Strategic Air Command Reviews
Jimmy Stewart portrays the protagonist of the movie, Robert "Dutch" Holland, following his life and career. Initially, Dutch plays baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals into World War II broke out. He joined the United States Army Air Corps and assigned as a pilot for a B-29 bomber. After the war starts remains a reserve officer in the United States Air Force Reserve, officially remaining on inactive status. Like many of the men returning from war, Dutch goes back to his pre-war profession. Dutch is in St. Petersburg, Florida for preseason spring training when recalled to active duty; he reports to Carswell Air Force Base, located in Fort Worth, Texas to begin his new training as a pilot for the latest technological wonder America has put in the air, the Convair B-36. With the previously unheard of range and payload capacity that ended the nickname 'Peacemaker' since he had hoped that it would serve more as a deterrent than an actual weapon of war. Jimmy Stewart has always had an 'everyman' quality about him that immediately connected with the audience, making them a definite fan favorite. This aspect of his personality allowed him to pull off scenes that would stumble over actors realistically. One example in this film is that Dutch reports for duty in his civilian clothes because none of the new uniforms fit him. He is immediately chewed out by the command of the Teaching Their Command, Hawkes (Frank Lovejoy), modeled after the real-life general who was in charge of Vietnam, Curtis Lemay. This man played a dominant role in the political scene as most of us were growing up. He would eventually run on the same ticket as George Wallace for the position of vice president. References to actual people such as this are a significant reason why those of us of the baby boomer generation can relate to the movie so well.
That starts out with a position on staff within a bombardment wing at the Air Force Base which provides them with a lot of time in the air. Soon, Dutch is given command of his crew and can select someone he worked with in World War II to serve as his engineer. Playing Dutch his wife, Sally, was an actress frequently paired with Stuart, June Allyson. Together they one of America's favorite on-screen couples. Although the discrepancy in height, he was 6 foot three and she was barely 5 feet tall, be quiet some imaginative blocking of the director. A primary focus of this film was the personal lives of the SAC personnel and their families. Sally is a loving and devoted wife but is constantly under stress by the extended absences of a husband and the potential danger he faced. Because of the impressive range of the B-36, Dutch would often be assigned to prolonged missions far off from the United States. These planes were considered the front line of defense during the arm's race that defined the Cold War. The planes highlighted here were the aerial segment of the Nuclear Triad which was created to counter the nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union.
The film took great care to present SAC personnel and equipment as accurately as feasible. The driving force behind this mandate was Stuart who devoted to the crucial function of protecting the country performed by the US Air Force. Was manifested in how the film lionized the role of SAC in the modern paradigm of the potential use of devastating nuclear weapons. The movie depicts how Dutch and his crew handle the routine aspects of their service woven together with long, tedious assignments punctuated with airborne alerts, unavoidable accidents and even a spectacularly filmed force landing. Most people, both fans, and critics, point out that the real star of the film is the amazing aerial photography. Following the precedent established during World War II the studio received the complete cooperation of the United States Air Force. This afforded the filmmaker access to real military bases for location shots and the ability to realistically portray the cockpits of these complicated machines. These factors combined to reinforce a positive image of the US military in general and specifically the relatively new defender of our nation, SAC. The fifties was an intensely anxious period in American history. The post-War boon in home ownership, employment, and educational advantages juxtaposed to the threats of Communist domination. The American people had to deal with dangers and anxiety more intense than the Axis threat of the previous decade. The arms race was responsible for the proliferation of nuclear weapons capable of annihilating all life on the planet many times over. The fifties also witnessed the infamous McCarthy hears that stirred up the all-pervading paranoia of a witch hunt. The nation was afraid, and films like this served to provide a measure of calm confidence. While technically movies like this fall under the umbrella of propaganda the intentions were well meant. For younger views, please try to keep these factors in mind considering it as insight for a troubled time that occurred before most of you were born.
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.
Even the great Jimmy Stewart seems like he is just going through the motions. I guess Hollywood wanted to continue to milk the fact that he was a WW2 bomber pilot. June Allyson is incredibly irritating as the long-suffering Airforce wife.
It's not all bad though. Any scenes involving the B-36 and B-47 bombers were great, and there's a lot of them.
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.
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.