Above and Beyond (1952)
Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama who also wrote the screenplay (and share three Best Writing Oscar nominations between them) this historical drama was adapted from Beirne Lay Jr.’s story for which Lay Jr. received a Best Writing Motion Picture Story Academy Award nomination; Hugo Friedhofer’s Score was also nominated. Similar to The Beginning or the End (1947) this film tells the story behind the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II. However instead of the focus being on the development of the bomb itself this one is told from the perspective of the Air Force Colonel in charge of the mission which executed the task itself. Robert Taylor plays Colonel Paul Tibbets pilot of the Enola Gay the B-29 bomber which flew the mission and delivered the payload. Eleanor Parker plays Tibbets’s wife Lucy and much of the story focuses on the affect this mission had on Tibbets and his family.
The film begins by giving some historical background on Tibbets who as a Lieutenant Colonel during the early years of World War II was flying bombing missions in North Africa under General Roberts (Robert Burton). Visiting General Brent (Larry Keating) witnesses an outburst by Tibbets that bordered on insubordination but decides on the spot that Tibbets is just what he needs for shaking out the bugs in the B-29 a plane thought to be a deathtrap. These events comprise the first 30 minutes or so of the picture.
Later Brent has another mission a top secret one for Tibbets. After testing Tibbets’s ability to “pull the trigger” to release a bomb that would kill 100000 people in order to end the war and possibly save five times that many lives and a thorough security check by Major Uanna (James Whitmore) Brent offers Tibbets the job of assembling the team to drop the first atomic bomb. Appropriately the General warns Tibbets that if his decision is “yes” there is no going back. Later the General will similarly tell Tibbets that it is his sole responsibility to “blue light” the mission. Even though Tibbets accepts Brent is unable to promote him to full (bird) Colonel because of his earlier conflict with Roberts. Later Roberts will become a temporary barrier to some transports Tibbets needs to fulfill for his mission dubbed Silverplate. Uanna is assigned as Tibbets’s security officer but otherwise it is up to the Lieutenant Colonel to staff outfit and plan the entire operation with utmost secrecy. This includes keeping his wife Lucy in the dark which obviously puts a considerable strain on their 5 years marriage only seven weeks of which they’d spent together anyway per the war.
A couple of other characters used to tell the story and detail the strain under which Tibbets was placed or self-imposed are the Brattons: Major Bratton (Stephen Dunne) is a friend and co-pilot of Tibbets his wife Marge (Marilyn Erskine) is the closed thing to a confidant that Lucy has. Larry Gate plays the significant role of Captain Parsons the man who arms the atomic bomb during the flight to Hiroshima. Most will recognize two television actors Haydon Rorke (I Dream of Jeannie) as Dr. Ramsey a scientist and Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island) as General LeMay in command of the flight’s launching point Tinian Island – both appear briefly.
The emphasis of the story is on the life of Tibbets and the impact on his wife and family during this time period; Whitmore’s character plays the important role of confidant for Tibbets given the fact that he can’t explain his actions to Lucy. Unfortunately it’s a bit too much “soap opera” (perfect for actress Parker not so for much for actor Taylor) and the film could have been much shorter – as it is it exceeds 2 hours by a few minutes. Still it’s a solid retelling of historical events though I don’t claim to know how accurate it is. There are several (obviously) Hollywood fictionalized bits one which involves Lucy getting an important scientist-technician to fix the plumbing in her kitchen. Another is a convenient plot device (a new bottle of perfume) which ties things together. Plus though everyone should know that Hiroshima was indeed “successfully” bombed I don’t really know if the subsequent status of the Tibbets’ marriage was per this film’s ending.