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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:
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Congressman Frank R. Reid
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Maj. Allan Guillion
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Col. Moreland
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Lt. Col. Herbert White
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Lt. Cmdr. Zachary 'Zack' Lansdowne
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Capt. Bob Elliott
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Capt. Russ Peters
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Adm. Gage (as Robert Simon)
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Sen. Fullerton
Dayton Lummis ...
Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Tom McKee ...
Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker
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 | Plot 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:

 »

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

Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall was the original presiding judge until he was challenged by Mitchell's defense team and subsequently dismissed before testimony commenced. Summerall later gave evidence on the stand as a prosecution witness. Moreover, in interviews with the press, he described Mitchell as "one of that damned kind of soldier who's wonderful in war and terrible in peace." See more »

Goofs

In the opening sequence Colonel Mitchell arrives for the test he is flying a Grumman JF "Duck". This airplane was not first flown until 1932 when the date of the scene is 1921. 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

Come Josephine In My Flying Machine
(uncredited)
Music by Fred Fisher
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User Reviews

 
To Fill The Skies With American Eagles
12 August 2006 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

Otto Preminger put together a real good cast to tell the story of The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, considered by many to be the spiritual founder of the American Air Force. Gary Cooper was only a few years older than Billy Mitchell when he chose to publicly criticize the existing services and invite a court martial and fits the part as right as he did when playing Lou Gehrig.

What to do and who would control the airplane as a strategic weapon was a running debate even before World War I. By the time that Mitchell court martial took place in the mid Twenties, nearly every other country with the means had founded a separate Air Force. America would not have a separate Air Force until 1947 when the Army and Navy were put under one Department of Defense and an Air Force created from those members of the Army Air Corps who wished to join.

No one ever doubted the airplane had some value in war time. Those like the general Charles Bickford played who is an amalgamation of many in the service that Gary Cooper unsuccessfully dealt with, saw it as a thing for scouting, maybe transportation. Billy Mitchell saw it as far more than that.

Mitchell fought hard for money that to further develop airplanes that the Army and Navy wouldn't even ask Congress for if Congress were so disposed to give it back then. After several fliers were killed in some planes that were little more than kites with motors, Mitchell lambasted both services and got his court martial.

Military historians from then till now still debate the value of the airplane in war. The best that can be determined is that air superiority can give one an edge in a close contest. It can't win a war all by itself. If it could Great Britain would have surrendered after the blitz or Germany would have been pounded into submission by Army Air Force and RAF bombing of the place for three years, starting even before one American soldier was in ground combat.

My favorite analogy has always been the difference between the landings at Salerno in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944. In The Longest Day there's a famous scene where two airplanes take off and make a strafing run on one of the beaches and then fly away. That was the sole contribution of the Luftwaffe, by then they had no more contribution to make.

A year before at Salerno, the battle took three weeks with planes from the Allies and the Axis engaged before Allies were established. It was a close run thing as the Duke of Wellington said about another battle a century earlier. Planes do make a difference, but they're not the whole ballgame.

Billy Mitchell chose a course that finished his career in the U.S. Army. He knew it would end this way and he did it anyway. The military as an institution is resistant to change as most everyone agrees. Mitchell fought for air power and airplane development as a civilian as long as his health permitted.

Besides Cooper and Bickford the most noteworthy two performances in the film are Ralph Bellamy as Republican Congressman Frank R. Reid from Illinois who served as Mitchell's civilian defense counsel in the trial and Rod Steiger who played the hired gun from the Judge Advocate General's office who conducts a devastating cross examination of Cooper on the witness stand.

The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell is a good dramatization of one of the great criminal trials of the last century. And it's a wonderful story about sacrificing one self for an idea you believe in.


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