Strategic Air Command Reviews
The real stars of this thinly-veiled recruiting, tribute and Cold War propaganda vehicle are the B-36 & B-47 bombers and other assorted massive military aircraft; the film is stuffed with stunning Vistavision, Technicolor visuals of these aircraft both in flight and on the tarmac.
Dozens taxied in formation for takeoff, aerial refuelings by KC-97 Stratotankers, crafty landings in the muck, gaping noses of C-124 Globemaster II cargo planes swallowing up tanker trucks whole - all will visually fascinate even those viewers with little in the way of aircraft enthusiasm.
Aside from the planes themselves, there's little else on board this film. Stewart's delivery is uninteresting; not surprising given the nearly non-existent plot, that pilot Stewart's fighting off personal aches/pains ... as well as his personal desire - and his 1950s-aproned wife's nagging - to return to professional baseball, a loose reference to BoRedSox's Ted Williams.
Stewart's being tapped for this vehicle is no accident in casting. He flew WWII bombing runs and remained an active member of the Air Force Reserve into the 1960s, ultimately achieving the rank of Brigadier General. June Alyson's delivers well the lousy supporting role she's dealt - playing the spoiled, hissy-fitting & whiny wife who's tired of worrying away the days when Stewart is aloft on classified missions to destinations unknown.
Though there's plenty of inside information/access on display, reference to SAC's 'nuclear failsafe' mission are notably absent.
Given Stewart's involvement and the full access granted by SAC, it's obvious the military (and likely Curtis LeMay) instigated the film's development, but though it's original purpose is long gone (and SAC, as of 1992), the viewer can still be thankful for the visually stunning record of these aircraft that it immortalized.
Another title for your "too-bad it's not on DVD" list.
Jimmy is his usual self, and it is made more interesting if you know he was a B-24 pilot who flew 19 combat missions over Germany during WWII. But, then if you know that, you probably like the movie already.
Little known facts: James Stewart was a colonel in the US Air Force Reserve, the same rank as his character, when the film was made.
James Stewart flew one combat mission over Vietnam while serving as a reservist and eventually retired as a Brigadier General.