Jimmy Cagney signs an autograph for LAC J.R. Ducharme.

Hollywood, which produced thousands of military-themed movies during the Second World War to boost morale and back the war effort, first used the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) as a plot angle in the rather bad film A Yank in the Royal Air Force (RAF), which was released in 1941 and starred Tyrone Power and Betty Grable.

That same year, the dream machine again turned its attention to Canada. Captains of the Clouds starred some big names of the time: James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale, Sr., and Brenda Marshall. Director Michael Curtiz, a prolific and gifted filmmaker, was also responsible for classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Robin Hood and Casablanca.

Captains of the Clouds is pure — and sometimes hokey — melodrama, but the cast and crew really did come to Canada to film sequences at North Bay and Ottawa and at a host of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) stations such as Uplands, Jarvis and Trenton, all in Ontario. The film depicts the transition of bush pilots to military pilots and the work of the BCATP — and the flying sequences are fantastic.

Besides, Billy Bishop is in this movie, playing himself. Even the wings parade, conducted at Uplands, features an actual class from No. 2 Service Flying Training School receiving their wings from Bishop. That’s a piece of history that makes this film worth watching.


For the premiere of Captains of the Clouds on February 21, 1942, RCAF pilots flew copies of the film to Ottawa, New York, London, Cairo, Melbourne, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

A/M Billy Bishop and Jimmy Cagney trade stories while filming Captains of the Clouds on July 21, 1941, at RCAF Station Uplands in Ottawa.

Cast members of Captains of the Clouds with RCAF officers at RCAF Station Rockliffe (left to right): W/C J.L. Hurley, Dennis Morgan, James Cagney, S/L Harold Pearce and Alan Hale, Sr.