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Next year, 2005, will be the 50th anniversary of the movie, "Strategic
Air Command." Nearly all reviews of this movie are quite similar...a
somewhat boring movie with unsurpassed aerial photography of the
magnificent B-36. (One really needs to see the in-flight
sequences...they are extraordinary!)
These valid comments really ignore the "larger picture." The B-36 (Peacemaker) stopped flying before the average person living today was born...it was a long time ago. This movie captures a time in America when the military...SAC with its aircraft...ADC (Air Defense Command) with its hundreds of radar sites nationwide...civilians in The Ground Observer Corps...were all involved in "watching the sky" in order to help protect and defend from possible attack by our cold war enemies.
It is difficult, understandably, for many today to comprehend the times and attitudes depicted in "Strategic Air Command." I was there...it did happen. This movie captures some of the dedication that was required. With that in mind, perhaps we can forgive a script and story line that is weak. More importantly, let's celebrate that, a half-century ago, many served and did their duty as the times required. That is the real message of this movie.
Without sounding like some "tech-head" and quoting all sorts of technical
jargon, I've just got to say, that one of the main reasons for enjoying
Cold War pic is the sheer visual impact. The flight sequence where Dutch
sent out in a Peacemaker is incredible. The color, clouds, and air-to-air
photography is stunning. My one thought through the movie was, "What a
the Steady-cam wasn't around."
One of the classic film cable channels has been showing what appears to be a well restored print, and I wonder if a DVD version will be avaliable, at some date.
And, if you are a plane fan, seeing a B-36 in motion is impressive, too. It's something to see a flight deck that has no computer, digital display, ot high tech flight control. Dials! Propellers! Incredible!
And yes, being a car fan, too, I got a big charge out of this picture.
This is a great rainy/snowy/stay inside Sunday afternoon movie. Grab a drink, pop some popcorn, turn off the current world, and set "The Way-Back Machine" to the early 50's when the BAD GUY was a Bear, and the world was a safer place.
"Strategic Air Command" is a look at the 1950's, when the needs of the Cold
War caused America to begin rearming after having nearly disarmed itself
following World War II.
With his trademark sincerity, James Stewart plays Lt. Col. Holland, a former Air Force officer and now ballplayer who is recalled to duty as the new Strategic Air Command expands its might. June Allyson plays Sally, his devoted wife. Together they and the other families of SAC have to cope with the strains that SAC missions put on their personal lives.
The stresses that SAC duty put on families is true enough. But as movie drama it's all written in a way that's utterly trite and predictable. You can practically guess in advance the main set-pieces: Sally is going to become pregnant and have to deal with it without her husband around, Holland is going to get into some life-threatening situations and be thinking of his wife all the while, but he'll be rescued in the end, and so on.
What nearly makes up for a trite plot, however, is the spectacular aerial photography of the two "actors" that truly steal the show: SAC's B-36 Peacemaker bomber, and its state-of-the-art (at the time!) medium jet bomber, the B-47. The B-36, a huge flying battleship with six prop engines plus four jet engines, and a crew of maybe 15, is beautifully photographed in flight, with an accompanying musical score. For today's younger generation who are used to today's ultra-modern planes, the movie is worth seeing for its loving last look at a generation of impressive aircraft that never saw combat, and hence aren't as well known as both their predecessors and successors that did serve in war.
One of the parts of the James Stewart legacy is his love of flight.
According to biographers something that developed with him while he was
still a kid. When Stewart became the first Hollywood star to enlist in
the Armed Forces in World War II it was natural that he went into the
Army Air Corps. He kept his reserve commission status, transferring it
to new formed Air Force.
Stewart was a great believer in the mission of the Air Force and specifically the mission of the Strategic Air Command which maintained a 24 hour combat ready status in those early days of the Cold War. So he did this film to help popularize the new service and to acquaint the public with the mission of the Strategic Air Command.
This is probably the weakest of the eight Stewart/Anthony Mann collaborations. It is technically fine film and airplane enthusiasts will love the flight scenes.
Problem is that the film is dull, not bad, but dull. There just isn't much entertainment value in the story of guys sitting around waiting for the Russians to turn the Cold War hot. The only moment when Strategic Air Command comes alive is when Stewart is forced to crash land and is stranded for a while. John Wayne did a most entertaining film, Island in the Sky, about such an incident. Unfortunately this was only part of the story.
John Wayne also did Jet Pilot which was a ridiculous film about the Air Force and Strategic Air Command doesn't sink to that level.
The only time boredom was ever successfully translated to the cinema was in Mister Roberts. This ain't no Mister Roberts.
June Allyson the same year played almost an identical role as Alan Ladd's wife in The McConnell Story. The McConnell Story was and is too saccharine, but at least the people were real and you did care about them. Stewart is a World War II veteran and now third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals and is recalled to the service because they need top pilots for SAC. He and Allyson are not really people you get to care about here.
Frank Lovejoy does a very good job as General Hawks the head of SAC, right down to his cigars which Curtis LeMay was known for. The other cast members look quite natural in the military setting.
Fans of aviation and of Jimmy Stewart should love this film. But I don't think it had much of a broader appeal.
