Pete Sandich (Dreyfuss) is an aerial firefighter, flying a war-surplus A-26 bomber dropping fire retardant slurry to put out forest wildfires. His excessive risk taking in the air deeply troubles his girlfriend, Dorinda Durston (Hunter), a pilot who doubles as a dispatcher, and is also of concern to his best friend, Al Yackey (Goodman), a fellow fighter. On one flight, Pete makes one extra drop, runs out of fuel, and barely manages to glide onto the runway.
Pete shrugs off his brush with death and surprises Dorinda with a stunning white dress for her birthday, although it turns out to be the wrong day. Irate at first, she eventually puts on the dress anyway, and the couple dance to their song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”.
Al sits Pete down for a beer and likens their situation to wartime England (Quonset huts, warm beer, and hotshot pilots flying bombers) in order to emphasize the key difference: “Pete, there ain’t no war here. And this is why you’re not exactly a hero for taking these chances you take.” Al suggests Pete take a safer job that has just opened up, training firefighting pilots in Flat Rock, Colorado. Pete flatly refuses to consider it. However, when Dorinda confronts Pete and tells him that she hates worrying about him all the time, he decides to take Al’s advice.
Pete takes one last mission, despite Dorinda’s gloomy premonition. While on a bombing run, Al’s Catalina water bomber hits a burning tree and an engine catches fire. When Al’s fire suppression equipment fails to put it out, it looks like he is doomed. In desperation, Pete makes a dangerously steep dive to skillfully douse the engine with slurry. He saves Al, but in trying to recover from his dive, his bomber flies through the forest fire. Pete manages to pull up and climb back up to a safe altitude beside Al, but a small engine fire spreads to his fuel tank, and his aircraft explodes.
The next thing he knows, Pete is getting his hair cut in a forest clearing. His supernatural barber, Hap (Audrey Hepburn), explains Pete’s new role. Just as he was inspired when he needed it most, it is now his turn to provide Spiritus (“the divine breath”) to others. As she puts it, “They hear you inside their own minds as if it were their thoughts.”
Six months have elapsed in the real world. Pete is assigned to guide a new firefighting pilot, Ted Baker (Johnson). To Pete’s anguish, Ted falls in love with Dorinda, and she begins to respond and recover from her mourning. Pete selfishly tries to sabotage the growing relationship. The next day, Pete wakes up, back in the forest with Hap. She reminds him his life is over, and also he was sent back not just to inspire Ted, but to say good-bye to Dorinda.
Always is a 1989 romantic comedy-drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, introducing Brad Johnson and featuring Audrey Hepburn’s cameo in her final film appearance. The film was distributed by Universal Studios.
Always is a remake of the 1943 romantic drama A Guy Named Joe, although Spielberg did not treat the film as a direct scene-by-scene repeat of the earlier World War II melodrama. The main departure in plot is altering the action to that of a modern aerial firefighting operation. The film, however, follows the same basic plot line: the spirit of a recently dead expert pilot mentors a newer pilot, while watching him fall in love with his surviving girlfriend. The names of the four principal characters of the earlier film are all the same, with the exception of the Ted Randall character, who is called Ted “Baker” in the remake and Pete’s last name is “Sandich”, instead of “Sandidge”.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, Brad Johnson, John Goodman, Audrey Hepburn, Roberts Blossom, Marg Helgenberger, Dale Dye, Kim Robillard
Screenplay by: Jerry Belson, Dalton Trumbo
Production Design by: James D. Bissell
Cinematography by: Mikael Salomon
Film Editing by: Michael Kahn
Costume Design by: Ellen Mirojnick
Set Decoration by: Jackie Carr
Art Direction by: Christopher Burian-Mohr
Music by: John Williams
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 22, 1989