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COMMAND DECISION(director: Sam Wood; screenwriters: George Froeschel/William R. Laidlaw/from the novel and play by William Wister Haines; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Clark Gable (Brig. General K.C. “Casey” Dennis), Walter Pidgeon (Maj. Gen. Roland Goodlaw Kane), Van Johnson (Technical Sergeant Immanuel T. Evans), Brian Donlevy (Brig. Gen. Clifton I. Garnet), Charles Bickford (Elmer Brockhurst), John Hodiak (Col. Edward Rayton Martin), Ray Collins (Maj. Desmond Lansing), Cameron Mitchell (Lt. Ansel Goldberg), Clinton Sundberg (Maj. Homer V. Prescott), Warner Anderson (Col. Earnest Haley), Marshall Thompson (Captain George Washington Bellpepper Lee), Michael Steele (Capt. Jenks), Edward Arnold (Congressman Arthur Malcolm); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sidney Franklin; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1948)
“Chatty and sometimes gripping but always crisp WW II drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sam Wood (“For Whom the Bell Tolls”/”Goodbye, Mr. Chips”/”Our Town”) directs this chatty and sometimes gripping but always crisp WW II drama, released just after the war, that’s based on the novel and play by William Wister Haines. It gives us an insider’s look at how a wartime commander of a bomber crew operates and the tough decisions that he must make on a daily basis which are often perilous and not popular. The screenwriters are George Froeschel and William R. Laidlaw, who err in keeping the script stagebound but at least the dialogue is first-rate.

The main thrust of the film is over a conflict between Air Force generals on how to overcome the bad publicity over their costly bombing raids, especially from the cynical Army correspondent Elmer Brockhurst (Charles Bickford). There are heavy causalities incurred during a series of top-secret American daylight bombing raids from their base in England to destroy the factories for advanced German fighter-planes in three cities in the heart of Germany, as the tough-minded commander Brig. General K.C. “Casey” Dennis (Clark Gable) is hard-pressed to explain if the mission justified such a human toll. But in his heart, Casey believes these raids will stop Hitler from ever getting air supremacy.

Brig. General Dennis and Maj. Gen. Roland Goodlaw Kane (Walter Pidgeon) bump heads in this behind-the-scenes look at the US war effort, which left the British critics criticizing the film because it left the impression the Americans won the war alone without the help of the Allies.

This no-nonsense war drama in black and white, features an all-male cast. Casey has the unenviable job of being the senior flight commander who must send his flyers out on missions where many will not return. Though outwardly hard-boiled, the loss of life of those under his command quietly eats away at the straight-shooter and dedicated military man. His boss, Kane, is a much more cautious man, who has learned how to play ball with the press and politicians (openly courting Congressional support for his programs) and urges Casey to take less risks rather than endanger funding for their secret project Operation Stitch. The dilemma is that Casey believes these risky bombing missions, in Operation Stitch, will shorten the war and overall save American lives.

The pic has a lot of close-ups of Air Force brass talking about their many concerns over each bombing raid. Gable is very believable as the gutsy general who does have a heart. Pidgeon is excellent as the competent general who wants the missions completed but worries over how costly it is and if it’s worth the sacrifice. Van Johnson shines as the loyal wiseacre Tech Sergeant to Gable, who knows the ropes in how to get things done through red tape and how to please his boss. Brian Donlevy is solid as Gable’s Brigadier General friend from their West Point days, who will take over his command but this will cause no ill-feelings between the two amiable rivals. John Hodiak is the heroic squadron leader flyer who is related to the Donlevy character and whose death while returning from a victorious bombing mission is the most touching one in the film. Edward Arnold makes a brief appearance as an influential congressman on a fact-finding tour in England, who is a small-minded loudmouth. There are many other supporting roles that are well-played by the talented cast, as the endless debate goes on about the value of aerial bombings until we are left to understand that war by nature calls for sacrifices to get the job done. Whether it’s worth it or not is left open to be judged by history and the viewer, as the film successfully keeps things real.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”