Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Olive Films - STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND & ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, December 25, 2016


STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (1955; Anthony Mann)
In the first five minutes or so if this movie, there's a lovely shot where James Stewart runs from the stands to the edge of a baseball field and as he does, a giant bomber plane flies over and Jimmy stops to look up at it fondly. It's an interesting and artful shot in that this is obviously a time before CG, so the choreography of the thing has to be worked out carefully. It's just one of those things that when you see it your are reminded that you are in the hands of a sharp and mindful director (in this case, the great Anthony Mann).
Stewart plays a professional baseball player named Dutch who is called away from his brand new $70,000 a year contract to active duty in the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Dutch is understandingly peeved as he's already done his service in the Air Force and never saw this new thing coming. He and his wife (June Allyson) are called down to Carswell AFB in Texas for his new service (he's been called up for 21 months). His focus is to train to fly the new Corvair B-36 Bomber - a veritable flying battleship in terms of its size. The film is almost a commercial for the B-36 in the time it takes with the plane. We are treated to lots of beauty shots of it as it is taking off and once it is in the air. Dutch even receives a tour of the plane from a flight engineer (Harry Morgan) so we get an even more detailed sense of what the plane is and how it takes a decent-sized crew to run it. The movie also features the B-47 state-of-the-art jet aircraft. Dutch ends up flying one of these too. The whole point of the film would seem to be explaining a bit of what SAC is about and how it could prevent wars by having bombers (equipped with a-bombs) with the range to reach pretty much anywhere in the world without landing. There's a lot of plane testing and such throughout. Very procedural with a few exhilarating flight sequences. James Stewart and the film being a lovely color VistaVision picture helps it along as does the supporting cast (familiar faces like Barry Sullivan, Frank Lovejoy and Jay C. Flippen are always welcome).

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ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942; Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
I've had a continued love affair with The Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) since I first discovered their films via the Danny Peary books, the Criterion Collection and Martin Scorsese. One of my favorite films of all time is THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and I was absolutely blown away by it when I first saw it. I think that the first time I ever rented a laserdisc player was to listen to the commentary for BLIMP from the Criterion Laserdisc. It was amazing I think I even heard Wes Anderson mention that commentary in his own commentary for the Criterion edition of RUSHMORE. Basically, Powell and Pressburger are one of the greatest duos in all of cinema. Watch BLIMP, THE RED SHOES, BLACK NARCISSUS or I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (which is irritatingly not been upgrade to Blu-ray by Criterion yet) and you'll see what I mean.
So, as I said, Wes Anderson has professed his love for Powell and Pressburger on more than one occasion and when you watch a movie like COLONEL BLIMP or this one you can see some parallels. Wes Anderson is all about surrogate family groups and friendship and you can see that kind of thing in movies like this. Here, an RAF bomber crew must bail out of their plane after it is damaged in a run. They end up landing in Netherlands and a bunch of Dutch villagers end up taking them in. After some suspicious beginnings and understandable fear of German pushback against them for helping the British, the Dutch agree to help them get home. When I watch a film like this, I can see the tenets of comradery  and solidarity that Anderson injects pretty much all of his films. I think that one of the things I love about both his work and the work of the Archers is their ultimately less than cynical view on humanity that comes through. Especially during times like these, it is this kind of optimism and trust in mankind that I cherish quite a bit. It's been said that this film is kind of a reversal of their previous movie - THE 49TH PARALLEL - which I can totally see and despite ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT not being quite on the level of that one, it is still a solid WWII thriller and worth checking out. Some interesting credits on this film include David Lean as editor and Ronald Neame as director of photography.

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