Published on July 27th, 2007 | by Chris4
Strategic Air Command (1955)
In 1955, the Cold War was just getting ramped up, and in that ten years since the end of WWII, the newly created Air Force ramped up as well, as we are shown in Strategic Air Command, starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. Not to mention the short-lived B-36 Peacemaker and the even more short-lived B-47 Stratojet bombers, the technological pride of the new skies.
Stewart plays Robert "Dutch" Holland, a former B-29 pilot who has become a popular baseball celebrity. Allyson plays his wife, Sally. Unfortunately for Dutch, he's called back into active duty by his old buddy, General "Rusty" Castle (James Millican), to fly the absolutely huge B-36.
This film is strangely reminiscent of WWII era military "propaganda" films from ten years earlier, with similar opening credits and scrolls, and a familiar "feel" throughout the entire picture. Basically the film is a "showcase" for the new technology in use by the "modern" Air Force, and in that respect it is a masterpiece.
We're shown aspects of airbase security, as General Hawkes (Barry Sullivan) tries to sneak a DC3 onto the base in the guise of a commercial airliner in distress. From there we practically get a commercial for the B-36, including a complete pre-flight, including all the requisite radio chatter. Inside, we get a tour of this 10-engined behemoth, from the massively instrumented cockpit, to the tunnel through the fuel tanks and into the gunners' compartment in the rear.
Later on the B-47 Stratojet is revealed to Holland by Hawkes, and they take off on a top secret around-the-world mission to test its range capabilities.
Aviation buffs will enjoy this film, I know I did. The attention paid to the aircraft in this picture is glorious to behold. It's a testament to the big thinking (and big spending) of the era, as neither one of these massive planes stayed in service very long, with the B-47 starting to be decommissioned just as the last ones were delivered, to be replaced later by the immortal B-52. And I can only imagine the sheer noise the B-36 must've made, with those six huge turbo-prop engines, AND its four jets. Think of it. Now *that* is "shock and awe." Of course you'd probably never hear or see it if it came for you....
Stewart's performance is classic Stewart, although at times he seems a bit bored by the entire thing. Allyson's performance is classic 50's Hollywood housewife, and apart from the planes, everyone else's parts just seem to disappear into the air.
The film also makes a strong justification for the spending and the buildup that was occurring in that era. "At war but not at war" is brought up several times, and although the Red Menace(tm) is never mentioned by name, we know that's who they're talking about. Combat readyness, and the ability to retaliate at a moments notice was paramount. It's also made clear that nobody actually *wanted* that to happen, that all of this was done in the name of deterrence.
There's another scene which is pretty telling about the government mindset as well. They're making test runs with the B-47, and are "bombing" cities in mock runs. "Oh we've been bombing cities like this all over the US for some time now!" Indeed!
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film, expecting it to be just another 50's anthem-blaring feel good romp. But the combination of the historical importance, the Stewart/Allyson chemistry, the technical look at two of the USAF's period bombers and the mindset surrounding them.... Strategic Air Command was fun *and* educational.
How many movies can you say that about?
And here's a little airplane porn from this movie.
Strategic Air Command [VHS]
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Demonstrations of classic military tactical procedures and excellent footage of vintage aircraft (like the rare B-36), combine here to give viewers a cold war primer on the Air Force's defense capabilities, circa 1955...
Summary: I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film, expecting it to be just another 50's anthem-blaring feel good romp. But the combination of the historical importance, the Stewart/Allyson chemistry, the technical look at two of the USAF's period bombers and the mindset surrounding them.... Strategic Air Command was fun *and* educational. How many movies can you say that about?