Handsome, thoughtful Loneliness-of-Command WWII pic doesn’t win any awards for originality, but is uncommonly effective, with everyone involved underplaying to the top of their form. Gary Merrill’s the burnt-out Colonel who’s grown too close to his airmen and started to make decisions based on sentiment. Gregory Peck’s the General above him, reluctantly brought in to inject a relentless sort of faceless discipline that puts the mission (daylight sorties across the Channel) ahead of individuals. It’s one tough call after another, and resented all ‘round. He gets quick results, but at what cost? To the men; and to himself. Henry King, a perpetually underrated director who also brought a kind of faceless discipline to the job, gets gravitas without losing pace.* (Even with no background score over 2+ hours, the film really moves.) While ace lenser Leon Shamroy shows how much he learned from the work of William Wyler & Gregg Toland, director & D.P. on BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES/’46. The verisimilitude is both believable and admirable, without throwing too much Greatest Generation pablum at us. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck saved that sort of cooked up reverence for some of his other big WWII pics, like THE LONGEST DAY/’62. This one’s infinitely better; sober, somber, consistently involving, loaded with touching human moments and with the action served on the side.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Henry King probably did his best work in the silents. But his better sound-era work tends to get critically smothered by a few deadly prestige items Zanuck assigned to him.