Product Review: Wings of a Warrior: The Jimmy Doolittle Story

Image: Shelter Island Entertainment.
© Shelter Island Entertainment

I had the chance to preview Wings of a Warrior: The Jimmy Doolittle Story, directed and narrated by former Hollywood stuntman Gardner Doolittle, who also happens to be General Doolittle’s 3rd cousin.

It’s been 71 years after the seemingly-impossible Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, and on November 9, 2013 the four remaining Doolittle Raiders celebrated their last reunion, partaking from the 1896 bottle of cognac they’ve been holding since 1959*. Starting today you can own your very own history of the great General James “Jimmy” Doolittle with this DVD from Shelter Island.

*There was a snafu with the original bottle of cognac; you can read about here.

This DVD will make a fun gift for your favorite aviator, military member, or air power history buff in your life.

However, you won’t be wanting this for the high production quality. Allow me to explain.

General Doolittle Like Never Before!

I want to make it clear that the history is told with so much enthusiasm, it’s a pleasure to hear the stories. Gardner Doolittle starts at the beginning with Jimmy Doolittle’s younger years in Nome, Alaska, his college years at University of California, and his summer work at the Comstock mines, in Virginia City, California. The story then progresses on through his years as a flight instructor during World War I (at a time when there were only 55 aircraft in existence in the United States!), patrolling the Mexican border in the interwar years, and his experimental flight work at Rockwell and McCook Fields.

The story continues on through Doolittle’s time at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned an Sc.D. in Aeronautics. Doolittle earned both his M.S. and Sc.D. in two years time! Wow! Doolittle is considered the father of instrument flight and performed the world’s first instrument flight in 1929. He spent 1930-1940 as a civilian, working in various capacities supporting the growth of aviation.

Not long after returning to the active duty military, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Doolittle was called upon to plan and lead the retaliatory attacks on the Japanese mainland. This resulted in the revered “Doolittle Raid” bombings of cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kobe in April 1942 that was deemed a success despite having lost each of the B-25s that launched from the USS Hornet. If you’ve seen the 1944 film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo or Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001), you might be familiar with this mission. For his leadership in combat, Doolittle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

It was really neat to see the film footage of the Medal of Honor ceremony, showing President Franklin D. Roosevelt pinning the medal on Doolittle.

After this part of the movie, I was pleased to see much more motion picture footage from World War II, including several minutes worth of footage about General Doolittle’s time as the Eighth Air Force commander during the D-Day invasion. There were great stories of General Doolittle’s frustration with the weather over western Europe, but I was disappointed that there was no mention of the incredible D-Day weather forecast, and the great faith leaders such as Doolittle put in the Airmen who predicted the very small window of clear weather for air support during the Normandy invasion.

The part of the film that touched me the most was towards the end, when they discussed the 80 silver goblets that were presented to the Doolittle Raid survivors in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Arizona. Each Raider’s name is engraved on one of the goblets. Along with a bottle of 1896 Hennessy cognac, the goblets had been brought to every Doolittle Raiders reunion. As each Raider died, the goblet is inverted. While the 1896 cognac was to remain unopened until there were two survivors. Unfortunately, the film just missed the final Raiders reunion over this past Veterans Day weekend, where three of the four remaining Raiders got together in Dayton, Ohio to open the 1896 cognac and have their final toast. If you get a chance to watch the video of the toast, I recommend it. It’s quite moving!

In terms of the storytelling, it’s fantastic!

Sound and Video Quality Could Be Better

Unfortunately, I was not at all impressed with the sound quality throughout the 84 minutes of run time. Gardner Doolittle’s voice during narration sounded anemic. I really wanted to get more out of his fantastic accounts of General Doolittle’s dozens of crashes and mishaps during his earlier years of flying.

For at least the first half of the film, before there was motion picture footage available in Doolittle’s life, viewers will experience a Ken Burns-style of viewing still photos. They will pan around and zoom in and out. Don’t expect the same quality as you might see in The Civil War or Baseball. Some of the images warp while they zoom in — rendering a young Jimmy Doolittle as a bit too short and fat at times, while some of the panning of images is jumpy and pixellated.

There is some anachronistic “stock footage” shoehorned into the film. One example is when there was mention of the War Department issuing an order forbidding “outside loops.” A picture was shown of what was supposed to be a written Air Force order, but instead it was of a modern-day Air Force Instruction supplement from Tinker Air Force Base. All you have to do is pause the video and read the “order” to realize it had nothing to do with banning “outside loops.” A second example was when discussing General Doolittle’s wife, Jo. Gardner is praising what a great Air Force wife she was, and at one point there was mention of all the moving their family had to do. A stock photograph of a stack of modern moving boxes was shown.

In addition, starting at about 45 minutes into the film, the transitions between chapters are one- to two-second long black screen pauses. This seemed rather poor quality as well.

There is a 10-minute interview with the director as a bonus feature. It offers some insight to Gardner Doolittle’s inspiration to do this documentary. There are also numerous stories about Gardner and Jimmy working together on the outline for the documentary. The stories add an additional personal touch that you won’t find on Wikipedia or Air Force magazine. Frankly, I think some of these stories should have been in the documentary itself. For instance, when Gardner was interviewing General Doolittle, the General made several references to “Georgie.” After several instances of this, Gardner asked, “Who’s Georgie?”

“Georgie Patton, of course!”

Of course!

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed the great stories of this Air Force hero, especially because there was so much more to General Doolittle than just his leading a bombing of Japan. However, I wish more care was taken during production. This had so much more potential.

Wings of a Warrior: The Jimmy Doolittle Story is available starting today at entertainment retailers such as Amazon for an MSRP of $14.98.

GeekMom received a copy of this DVD for review purposes.