“Shady Lady” (2012): a brilliant low-key movie

This summer, I saw Shady Lady: Mission accomplished… running on empty at the Chichester Film Festival and thought it marvellous. I nabbed a DVD of the film on my way out, and some others from Fact Not Fiction Films, and settled on a stormy British winter afternoon to be transported to 1943 and the longest range bombing mission ever then attempted, from Darwin, to  Balikpapan, on the island of Borneo, 1300 miles away.

It’s a wonderful story. The B-24 Liberator of the 380 Bomb Group “Flying Circus”, aka, “The King of the Heavies”, flew and fought through thunderstorms, high winds, ack-ack, Japanese fighter attack and all, of course, against the clock, represented by ripped-up flight plans and low fuel.

Eventually, and against the odds, the crew has to crash land on a desolate salt-flat where they are brought succour in short order by a group of aboriginal men from a local Catholic mission.

A great story, for sure. And amazing that there is a Liberator in flying order, belonging to the Collings Foundation, and based in Florida, which could stand in for Shady Lady. I think that it is the modest production values which most help the suspense and credibility of the film’s story-telling. This sense of making-do – not least in the very telling but unglossy portrayals of the young men flying the plane, and the slightly older ones guiding the mission – takes us to the exigencies of war better than can be achieved by full-on professionalism.

So though I loved Liberty Belle (1983), and learned a lot from the BBC’s reliving of PQ17: An Arctic convoy disaster, and both in their different ways were very important accounts of war, I think they are somehow trumped, as theatrical experiences, by this low budget film which is so long on spirit and enterprise.

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Publication date

25 January 2014


On movies