A "must see" for jet air-to-air combat enthusiasts, 12 April 2004
Author: Truett Guthrie (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Hobart, Oklahoma
First, a bit of history: James Horowitz, West Point class of 1945, shot down a MiG-15 on July 4th, 1952, while flying an F-86E with the 335th FIS, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in Korea, and used a typewriter equally as effective as his Sabre. Under the pen name (and later changed his name to)James Salter, he published a novel, "The Hunters," about Sabre pilots fighting in Korea. 4th Wing 2nd Lt. James F. "Dad" Low became America`s 17th and most junior jet ace with his fifth MiG kill on June 15, 1952, just six months out of flight school.Unlike the older pilots, many of them WWII veterans, Low became proficient in the use of the new A-4 automatic ranging gunsights on the E and F models of the F-86 Sabre. The novel and movie`s "bad guy," Lt. Pell, is a defiant, risk taking junior fighter jock, played in the movie by Robert Wagner (I`m a killer man! I cut em up,you know!)Both Low and Salter acknowledge that the "Pell" character is, in fact, James F. Low. Korean War historians speculate that Robert Mitchum`s character, Major Cleveland Saville, is based on one or two of the four USAF Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War: either Maj. Louis J. Sebille, who died in his F-51 as commander of the 67th FBS, 18th FBW, or double ace Maj. George A. Davis, shot down in his F-86 as commander of the 334th FIS, 4th FIW. James Salter is pretty much of a recluse, but was interviewed by Tom Brokaw for NBC Nightly News three years ago. The movie`s 54th Fighter Group is apparently a contraction of the actual 4th and 51st F-86 Fighter Interceptor Wings from Korea. The F-86F30 Sabres in the movie were painted with the distinctive yellow band and checkered tail markings of the 51st FIW, but with yellow noses much like the Sabres of the 12th FBS of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing, and with post-Korean War anti-glare panels. A major technical flaw is an insertion shot of a crashing "Sabre dancing" F-100 Super Sabre in place of an F-86. American F-84F Thunderchiefs were painted up and used for the Russian-built MiG-15 in both "The Hunters" and "The McConnell Story." If you look closely, not all of the F-84Fs are painted like MiGs in "The Hunters." The movie`s top MiG pilot is "Casey Jones" (7-11, the Crapshooter,)shown to be Chinese. We now know that virtually all the top MiG pilots were Russian. There were many "Casey Joneses" flying for North Korea. When bandit trains (an actual phrase used in allied radio jargon and used in the movie script) took off from Antung Airfield in Manchuria, the real or mythical flight wing leaders were dubbed "Casey Jones." A 4th Wing F-86 Korean War veteran told me that Salter`s book was "too close to the way the 4th Wing really was in Korea," and that the Air Force wanted the script changed if they were to cooperate in the making of the movie. Even though a big budgeted movie, budget restrictions prevented producer-director Dick Powell (my mother grew up with him in Mountain View, Arkansas) from filming oversees, preferable in Japan. According to Robert J. Lentz`s excellent book, "Korean War Filmography," "The Hunters" combines Korean War aerial drama-in beautiful DeLuxe color and widescreen CinemaScope photography-with more turgid human drama on the ground involving sexual desire and fears of inadequacy. Only a few Korean War films actively depicted the sky battles in "MiG Alley" and "The Hunters" does so with better aesthetics and greater excitement than "Sabre Jet" or "The McConnell Story." Until the advent of "Top Gun" and its imitators, "The Hunters" remained the premier jet air-to-air combat film in terms of its aerial proficiency." I loved the book and the movie as a 12 year old kid in 1958, and have always remembered the tune to Paul Sawtell`s theme music march. For years I searched nationwide for a video of this movie, with no success. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine noticed "The Hunters" was on Cinemax at 2 AM and taped it for me. Hopefully, 20th Century Fox will release "The Hunters" on VCR or DVD, or, better yet, produce a new Korean War movie involving the legendary air battles between the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15!!