Men of the Fighting Lady

Men of the Fighting Lady (also known as Panther Squadron) is a 1954 Korean War drama film starring Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon, Keenan Wynn, and directed by Andrew Marton. The screenplay was written by U.S. Navy Commander Harry A. Burns, who had written a Saturday Evening Post article, "The Case of the Blinded Pilot", an account of a U.S. Navy pilot in the Korean War, who saves a blinded Navy pilot by talking him down to a successful landing. Men of the Fighting Lady was also inspired by another Saturday Evening Post article, "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea" by James A. Michener. The original music score was composed by Miklós Rózsa.

Men of the Fighting Lady
Theatrical poster
Directed byAndrew Marton
Produced byHenry Berman
Written byHarry A. Burns
StarringVan Johnson
Walter Pidgeon
Keenan Wynn
Dewey Martin
Frank Lovejoy
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyGeorge J. Folsey
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • May 7, 1954 (1954-05-07)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,638,000[1]


On board the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany in the Sea of Japan during the Korean War, author James A. Michener (Louis Calhern) meets Commander and flight surgeon Kent Dowling (Walter Pidgeon). Dowling relates a "Christmas story" of a near-miracle.

Ensign Kenneth Schecter (Dewey Martin) is one of VF 192 squadron pilots flying Grumman F9F Panther fighter-bombers who are forced to go back to destroy an enemy railroad that is rebuilt after each attack. Their leader, Lieutenant Commander Paul Grayson (Frank Lovejoy), is even shot down during one mission and rescued from the sea. Veteran pilot Lieutenant Commander Ted Dodson (Keenan Wynn) criticizes Grayson for flying too low and risking his life. Ironically, it is Dodson who loses his life in another mission when his damaged aircraft explodes on landing.

For their 27th mission against the enemy target, the squadron flies out on Christmas Day, and Schecter is hit by enemy fire and blinded. Lieutenant Thayer (Van Johnson) guides Schecter by radio to a safe landing on the deck of the carrier. The squadron celebrates his safe return, but also mourns the loss of good men like Dodson.



Men of the Fighting Lady was filmed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany with principal photography taking place from October 16 to November 10, 1953 at, and near San Diego, California.[2] Stock footage of Korean War combat was also integrated into the live action sequences.[3] The scene where Keenan Wynn's character is killed in a fiery crash landing on the carrier is actual footage of a F9F Panther accident during one of its early test flights. On June 23, 1951, United States Navy test pilot George Duncan hit an air pocket just before landing on USS Midway. The air pocket dropped most the plane below the landing deck level, but he managed to keep the nose up above the deck at the time of impact, severing both wings and aft fuselage, and expelling the plane's cockpit and nose onto the carrier deck as a fireball erupted behind him. Except for burning his ears, Duncan survived the crash unharmed.[4]

The climactic "Christmas Story" rescue was based on a real life event that occurred during the Korean War. On March 22, 1952, Douglas A-1 Skyraider pilot Lieutenant John Howard Thayer, from VF-194 based on USS Valley Forge, came to the aid of fellow squadron pilot Ensign Kenneth Schechter, who had been blinded by anti-aircraft fire. Thayer guided his friend to a safe landing at K-18, a U.S. Marine airfield.[5]


Due to its release shortly after the end of the Korean War, the Men of the Fighting Lady was well received by the general public as well as by critics as a mainly factual account of aerial combat. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film a very favorable review: "'Men of the Fighting Lady,' which came yesterday to the Globe, bearing a title that echoes a dandy factual film of World War II, turns out to be an apt successor to that saga of the aircraft carriers, translating now a stirring story of carrier planes and men in the Korean war."[6]

According to MGM records, Men of the Fighting Lady made $1,502,000 in the U.S. and Canada and $1,136,000 in other countries. resulting in a profit of $729,000.[1]



  1. "The Eddie Mannix Ledger". Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study, Los Angeles.
  2. Nixon, Rob. "Articles: Men of the Fighting Lady". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  3. Evans 2000, p. 133.
  4. "The "Residue of Design - George Duncan's F9F Crash ..." Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  5. Weber, Bruce (December 23, 2013). "Kenneth A. Schechter, 83, Korean War pilot landed while blinded". Boston Globe.
  6. Crowther, Bosley. Movie Review: 'Men of the Fighting Lady' (1954); The screen in review; 'Men of the Fighting Lady' at the Globe." The New York Times, May 8, 1954.


  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
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