Task Force (1949) – full review!
Written and directed by Delmer Daves this unremarkable war drama uses several real events concerning the development of aircraft carrier warfare from the original U.S.S. Langley and bi-plane aircraft of the 1920’s through the U.S.S. Enterprise (among others) during World War II as its backdrop (even jet fighters flying in formation are shown at the end of the picture). Initially thought to be too vulnerable to fund relative to battleships (e.g. slugging it out since 1812) the carrier became the Navy’s most strategic weapon around which much of the rest of fleet was built to support. Six years before Gary Cooper would play Billy Mitchell a visionary who predicted the advancement and strategic significance of the airplane in Naval battles he played (a fictional) Jonathan Scott a Navy pilot who finds himself in a similar position with regards to the aircraft carrier. The film actually begins (and ends) with officer Scott’s retirement from the Navy four years after the end of the Pacific campaign and WW II. Therefore the story is told in flashback beginning in the early twenties when Scott was just a seaplane pilot being told he’d have to takeoff and land on a deck 65 feet wide that of the only early carrier (a ship not decommissioned due to budget cuts) the Langley. The plot progresses through years of struggle with (e.g.) Congress over the acceptance of this new technology up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and ‘our’ subsequent hit and run strategy and tactics that led to the significant Battle of Midway victory etc.. Most of the film is in B&W but the last portion (about 20 minutes) of the movie is in color; it appears to consist of stock footage of the actual battles ostensibly taking place as more than a dozen newly outfitted carriers advance towards Okinawa: the carriers’ defense weaponry against enemy aircraft and Kamikaze attacks as well as planes crash landings on their decks are shown.
The background story that holds everything together is that of Scott’s life and Navy career. His initial flight commander who during the course of the story becomes an Admiral who’s also his superior officer is Pete Richard played by Walter Brennan (of course their last of 8 films together). Jane Wyatt plays Mary Morgan the wife of another early carrier pilot (Rory Mallinson uncredited) who’s killed that later becomes Scott’s wife. Wayne Morris who actually served in the Navy during World War II himself and became a highly decorated flying ace plays McKinney a student of Scott’s at the Annapolis Naval Academy that becomes a dive bomber; Julie London plays his wife the former Miss Barbara McKinney. Bruce Bennett plays McCluskey someone who served with Scott while he was (being punished for speaking out of turn and) ‘flying a desk’ stationed at the Panama Canal until they were both called to serve on a new carrier (the Saratoga; Jack Holt plays wing commander Reeves who’d also served with Scott back in the 1920’s). Stanley Ridges plays Senator Bentley and Art Baker plays Senator Vincent; both of whom argue over the value of the carrier to the fleet and future warfare with Admiral Ames (Moroni Olsen; Laura Treadwell uncredited plays his wife). John Ridgely plays Scott’s oldest friend Dixie Rankin a fellow pilot from the early days whose wife Ruth (Mary Lawrence uncredited) is killed during the Pearl Harbor raid. Apparently Edmond O’Brien is the uncredited voice heard on radio announcing the attack. Kenneth Tobey (uncredited) also appears very briefly as Captain Ken Willliamson a man who’s escorting and/or dating Mary at a Washington D.C. function before Scott arrives.