The Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (VMF-214) was one of the most famous of
the many squadrons that fought in World War II, and still flies today
(as VMA-214, equipped with the AV-8B Harrier II). Under the command of
Major Gregory P. Boyington (“Pappy”), the top ace in the United States
Marine Corps, with 28 air-to-air victories (six of which came with
Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers).
The series “Baa Baa Black Sheep is based on Boyington’s 1958 memoirs,
“Baa, Baa Black Sheep”. The series, though, shows how Hollywood can
often take a good story, and feel the need to “punch it up” even more.
Boyington was, for all intents and purposes, a black sheep – and a hero.
The men of the squadron, though, took offense (with some justification)
over Hollywood’s portrayal of the entire squadron as misfits and
screw-ups who were at war with the Marine Corps (not to mention the Navy
and Army) as they were with Japan. Even this is not characteristic of
Boyington, who deserted from the Flying Tigers and returned to service
with the Marine Corps.
The series does stretch the bounds of plausibility at times (see
“Operation homecoming”, in which the squadron must fly a bunch of
rebuilt Japanese “Kates” – the Nakajima B5N – against a Kibitzu-class
carrier; there was no such thing as the Kibitzu-class in reality). Even
some basic facts, like geography, escaped the writing staff (the use of
Bougainville as a waypoint to Guam in the pilot, “The Flying Misfits”
That said, the series was well-done in some areas. The aerial combat
series provides incredible views of the F4U Corsair (the aircraft used
by VMF-214), although some of the footage used can make a person scratch
one’s head (in “Anyone for Suicide” a landing by one of the Black Sheep
uses footage of a F6F-5N Hellcat making a bad landing). Often the
footage is stock footage (used in movies like “Midway”). For those of us
spoiled by battle scenes using today’s special effects technology, it
often seems quaint, but it still works well. Another good point for this
series is the performance of Robert Conrad as Boyington. He has captured
the essence of Boyington in the series (he received a great deal of help
from the man he was portraying), and that resulted in no complaints from
Boyington (similar effort on the part of Hal Moore helped Mel Gibson do
an Oscar-worthy portrayal in “We Were Soldiers”; perhaps Nancy Sinatra
could have considered doing what Boyington did when she came up for a
portrayal on a TV series).
The series ultimately is a solid buy on DVD (for the $39.98 at Best Buy
or the $27.99 on Amazon) – one of the extras in Volume One is a pair of
interviews with Boyington, which provide an excellent way to measure the
performance by Robert Conrad as the commanding officer of VMF-214. “Baa
Baa Black Sheep” is a series that could be an excellent candidate for a
big-screen remake given the advances in special effects.