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Many of the group scenes and all exterior shots of B52G aircraft were of our own people and aircraft. It seemed very authentic to us crew members at the time. It did not do well at the box office, and that was attributed to by many critics to the fact that the general public did not find the premise very credible. It now can be viewed as a quite realistic representation of nuclear bombers during the height of the cold war.
I was only able to see this movie once and have been looking for it ever since to no avail, so far. I was at Travis AFB at the time of it's filming. I worked on the flight line and our planes were those used in the film. I was also TDY (temporary duty) at Beale AFB where I understand most or much of the filming took place. I worked on B-52's and KC-135As in servicing, recovery and crew chief duty and spent a lot of time on alert duty at the hard pad Alert Facility. All this to say that the film was VERY true to what SAC life was like in the flesh. I can see why some think the plot was a little thin as it was a glimpse into what day-to-day life in SAC was like. The Minimum Interval Take-offs (MITOs)were very true to life, sometimes three bombers and/or tankers rolling on the runway at the same time. If full count points aren't given for the plot, or there are those who would discount because of Rock Hudson's personal life, certainly full credit has to be given for accuracy. I know, I was there! I would love to own a DVD of this movie. I have been waiting over 40 years. Help, anyone? I'd even settle for a VHS tape.
I remember seeing this movie with my Dad when I was a boy, and later visiting Beale AFB to see the Thunderbirds perform. Much later, I saw it again and realized how true to life it must have been in the early 60's. You really get the feel of what it must have been like on alert during the height of the Cold War. The acting was above par, and the flying scenes are excellent. Any aviation or USAF buff should not miss this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film when it first came out in 1963, a few months after the
Cuban Missile Crisis. I lived near a SAC base in south Florida, had a
lot of friends whose fathers were USAF, and found the realism of the
film rather scary. Seeing it again more recently, I was still impressed
with the storyline and the semi-documentary footage of the B-52s and
The deficiencies of this film are those of most Hollywood films of the 1950s (or the "greater 1950s" in this case): star casting and "love interest." Rock Hudson was never a great dramatic actor (one exception: John Frankenheimer's "Seconds"), although he's obviously working hard here to convince you that he's a decent guy whose job as a SAC wing commander requires him to be a "heel" at times. His lack of credibility has nothing to do with his homosexuality (in hindsight) and everything to do with the image that Hollywood crafted for him in the 1950s. Rod Taylor played a lot of macho roles but he also struck me as a little too precious in this film, cast mainly as a romantic rival for his boss's wife. She's played by Mary Peach, and her thankless role requires her to display considerable initial ignorance of the strains on a military officer's family. Since this is as much a character study as it is an "occupational" movie, the interaction between Col. Caldwell and his wife is an important part of the film. But it would have been more interesting if they were portrayed as a long-married couple than a pair of newlyweds. The "lesser" roles in the film, however, feature some convincing performances by such Hollywood characters as Barry Sullivan, Leora Dana, Kevin McCarthy, Richard Anderson, Henry Silva, and Nelson Leigh.
I had not realized until a recent viewing that Sy Bartlett both produced and wrote the original story for "A Gathering of Eagles." I have long been a fan of Barlett's novel "Twelve O'Clock High" (co-written with Beirne Lay Jr.) and its classic film version, released in 1949, directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger. And as I watched "Gathering" I quickly realized that Bartlett was telling essentially the same story as "Twelve O'Clock High," updated from the World War II Eighth Air Force to its Cold War successors in SAC, about the soul-grinding responsibilities of command. The B-17s become B-52s, and Peck's Gen. Frank Savage becomes Hudson's Col. Jim Caldwell, but both characters face the same hard challenges, preparing men and machines for war by imposing high standards and hard discipline. The main difference is in that "love interest" subplot, but again, that would be more appropriate for a film set in Cold War "peacetime."
Of course, there were a couple of moments in the film when I had the feeling that Col. Caldwell would stress out to the point that he would become General Jack D. Ripper. Interesting double-feature possibility there, coupling "Gathering" with "Dr. Strangelove."
Interestingly, the best performance in "Gathering" is that of Robert Lansing, who plays a career USAF non-com with a quiet gravitas that characterized much of this under-rated actor's career. About a year or so after "Gathering" was released, Lansing traded his non-com's uniform for officer's pinks and took on the role of Gen. Frank Savage in the TV series based on "Twelve O'Clock High." I haven't seen those programs in many years but I recall the disappointment I felt when Lansing quit after one season. Good actor, good role.
Conclusion: "A Gathering of Eagles" is in many ways a relic of its times, the early 1960s, when Cold War tensions were at their their tautest and nuclear war seemed a tremendous threat. Actually, compared to earlier films with similar backgrounds (e.g., "Strategic Air Command" and "Bombers B-52"), "Gathering" doesn't say much about the Cold War or about justifying SAC. Given what they had experienced in the preceding months, 1963 audiences didn't need that background info; and the fear or nuclear war may have contributed to this film's poor box office performance. Who needed the reminder?
