Command Decision (1948): Sam Wood’s Powerful, All-Star WWII, Headed by Gable

Well produced by Sidney Franklin and tautly directed by Sam Wood, Command Decision is one of the more intelligent and gripping WWII films made by MGM (or any studio) after 1945.

It was Gable, still under contract at MGM, who convinced the studio to buy the screen rights to William Wister Haines’s play, adapted to the big screen by William R. Laidlaw and George Froeschel.  And while the film still reveals its theatrical origins–long scenes, exits and entrances, preachy speeches, and so on– there is no denying the emotional power of the material, which offers a realistic view of the behind the scenes of secret and dangerous military operations, including the logistic and moral debates, conflicts, counter deliberations, and consequences (both positive and negative).

When an American bombing mission, flying deep into Germany, returns with the loss of forty-eight Flying Fortresses, the Allied world is shocked.  This is the beginning of Operation Stitch, a mission designed to destroy German production of new superior jet fighters.

Gable is well cast as General Dennis (nicknamed Casey), a tough commander who has ordered the operation because of a four-day break in the weather–to the dismay of his concerned superior, General Kane (Walter Pidgeon).

While Kane argues that they must not sacrifice the future of daylight bombing, Dennis points out that there will be no future unless this German fighter is abrupted. As the controversy rages, the second mission returns from Schweinhafen. The argument that the job is two-thirds done is convincing until the mission leader, Colonel Edward Martin (John Hodiak), reveals that the bombers missed Schweinhafen and blasted another town.  After much debate, Kane finally lets the planes return to Schweinhafen, a raid in which Martin is killed and over fifty ships are lost, but the right target is hit.

When the Confressional Committee puts the pressure on Kane, he is forced to replace Dennis with General Garnet (Brian Donlevy).  But Garnet is swayed by Dennis’ leadership style, realizing that if the men must die, the least he can do is show respect for their lives.  The film ends when he orders the third phase of Operation Stitch, acting just as Denis would have if he were still in command.

In a strong scene, which demonstrates Gable’s authoritative gravitas and acting chops, Denis claims, “Make each one of them count, make them feel that their sacrifice was necessary.” Gable is excellent–severe, glum, but ultimately human–as a badgered Air Force general, willing to balance tremendous losses against the destruction of plane factories in Germany.

Cast:

Clark Gable

Walter Pidgeon

Van Johnson

Brian Donlevy

Charles Bickford

John Hodiak

Edward Arnold

Marshall Thompson

Richard Quine

Cameron Mitchell

Clinton Sundberg

Ray Collins

Warner Anderson

John McIntire

Moroni Olsen

John Ridgely

Michael Steele

Edward Earle

Mack Williams

James Millican

 

Credits

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Produced by Sidney Franklin.

Directed by Sam Wood.

Screenplay by William R. Laidlaw and George Froeschel, based on the play by William Wister Haines.

Photography by Harold Rosson.

Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons and Urie MCleary.

Musical score by Miklos Rozsa.

Editor: Harold F. Kress.

Release date: December 23, 1948.

Running time: 112 minutes.

 

 

 

 

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