General Dennis of the US Force in England in World War II finds that he must order his planes deeper and deeper into Germany to prevent the production of military jet planes that will turn the tide of battle to the Germans. He must fight congressmen, and his own chain of command to win the political battle before he can send his planes out. His problem is complicated by a very narrow window of good weather necessary to allow his effort to be successful. Adapted from a stage play, it attempts to look at the challenges of command in the political arena. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This movie is often compared to Twelve O'Clock High (1949), as both black-and-white movies were released within a year of one another and examined World War II American Air Forces operations predominantly at the ground level (i.e. on an American air base) and with a limited amount of aerial combat action in both films. See more »
When Van Johnson is in Gable's office alone in the very beginning of the film, someone comes in and gives him a model plane and he places it on a shelf behind him. However, when Gable comes in soon afterwards the shelf is empty. See more »
Command Decision was adapted from a Broadway play that ran for 409 performances the previous year. Tony Awards were won by Paul Kelly who played General K.C. Dennis and James Whitmore for Tech Sergeant Emanuel Evans. The play shows the process of making military decisions when you have to factor in the politicians who control the purse strings. It's a necessary evil in a society that values civilian control of the military.
Both during and after World War II there was a debate among the British and American air commanders over the value of daylight versus nighttime bombing attacks. The British did night raids over Germany, responding in kind to what the Luftwaffe had done to them. Fly over at high altitudes and just drop the bombs. It did make for fewer casualties among the RAF pilots of their Lancaster bombers.
The Americans opted for daylight raids at a lower altitude trying to hit certain strategic objectives. In Command Decision it involves three factories that intelligence has learned are manufacturing new jet aircraft. If the Nazis had ever developed the far advanced jets against the Allied propeller aircraft in any number, the course of the war over Europe might have changed. Just like the V-2 rockets were developed too late to help the Axis cause.
Command Decision has Clark Gable leading a distinguished cast as the general who has to make the decision about whether to bomb or not, to go into Germany's heartland without fighter escort. Unfortunately his purely military outlook is not shared by his immediate superior Walter Pidgeon who has to factor in the politicians in Congress who read the dispatches by correspondents like Charles Bickford here about the appalling losses in American life.
In many ways Pidgeon has the most difficult part in the film. He has to take in the voices of objection raised by the visiting Congressional delegation led by Edward Arnold. Pidgeon is a politician, but purely by necessity. We admire Gable's stand on principle, but the audience also respects Pidgeon and sympathizes with him.
On Broadway Command Decision takes place in the headquarters and to make it better for the screen, playwright William Wister Haines wrote an additional scene that Paul Kelly did not do on Broadway. Clark Gable on a radio microphone tries to talk down a bombardier who is piloting a plane where the pilot and co-pilot are wounded and killed. It's a harrowing scene and one of the best Clark Gable ever did. Gable must have drawn from his World War II experience, he was a tailgunner in our Army Air Corps and flew many a B-17 mission over Germany.
Rounding out a distinguished group of MGM contractees are Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy, Marshall Thompson, Cameron Mitchell, Warner Anderson, Ray Collins, John McIntire and John Hodiak. They all cast well as Army Air Force personnel. Johnson plays the part that James Whitmore originated on stage and provides what little humor there is in this film.
The main criticism of Command Decision has always been that it is too stagey. But I found it an absorbing account of the decision making process in a military command.
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