Did SAC help win the Cold War (by deterring a Soviet nuclear attack and making the U.S.S.R. spend billions for its own defense)? There's no way to know for sure, but there's a case to be made for that argument. This film is an inkling of just how difficult the job was.
I was stationed at Beale AFB, California when the Movie "A GATHERING OF
EAGLES" was filmed, and watched much of the filming. I was the crew
chief on B-52G #6515 (cannot give the rest of the tail number) I spent
many hours on the alert pad. And if you have never had that experience
of answering to the call in the middle of the night to a klaxon from a
sound sleep to running to your fast ride vehicle and being prepared to
launch your aircraft and flight-crew, Then you don't what being a proud
B-52G Crew Chief is like. All of the people in SAC had special jobs.
I'm honored to have served with the greatest command in the world.
Therefore I rate the movie very high. After the film about a year later
I worked on the Aircraft that they used for the movie. I still have
some local news paper articles and pictures from the filming. I went to
Beale last year "2006" for an air show and got to go out on the
hardstand where my air plane was parked many times. I read and agree
with one of the people about the hot brakes. Also a scene where the so
called fuel was coming out of the main entry hatch. The real crew chief
was standing up inside the aircraft pouring water out of a bucket to
simulate the fuel. I'm trying to get a copy of the movie in DVD or VHF.
I would be glad to help with copies of the news paper articles. I would
like to find someone else that was in the 456th OMS at Beale during the
filming that was a crew chief or a ground crew member on the B-52G's
"Rock Hudson" is almost synonymous with either lighthearted
battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy (many with Doris Day) or director
Douglas Sirk's 'soap' melodrama (two with Jane Wyman), but a serious
role in a story about military life (Air Force SAC squadron) is truly a
I was fortunate to catch the film "A Gathering of Eagles" 1963 by director Delbert Mann on TCM cable in August when they showed several Rock Hudson movies the same day. This is a rare instance with Rock Hudson in an earnest role and he delivered a mighty convincing Col. Jim Caldwell in the Air Force to shape up the SAC (Strategic Air Command) squadron.
"A Gathering of Eagles" 1963, is known to be accurate in depicting the lives of SAC men. Director Delbert Mann himself is not unfamiliar with Air Force life, having been a bomber pilot and flew combat missions in the war years. Script by Robert Pirosh gave us a dramatic story covering military duty life in the Air Corps: family and wives, camaraderie spirits, demanding duties/schedules, firm disciplines and technical aspects included. Hudson was solid in his performance as a tough tireless Colonel assigned to lead the SAC members to ensure they're tightly trained with repeated alert exercises, that the fighter bombers be in absolute tip-top conditions for any unannounced "ORI" (operational readiness inspection).
Cinematography by Russell Harlan with editing by Russell Schoengarth 'showcased' scenes of "MITO" (Minimum Interval Take Off) of B-52's and aircraft aerials quite impressively. Good supporting cast includes Rod Taylor as Col. Hollis Farr, Barry Sullivan as Col. Bill Fowler, Henry Silva as Col. Joe Garcia, Leora Dana as Mrs. Fowler, and Mary Peach as Victoria Caldwell, the British wife to Hudson's colonel. Besides the involving 'storyline' of the day to day challenges of Col. Caldwell's military responsibilities, the family aspect of balancing the role of a loving husband to Victoria is well portrayed. The script poignantly afforded uncertainty situations in the mix for Peach, as 'military' wives may have to go through - adapting herself and trying to understand and to cope with her husband's dedication to the Air Force in his chosen career.
Music score is by the prolific Jerry Goldsmith. "A Gathering of Eagles" is not yet on DVD. Hope to catch it again on cable/TV, or VHS rental.
Other serious roles by Rock Hudson: "Seconds" 1966, the intriguing thriller/science-fiction directed by John Frankenheimer, enhanced by remarkable b/w cinematography by James Wong Howe. "Hornets' Nest" 1970, a wartime WWII story set in Italy with an 'army' of young boys helping Hudson's Captain Turner to complete his mission (I stumbled onto this movie one late TCM cable night). He's also in Douglas Sirk's "The Tarnish Angels" 1958, appearing once again with Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone (they were in Sirk's melodrama "Written on the Wind" 1956).
This is one of those films which nine out of ten would pass by but the
tenth would be hooked .... and I am one of the 'tenth'. I liked the Air
Force Base setting and although there isn't a great deal of plot, the
script is tight and suspenseful. The Aerial sequences are excellent for
the period, particularly the mid-air refuelling scenes. This is a film
that I am going to own as a DVD someday.
Update: I got a DVD-R of this film in widescreen and watched it again for the first time in over 40 years. I now think it is a slightly better film than I originally thought with competent performances by all concerned. I agree that Kevin McCarthy's cameo as the snooping Major General 'Happy Jack' Kirby adds to the strange appeal of this film and despite the forced accent, Mary Peach is not as annoying as I previously believed. I increased my own rating from the previous 7 to 8.
