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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

COMMAND DECISION (1948)

M-G-M tapped nearly half their top male contract players for this formulaic WWII loneliness-of-command pic. Taken from a hit B’way play, there’s far too much action happening off-stage (er, off-screen). Not just in-flight action, but stuff happening right in the next room. And what a lot of speechifying these captains & generals make; top brass Walter Pidgeon & Clark Gable deliver back-to-back five minute orations. Maybe if the characters had more involving backstories? But the only one we really get into involves Captain John Hodiak, waiting to hear if he’s become a dad before his next bombing mission. (No points for guessing the outcome.) The main story angle has Gable running unacceptable casualties on preemptive air strikes against German jet plane factories, pushing against a fast closing window of weather opportunity. Lose this advantage and we could lose the war. But it’s a near impossible political sell. The big cast (note all those inappropriately smiling faces on our poster) are mostly camouflage for a skimpy plot. SURPRISE!; damned if it doesn’t work anyway. Moth-eaten character tics and worn-out story tropes seem nearly fresh; a master class in movie star acting. It has its limits, of course. For contrast, watch character actor Ray Collins as a civilian soldier with a technical specialty, to see something that digs a little deeper without making a fuss over it. Officially Sam Wood directs, but it sure looks like vet M-G-M producer Sidney Franklin was the man calling the shots.

DOUBLE-BILL: See the same basic idea done right in next year’s TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH/’49.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The most impressive visual element has huge war maps with small figures silhouetted in front. Cribbed from the original B’way staging of legendary scenic designer Jo Mielziner?

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