. It's clear from the first action scene that he's not really competent, but he's cute and popular, gets lots of mail, and he carries his Oscar statuette with him everyone (including on missions). A fun Hollywood twist...and of course, it isn't left alone. All of this, the ruse, the actor, the whole waiting game, is a set up for a spectacular finish.
Trivia notes: There is a 16mm movie shown to the troops during fun time, and it's called "Tin Pan Alley," a 1940 Betty Grable flick with lots of flesh. It's naturally a hit with the men. And it's streamable on Netflix. Naturally I had to watch it...so look for my review of that one, too. Not half bad, but
. one of the moments that is a surprise (and a deflection) is when a plane takes off and crashes, and during some of the shots of the rescue there are mistakenly other ships in the distance.
That last 20 minutes is great war film stuff, including a unique section where the action is told only through sound. It's a small but brilliant addition to a strong, somewhat straight forward film.