The War Lover

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The War Lover
The War Lover original cinema poster.jpg
American cinema poster
Directed by Philip Leacock
Screenplay by Howard Koch
Based onThe War Lover
1959 novel
by John Hersey
Produced by Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Starring Steve McQueen
Robert Wagner
Shirley Anne Field
CinematographyRobert Huke
Edited byGordon Hales
Music by Richard Addinsell
Color process Black and white
Columbia British Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • September 1962 (1962-09)(UK [1] [2] )
  • October 25, 1962 (1962-10-25)(US)
  • November 7, 1962 (1962-11-07)(Chicago)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The War Lover is a 1962 British war film directed by Philip Leacock and written by Howard Koch loosely based on the 1959 novel by John Hersey, altering the names of characters and events but retaining its basic framework. It stars Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner and Shirley Anne Field.


The war itself is not the most important element of the film. Instead it focuses on the character of Captain Buzz Rickson played by McQueen and his determination to serve himself and get what he wants – in the process antagonising everyone.


In 1943, Captain Buzz Rickson (Steve McQueen) is an arrogant pilot in command of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress while stationed in Britain during the Second World War. On one mission over Germany, Rickson's commanding officer, Colonel Emmet (Jerry Stovin), aborts the bomber group's attack due to cloud cover. Instead of obeying his superior, Rickson dives under the clouds and completes the mission. He believes Emmet will tolerate his insubordination because he is the group's best pilot. Even though the group's flight surgeon is uncertain whether Rickson is hero or psychopath, Rickson's crew, especially his co-pilot, First Lieutenant Ed Bolland (Robert Wagner), value and trust his intuitive flying skills.

Between missions, Rickson and Bolland meet a young Englishwoman, Daphne Caldwell (Shirley Anne Field). Although she is attracted to both pilots, she chooses Bolland. They soon fall in love. Even so, she suspects he will leave her behind and return to America at the end of his tour of duty. Meanwhile, Bolland becomes increasingly disillusioned with Rickson after the latter pressures his likeable navigator, Second Lieutenant Marty Lynch (Gary Cockrell), into transferring to another crew after he questions Rickson's behaviour. Lynch even tells Bolland, "Give Rickson a bomber and a machine gun, and he could be on either side." Soon after the transfer is implemented, however, Lynch is killed in action. Bolland takes it hard and blames Rickson. Then later, while on liberty in London, Rickson makes a move on Daphne, visiting her in her flat after Bolland has returned to the base. Daphne rejects his forceful advances, telling him she loves Bolland. [Note 1]

The next morning, on a long-range bombing mission over Germany, Colonel Emmet's B-17 is shot down, leaving Rickson in command of the entire group. Rickson's B-17 drops its bombs on target, but there's a cost. The plane is badly shot up by Messerschmitts, killing one of the crew. Further, its bomb bay doors are stuck open with one armed bomb still on its rack. As the plane nears the English coastline, an air-sea rescue team is contacted and the rest of the crew bails out -- with the exception of Rickson, who is determined to single-handedly return the bomber back to base. Instead, he crashes into the white cliffs on the Kent coast. Afterwards, Bolland reports Rickson's death to Daphne in Cambridge. She concludes: "It's what he always wanted." The pair of lovers walk away together.



The War Lover was filmed in Britain at RAF Bovingdon in Hertfordshire, RAF Manston in Kent, around Cambridgeshire (including in the grounds of King's College, Cambridge), and at Shepperton Studios in Surrey. [6]

Shirley Ann Field says she turned down the lead in A Kind of Loving to make the movie. "I chose the option to go to Hollywood, who wouldn't?... Although I have to say I don't think director Philip Leacock was strong enough... I just think it could have been better." [7] Field's casting was announced in July 1961. [8]

Three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers formed the main aerial component in the film and were composed of one B-17G and two postwar PB-1W Coast Guard rescue aircraft located in the United States. After extensive modifications, the three warbirds flew the arduous transatlantic crossing to Britain. [9] Martin Caidin, who would later write the novels on which the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man and the film Marooned were based, was one of the pilots who flew the B-17s for the film. Caidin chronicled the adventures of the crossing in the book Everything But The Flak.

The War Lover was shot in 1961 and released in the United States on 25 October 1962. [10] The film opened in London in June 1963. [11] Some short but rare footage of actual air combat is included – especially the attacking Messerschmitt Bf 109G armed with 20 mm cannon firing at the B-17s. The film also makes use of the crash landing footage from the 1949 film Twelve O'Clock High .

Mike Reilly, a stuntman doubling for Wagner, was killed during the production of The War Lover when he fell to his death in a parachuting accident. [12]

In 2003, Sony Pictures colourised the film but to date the colour version has never been released on video.


The War Lover was unfavourably compared to other wartime aviation epics like Twelve O'Clock High (1949). Bosley Crowther of The New York Times focused on the lack of interesting characters in the film. "But the fellows who sit in the cockpit of the one plane on which the actions center are a dull pair and are rendered even duller by poor acting and weak direction. Steve McQueen is the emotionally-mixed-up pilot who tries to steal his co-pilot's girl. Robert Wagner is the co-pilot and Shirley Anne Fields is the girl. Altogether they make what at best is an average drama of love and jealousy into a small and tepid expose of one man's absurd cantankerousness." [13]

In a similar vein, the review of The War Lover in Variety noted, "...the central character emerges more of an unappealing symbol than a sympathetic flesh-and-blood portrait.... The scenario seems reluctant to come to grips with the issue of this character’s unique personality – a 'war lover' whose exaggerated shell of heroic masculinity covers up a psychopathic inability to love or enjoy normal relationships with women." [14]

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  1. In the novel, Daphne does not say she loves Bolland.


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  2. "Release dates: 'The War Lover'." IMDb. Retrieved: 7 December 2012.
  3. Wagner and Eyman 2008, p. 153.
  4. "Interview with Shirley Anne Field." Cinema Retro, September 2009, p. 60. Retrieved: 7 December 2012.
  5. Biskind, Peter. Star: The Life and Wild Times of Warren Beatty. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Retrieved: 7 December 2012.
  6. "Locations: The War Lover." IMDB. Retrieved: 13 May 2011.
  7. "Interview with Shirley Ann Field". Cinema Retro.
  8. $25,000,000 FILM ON BIBLE PLANNED: DeLaurentiis Will Produce 10-Hour, 3-Part Spectacle By HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]22 July 1961: 13.
  9. "The War Lover (1962).", 28 October 2007. Retrieved: 13 May 2011.
  10. "Release dates: 'The War Lover'." IMDB. Retrieved: 13 May 2011.
  11. "Notes: The War Lover." TCM. Retrieved: 13 May 2011.
  12. Orriss 1984, p. 183.
  13. Crowther, Bosley. "The War Lover". The New York Times , 7 March 1963.
  14. "Review: 'The War Lover'." Variety. Retrieved: 31 March 2015.