I have some comments about one comment concerning the movie. First off, no one saw that movie at a SAC base theater. It was banned, and for good reason. The movie portrayed very accurately all the hours that SAC pilots and crewmen spent away from their spouses and family. It implicated the extreme dangers of technologies for strategic warfare that were ever changing and never proved out till some Air Force pilot actually got out and flew those new planes. You can read online about the prop reverse and engine overheat problems that caused fatal crashes. To say that the movie was written, acted, and directed poorly is an unfair assessment. When that movie was created, it was done as well as any other of the times. That any one would even consider making that movie deserves some admiration. I was a SAC brat during those years, and I can tell you that the public was well served by the movie. I lived in Louisiana just due east of Carswell AFB and saw and heard those huge planes flying over. The china in our cupboards would rattle! The only part of the movie that I thought was unrealistic is when the bomber crashed near Greenland. Judging by the terrain that was under the plane, it would have been impossible for that plane to survive to the extent that it did. It's a movie! The B-36 was an immense airplane. It was the only bomber at the time that could fly a long distance with a nuclear weapon. The B-47 was a medium range bomber and couldn't carry the weight of the largest(read big and heavy)weapons of the day. There are parts of a B-36 in the side of Franklin Mountain in El Paso Texas where there was a B-36 wing. I lived at Walker AFB here in NM which also had the B-36. Well those are my comments. Thank you for allowing me to post them. Fine page!
Jimmy Stewart was, in real life, a Brigadier General in the United States Air Force and a distinguished combat (bomber) pilot of WWII. He played the part of "Dutch" Holland realistically because he had lived the Air Force life and knew all the intimate details. In the days when the Soviet Bear was a genuine menace and America's populace was Hell-bent on sticking it's collective head in the sand, men and women like these served in the now-long-gone Strategic Air Command, the Guardian of our severely depleted post-WWII air armada. Wonderfully photographed and skillfully recreated, Strategic Air Command portrays an honest,almost-documentary,image of the rebuilding of America's Air Force which prevented WW-III! It is still very popular in TV reruns due to the fact that America loves hero's and Peace! Remember, the SAC motto was "Peace is Our Profession!" For those of us who served in SAC, this movie stands as a memorial and testimonial to our work and our love of country! Thanks,Jimmy!
I'll be very quick to admit that this is NOT a film that would appeal
to everyone. In fact, those who love the film are probably in the
minority. So why did I like the film so much and consider it among
Jimmy Stewart's best films? Well, I love airplanes as well as history
and this film is a great lesson about the beginnings of the Strategic
Air Command that was created after WWII in response to Soviet
expansion. From the historical standpoint and combined with some of the
very best aviation footage ever created, it's a fantastic film. Just
watching the B-36 and B-47s flying in very vivid color (VISTAVISION) on
a large screen is very inspiring and breathtaking to air aficionados.
About the only downside, and this is only a minor gripe, is that
occasionally the story itself involving Stewart and his wife, June
Allyson, seems a tiny bit hokey. However, overall, this is a wonderful
UPDATE--After doing this review, I later read some of the other reviews and was very surprised with one that said how unbelievable the older Jimmy Stewart was in the film! This was pretty funny, since Stewart was in the air force reserves and did fly these planes for real--even eventually retiring as a brigadier general well after this movie was made. So apparently, at least according to some, Stewart wasn't believable even though he DID fly SAC bombers in real life!
For those of us that lived the Air Force SAC lifestyle Strategic Air Command is exactly how it was. There were no cheap thrills. It was a tough, long hours, world wide, land at the same base, and pull alert away from your family every 3 weeks lifestyle. Jimmy Stuart did an excellent job telling it like it was. If you want cheap Hollywood thrills its not the movie for you but if you like history and want to see truth and reality on the Big Screen this movie is it.
This is not to echo the previous review but to emphasize that the best way to see this film is to use your fast forward and run past all the whiny scenes with June Allyson. Though I probably had a crush on her at the time, her performance now grates on me. The main reason to watch this is for the details of the B-36s, the B-47s, and the on location scenes of long ago air bases, including the one in Morocco which has long been abandoned. These "real time" films are what we historians of military life and culture now study for details that cannot be found in any other source. Even the crudest comedies such as when Abbott and Costello get drafted and the army antics of Martin and Lewis are useful in this regard if in no other. So rent it or buy it and enjoy the great flying scenes. And in this film especially enjoy Frank Lovejoy's scenery chewing and cigar chewing. From the rear he even looks like Curtis LeMay.
As commented before, what makes this picture different from most "military
PR" pictures is that it is quite frank on the sacrifices made by the people
who serve and their families which still goes on today. It makes me wonder
how we get people to serve when the pay and benefit are really a mere
pittance, although I can understand why Dutch Holland took all those flights
when whiny June Allyson is your wife.
As for the aircraft - what a visual treat to see these grand aircraft of a bygone era in vivid color. Almost makes up for the lackluster story.
On a side note, a commenter stated that the film erred in placing Thule AFB in Greenland, but the film is correct, Thule is in Greenland, not Iceland.
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