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TASK FORCE (director/writer: Delmer Daves; cinematographers: Robert Burks/Wilfred M. Cline; editor: Alan Crosland, Jr.; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Gary Cooper (Jonathan L. Scott), Jane Wyatt (Mary Morgan), Wayne Morris (McKinney), Walter Brennan (Pete Richard), Julie London (Barbara McKinney), Bruce Bennett (McCluskey), Jack Holt (Reeves), Stanley Ridges (Bentley), Moroni Olsen (Adm. Ames); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Wald; Warner Bros.; 1949)
“The film flies by at a fast pace, as it offers a sweeping history lesson of Naval aviation.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Delmer Daves (“Destination Tokyo”/”Pride of the Marines”/”Dark Passage”) is the writer and director of this average war drama that’s action-packed but overly sentimental. Task Force is part fiction, part documentary. It uses a group of naval air aces to cover several real events to enlarge its story about the development of aircraft carrier warfare; the footage used for its backdrop comes from the original U.S.S. Langley and the bi-plane aircraft of the 1920s through the U.S.S. Enterprise during World War II. The film flies by at a fast pace, as it offers a sweeping history lesson of Naval aviation. The last twenty minutes of the film goes from black-and-white to color. But it’s difficult not to see this as merely a World War II propaganda film for the U.S. Navy.

Gary Cooper stars as Jonathan L. Scott, who is the patriotic tactician admiral about to retire and recalls when he was starting out as a Navy junior officer pilot in 1921 and stationed in San Diego, before the navy had airplanes designed to land on carriers. In 1923, Scott is transferred to Washington, D.C. to help develop a carrier plane and to convince the admirals and the Congress to support naval aviation. The film precedes to detail how the government resisted a large aircraft carrier program and the squabbles in the navy bureaucracy over its usage. When Scott gets into a spat with powerful isolationist newspaper publisher Bentley, a friend of Admiral Ames, he is assigned to a desk job at the Panama Canal. Scott is soon transferred to the newly designed carrier, the Saratoga. When he crashes a plane, he recovers and marries the widow Mary Morgan (Jane Wyatt), who was married to a pilot who died under his command in San Diego. Then comes a two year stay in Hawaii followed by a move to Annapolis, where Scott is promoted to a Lieutenant Commander and is to teach naval aviation. When he’s passed over for promotion because of his outspoken stance in favor of carriers, he takes a civilian job selling planes in Europe. But Mary convinces him to return to the navy, where he’s made a commander and stationed in Hawaii. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor gives Scott a chance to get the carrier ship Enterprise to prove its worth. During the Battle of Midway (the film’s best action sequences), Japanese planes damage the ship and it’s abandoned. Scott, now a captain, treks to Washington to argue for more carriers. Soon a carrier fleet materializes, and Scott is assigned to the Franklin. It proves itself during the Battle of Okinawa. The film then returns from its flashback and we witness the retirement ceremony for the heroic Scott on the deck of a carrier.

Walter Brennan plays Cooper’s superior officer. Wayne Morris, who was a decorated navy pilot during WW II, plays an Annapolis Naval Academy student of Cooper’s who graduates to become a dive bomber. Edmond O’Brien is the uncredited voice heard on radio announcing the attack of Pearl Harbor.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”