Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955): Otto Preminger Directs, Gary Cooper Stars

One of Otto Preminger’s few dull films, “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell” stars Gary Cooper in the title role of the General.

Cooper is miscast as the Brigadier General who was relieved of his command, reduced to Colonel, and exiled to Texas after WWI, when he tried to convince the Army and Navy of the importance of air power.

After several air disasters, he publicly charged the War and Navy departments with “incompetence and criminal negligence,” and is arrested and court martialed. Charged with being a publicity seeker, he is found guilty and  suspended for five years.

The script and direction make Cooper look old and unheroic, instead of a depicting him as a dedicated man sacrificing himself for the defense of his country.

Preminger shows no strong emotional affinity with the material, and the court sequences are uncharacteristically static, compared to their superlative counterparts in Preminger’s 1959 masterpiece, “Anatomy of Murder.”

That said, the supporting cast is glorious: Charles Bickford, Ralph Bellamy, Rod Steiger, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jack Lord, Peter Graves and Darren McGavin.

Oscar Nominations:

Story and Screenplay: Milton Sperling and Emmett Lavery

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners were William Ludwig and Sonya Levien for the biopic “Interrupted Melody.”

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