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The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)

Approved | | Biography, Drama, War | 31 December 1955 (USA)
A dramatization of the American general and his court martial for publically complaining about High Command's dismissal and neglect of the aerial fighting forces.

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(story and screenplay), (story and screenplay)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Gen. Jimmy Guthrie
...
Congressman Frank R. Reid
...
Maj. Allan Guillion
...
Margaret Lansdowne
...
Col. Moreland
...
Lt. Col. Herbert White
...
Lt. Cmdr. Zachary 'Zack' Lansdowne
...
Capt. Bob Elliott
...
Capt. Russ Peters
...
Adm. Gage (as Robert Simon)
...
Sen. Fullerton
Dayton Lummis ...
Tom McKee ...
Stephen Roberts ...
Maj. Carl Spaatz (as Steve Roberts)
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Storyline

The true story of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneering crusader for the Army's fledgling air corp. In spite of an impressive performance during the First World War, the commanders of America's armed forces still think of the airplane as little more then a carnival attraction. Even after sinking an "unsinkable" captured German battleship from the air, Mitchell sees funds dry up and friends die due to poor equipment. He is court-martialed after questioning the loyalty of his superiors for allowing the air corp to deteriorate. Written by KC Hunt <khunt@eng.morgan.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

He defied the army and navy . . . and they gave him a Court Martial!

Genres:

Biography | Drama | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

31 December 1955 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Condamné au silence  »

Filming Locations:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(optical prints)| (RCA Sound Recording) (magnetic prints)

Color:

(WarnerColor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The character played by Charles Bickford, Gen. Jimmy Guthrie, was a fabrication; such a person never existed. Instead, he was used by the filmmakers as a composite representative of two officers: Maj. Gen. Mason M. Patrick (Chief of the Air Service and Mitchell's direct superior at the time of the battleship Ostfriesland's sinking) and Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Howze, who presided over Mitchell's court-martial. See more »

Goofs

The award ribbons on Billy Mitchell's uniform coat are arranged in rows of three. However, he actually wore them in rows of four. See more »

Quotes

Admiral William S. Sims: Just because you read a lot of books about golf, doesn't make you a good golfer.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in M*A*S*H: 5 O'Clock Charlie (1973) See more »

Soundtracks

Tea for Two
(uncredited)
Music by Vincent Youmans
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User Reviews

 
The Court Martial of an Aviation Visionary
23 June 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In 1925 the U.S. Naval Air Force's major new piece of military hardware was a zeppelin that had been built in Germany at the end of the First World War, which was given to the U.S as a reparation, and renamed the U.S.S. Shenandoah. The craft had a crack team running it, and it had an excellent head, Commander Zachary Landowne. It was in fair demand around the country, for most people believed that the future of long distance air travel would be in airships, not airplanes. So the Navy brass frequently sent the Shenandoah on public relations flights, rather than using it for military purposes or long distance flights.

It was sent to Ohio where local politicians wanted to use the zeppelin to impress voters. Unfortunately, there was a storm front with heavy thundershowers in the path of the zeppelin, and the zeppelin had recently had some damage to a fin on it's tale. There had been no time to repair the damage. So when the zeppelin crossed into the storm front, the zeppelin was ripped apart by the winds and crashed killing Landsdowne and fourteen men.

Landsdowne's close friend, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell was exceptionally critical of the disaster. He blamed the politicians and military brass who ordered the flight. As Mitchell had been long a thorn in the side of these two groups, as he tried to push his views on air power and the need for a unified, strong air force, he was charged with insubordination and ordered to be court martial-ed.

Gary Cooper plays Mitchell well, as an honest, honorable man, who realizes that the future will be only safe for those who have a strong air arm. He is fighting old fashion ideas, mouthed by old fashioned army leaders like Fred Clark. He does have allies like his lawyer, a Congressman played by Ralph Bellamy, and like one of the judges (General Douglas MacArthur - who was the only one to vote for acquittal). But the issue goes down to the Mitchell's insubordination. And this leads to the dramatic high point, when Cooper is cross-examined by the malicious and clever Rod Steiger. Steiger is able to get Cooper to not only reveal his lack of respect for the brass but to reveal his mistrust of the Japanese. That he is correct in the long run does not save him - he is found guilty and suspended without pay from the army for five years.

Mitchell died in 1936, not in time to see his vindication five years later. But he is remembered now as the real founder of the modern American Air Force. The film is a pretty good retelling of his story, and reminds us how frequently a prophet is despised and rejected in his or her time.


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