October 18, 2016


Starring James Stewart, Junes Allyson, Frank Lovejoy, Barry Sullivan, Bruce Bennet, Harry Morgan. Directed by Anthony Mann. (1955, 114 min).

Strategic Air Command couldn't be made today.

But I'll say this much..."Dutch" Holland (James Stewart) handles his bad news a lot better than I would have. If I was pro ballplayer suddenly recalled for 21 more months of active duty in the Air Force, I'd call on my agent to raise holy hell with the draft board. If that didn't work, I'd defect to Canada to play for the Blue Jays. If they wouldn't have me, I'd make sure that I performed such a half-assed job that the Air Force would beg for me to return to the ballpark. Finally, if all else failed, I'd bawl into my military-issue pillow every night and contemplate eating my revolver.

Instead, Dutch stoically reports for duty with his loving wife, Sally (June Allyson), in tow, giving the same dedication to a job that only pays a fraction of what a ballplayer makes (even in the 50s). Dutch falls in love with flying bombers all over again, his increasing number of test flights & missions taking a toll on his home life. Even after his 21 months are up, he decides to re-enlist permanently. That's essentially what Strategic Air Command has for a story, though most of the time, it doesn't really seem to be about anything at all. Aside from Dutch, none of the characters are very dynamic, the drama is slight and the a single plane crash comprises all of the action.

You couldn't pitch a film like this today because, on paper, it sounds like the dullest film since The English Patient.

"I wouldn't call it a plane crash, sir. I'd like to think of it as landing with style."

And yet, it's wonderfully entertaining. Stewart's amiable performance is one of the big reasons for that, as is the absolutely stunning cinematography of bombers in flight, which somehow never grow boring despite the ample number of them. When focused on Dutch and his crew at work, Strategic Air Command is compulsively watchable, and at no time are we convinced these scenes are anything but authentic. This allows us to forgive the duller scenes with his wife (who becomes increasingly irritating as the film goes on).

A relatively minor film on Stewart's lengthy resume (though it was a big hit at the time), Strategic Air Command is a forgotten gem waiting to be rediscovered. Now available on Blu-Ray for the first time, it's the kind of classic movie that's fun to relax with on the couch on a rainy afternoon. Not only that, the video transfer by Olive Films is pretty impressive.


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