STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (director: Anthony Mann; screenwriters: Valentine Davies/Beirne Lay, Jr./from a story by Mr. Lay; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Eda Warren; music: Victor Young; cast: James Stewart (Lt. Col. Robert Holland), June Allyson (Sally Holland), James Millican (Gen. Rusty Castle), Frank Lovejoy (Gen Ennis Hawkes), Barry Sullivan (Lt. Col. Rocky Samford), Alex Nicol (Ike Knowland), Bruce Bennett (Gen. Espy), James Bell (Reverend Thorne), Rosemary De Camp (Mrs. Thorne), Jay C. Flippen (Cardinals’ Mgr. Tom Doyle), Richard Shannon (Aircraft commander); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel J. Briskin; Paramount; 1955)
“It soars when in the air, but remains static when on the ground.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A sentimental flagwaver war drama inspired by the true story of Boston Red Sox baseball legendary slugger Ted Williams, who after serving in World War II as a marine pilot was drafted to serve in the Korean War just as his baseball career was at its peak and his best days as a player would be taken away. The film fictionalizes the story to tell about St. Louis Cardinals’ star third baseman Robert “Dutch” Holland (James Stewart), who after serving time as a jet fighter pilot during WWII is drafted at his advance age to be part of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC). Anthony Mann (“El Cid”/”Thunder Bay”/”Winchester ’73”) directs from a story by Beirne Lay, who cowrites it with Valentine Davies. It soars when in the air, but remains static when on the ground.
At Al Lang Field during spring training, Dutch’s old Air Force buddy, Gen. Rusty Castle (James Millican), visits to tell him and his sunny bride of five months Sally (June Allyson) that the reservist Lt. Colonel has been recalled to active duty for twenty-one months by the order of gung-ho Gen. Ennis C. Hawkes (Frank Lovejoy), playing the part of General Curtis LeMay, who wants experienced pilots in his elite outfit that uses jets to be the first line of defense should the Cold War escalate into a fighting war. Hawkes is the hard-nosed general who is in charge of the SAC command and is Rocky’s boss. While stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, Dutch, after mildly complaining to his wife that the recall is not fair because he already did his service for the country, becomes nervous about flying the high tech new type of SAC planes (Convair B-36 bombers and its replacement the streamlined B-47 Stratojets) which carry atomic bombs. The sugary Sally, who lives with hubby on the base, is expecting a baby. The story line follows the grumpy baseball player pilot go from a whiner to someone who loves flying the modern planes and who becomes more patriotic with each mission until deciding to give up baseball and make a career in the Air Force when given a chance to fly the B-47. But Dutch is finally grounded from flying because of a shoulder injury and turns down a desk job, as he faces an uncertain baseball future with his loyal and proud wife standing by her man.
The beautiful glossy VistaVision shot propagandist film (seeking Congressional budget support for the SAC in a postwar period where many are weary of war), with great aerial footage, looks as if it could be a United States Air Force recruitment poster. The film was tailor-made for Stewart, whose heroic deeds during the war as a pilot are well-documented. Stewart is the main reason and, probably, the only reason that this non-action military film gets over, because when viewed today everything about it is outdated and questionable except for Stewart’s own patriotism and conviction for the character he was playing.
REVIEWED ON 6/20/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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