Why do you have to wake me up every time I’m on a date with Ann Sheridan! – Johnny Hammond, as played by Ronald Reagan
Desperate Journey is not what you would call a great film, but for pure fun it is hard to beat. Plus it is nonstop action. In a short two hours we have plane crashes, arrests, escapes, sabotage, and more. With Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan leading the way (and both getting above the title credit) this is a lighthearted war film with some humor (usually at the expense of the Germans mind you) thrown in, this is definitely a case where the Keystone Cops meet Dirty Harry.
Flynn and his bomber team are shot down while on a mission and the desperate journey is their attempt to escape Germany and return to England. There is the usual and expected stereotypical portrayal of the Germans, who seem perpetually loud (they shout constantly in this one), officious, and, most importantly, easily duped. So don’t take this one too seriously. We also don’t get too much sermonizing from the cast here, although there are a few instances where the “we have to do what we must before we can do what we like to do” speech a few times but not to excess. Instead of the sermons, Flynn’s crew destroys most of northwestern Germany.
Many often highlight Flynn’s more “cartoonish” war films (such as this one) as representative of his work in this genre and ignore better and similar films like Objective, Burma! and Edge of Darkness which are much better as films, but perhaps less fun. I, for one would take Desperate Journey before the other two.
Between the plane crashes, sabotabe, fistfights, and general mayhem there is enough action in this one to make Indiana Jones sit down for a breather. Director Raoul Walsh keeps the pace fast and furious in this big budget romp which features many stock WB players (Alan Hale in his tenth of twelve pictures with Flynn and Raymond Massey as a maniacal German officer). Coupled with Flynn at perhaps the peak of his powers we also get Ronald Reagan, fresh off perhaps his best role in King’s Row- making his quote at the head of this writing regarding his co-star of that film, Ann Sheridan, all the more relevant. [See the separate review of Kings Row.]
We also get a strong if rather pedestrian score from Max Steiner which rises in all the right places. And, as Steiner had the habit of alternating magically original scores with those which relied heavily on traditional songs and themes, it is perfectly acceptable.
If you are looking for deep meaning or symbolism, please don’t look here as this is pure unadulterated fun- and unrealistic fun at that. Although not perhaps one of Flynn’s best films this remains a guilty pleasure and a personal favorite.
And finally Desperate Journey is out on DVD as part of the new TCM Spotlight Errol Flynn Adventure Set, which also includes Objective, Burma!, Edge of Darkness, Northern Pursuit, and Uncertain Glory. Highly recommended.
[See the separate review of Northern Pursuit.]
Just watch out for the thermotrockel.