American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Memphis Belle" tells the story of the journey of several brave young Americans through an anthology of aviation movie cliches. Not a trick is missed - not even the faithful dog lifting its loyal head from the grass when a missing plane finds its way back to base. This movie is said to be based on a World War II documentary by William Wyler, but in another sense it is based on "The Battle of Britain," "One of Our Aircraft is Missing" and countless other formula thrillers about the air war in Europe.
The task of the filmmakers is thankless. They have to introduce a dozen crew members of the Memphis Belle, and then somehow make them all memorable within the cramped confines of a plot where most of them have to wear oxygen masks most of the time. The movie begins while we see the young men playing football, and a voice-over narration names them and provides them with thumbnail character sketches. Then, later, we learn what assignments they have onboard the Memphis Belle when the pilot holds a roll call and they sign in, giving their names and battle stations.
The crew, we learn, has survived 24 bombing raids over Germany.
One more, and they get to go home. The voice-over narration is by an Army Air Force P.R. man (John Lithgow), assigned to stage-manage the final raid for Life magazine. And given the fact that these man have flown 24 missions together, I hardly thought it necessary for them to introduce themselves by name to their pilot - but then the introductions really were for us, and the roll call was an economical way to explain their various jobs - co-pilot, radioman, navigator, tail gunner, bombardier, etc.