Offering a romanticized view of heroism drawn from the Hollywood war epic, Memphis Belle is unashamedly commercial. Its moral fabric is thinner than that of other David Puttnam productions.
Pic’s subject is the 25th and final mission of the Memphis Belle, the most celebrated of the US Air Force B-17 bombers. The plane flew 24 perfect missions, and its 25th became part of a massive p.r. drive to boost war-bond sales and morale.
The plane and its team are sent to Germany to drop one last load, setting the scene for suspense, tension, terror and a fitting celebration when all return safe and (almost) sound.
Large chunk of the film is set on the ground, providing adequate exposition of events and character to involve the audience in the mission. Played up is the fact that these 10 guys are barely out of their teens and don’t see themselves as heroes.
Original footage from the 1944 documentary Memphis Belle by William Wyler, father of coproducer Catherine Wyler, is used for the guaranteed tearjerking scene, with letters from parents of dead soldiers read over it by the commanding officer, thoughtfully played by David Strathairn.