Although Rock Hudson did finally excel in comedy genre as well as his one laudable effort in "Giant," during the scene where he is one-on-one performing with Robert Lansing (playing the maintenance sergeant) Hudson comes off a poor second. The quiet power demonstrated by Lansing simply staggers the imagination and causes it to catch its breath. It was not just a case of "underplaying," but rather bringing forth such great depth to the role's character and demeanor. One of the most underrated of our excellent American actors, it is a shame we couldn't have seen Robert Lansing in many more, larger roles on the big screen in Hollywood's truly major films. What did the casting directors miss here? Much, in my opinion.
It was because of this movie I joined the USAF and actually worked in SAC on ICBMs for over 20 years. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a base that had both B-52s, KC-135s, and ICBMs. Every time I see this movie it makes me proud of my association with the slogan "Peace is our Profession" and winning the "Cold War" without having to fire a shot. When my daughter asked me "What did you do in the War daddy" I showed her the movie and that said it all. This movie is timeless and gives those who were never in SAC a very small glimpse of this unique arm of the US Air Force. Every time I hear the PAS (Primary Alerting System)warble, it brought back memories. The ORIs (Operational Readiness Inspections) were just like I remembered them, including all the inspectors that fan out through the base. When this movie comes out on DVD, I'll be the first in line.
Well-directed and well-played movie about a tough commander becomes too
involved with the pilots in his command . Enjoyable as well as tedious
film at times , though . Being designed to showcase the US Air Force's
brand-new B-52 Stratofortress bomber, including actual footage of jet
plane and as such the studio received complete cooperation from the Air
Force . Set during the Cold War and with novelty of peacetime takes
place this interesting melodrama . Concerning USA Colonel of a
Strategic Aerospace Wing (Rock Hudson) has to shape up his underlings
(Robert Lansing , Richard Anderson , Barry Sullivan , Henry Silva ,
among others) to pass a grueling inspection that the former General had
failed, and had been fired for . He is also recently married to
beautiful Victoria Caldwell (Mary Peach) , she struggles to adjust to
being a good military wife , but Victoria then sees a side to him that
she hadn't seen . Meanwhile , there occurs a confrontation between less
than likable Col. Jim Caldwell and his friend Col. Hollis Farr (Rod
Taylor) . As there crop out gossips surrounding his relationship to
Victory Caldwell and things go wrong . As the picture contains a silly
and boring family drama with a triangular love story . At the end , it
takes place a hard inspection carried out by Gen. 'Happy Jack' Kirby
(Kevin McCarthy) .
Intimate as well as spectacular WWI airplane movie with an agreeable cast , impressive aerial scenes and thought-provoking themes , being one of the first Hollywood films to deal with the B-52 . This is a family as well as crisp drama about relationship between husband and wife along with the hard-working carried out by Rock Hudson as a tough commanding officer determined to improve efficiency , interwoven with nice aerial footage of B-52 maneuvers . The aviation footage gives the picture a sense of life , as writer Sy Barlett and filmmaker were both previous fliers themselves . This film is an Universal Pictures official studio tribute to the B-52 Stratofortress bomber air craft and the United States Air Force . Interesting script by Robert Pirosh based on a story by Sy Barlett who also wrote in similar style ¨Twelve O'Clock High¨ that was adapted to cinema in a much superior movie by Henry King with Gregory Peck . This was apparently one of the first films in which the US Air Force's new B-52 Stratofortress bomber was featured . It appeared in a number of films afterward, notably Bombers B-52 (1957) , Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and By Dawn's Early Light (1990). This movie's dedication shown at the start of the film states : The film is dedicated to personnel and pilots of Strategic Aerospace Wing . Rock Hudson plays decently an Air Force Colonel who has just been re-assigned as a cold war B-52 commander determined to improve the alertness and doing whatever he has to do to shape his men up . Fine plethora of secondaries , many of them uncredited , such as Barry Sullivan , Kevin McCarthy , Henry Silva , Nelson Leigh , Robert Lansing ,Richard Anderson , Brandon De Wilde and brief appearance of an unknown Louise Fletcher as patient's spouse .
Brilliant cinematography in Cinemascope and Technicolor by Russell Harlan . Thrilling as well as rousing musical score by Jerry Goldsmith . Jerry Goldsmith's opening fanfare was licensed by Cinema International Corporation (CIC) for its vanity plate fanfare ; CIC was an international film distribution company, part owned by Universal . The motion picture was well directed by Delbert Mann who was one of the best-known graduates of "The Golden Age of Television," when live original drama was a staple of network TV , but he also directed classic movies such as ¨Separate tables¨, ¨Desire under the Elms¨ and ¨Marty¨ . And directed Rock Hudson in three successive films as ¨That Touch of Mink¨ , ¨Lover Come Back¨ and ¨A Gathering of Eagles¨ .
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