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Friday, June 16, 2017

ABOVE AND BEYOND (1951)

Visually dull with flatfooted staging, the writing/directing team of Melvin Frank & Norman Panama specialized in leaving the canvas blank for comedians like Bob Hope & Danny Kaye to romp in. Here, they drop the jokes (all but one, involving a low-flying plane & a water tower) for a rare serious outing, while staying visually dull with flatfooted staging. Robert Taylor, least fondly recalled of Hollywood’s top Golden Age stars, takes the lead in this fact-inspired story of the pilot who dropped the first Atomic Bomb. And with a woman’s angle filling half the pic as put-upon wife Eleanor Parker grows increasingly frustrated at being left in the dark.* Dramatically, all highly respectable, even attempting to deal with the difficult issue of innocent war casualties. But it’s a subject that calls for daring. (Unlikely at early ‘50s M-G-M; though not impossible; see John Huston’s RED BADGE OF COURAGE/’51.) This one's neither great nor awful, plodding ahead tastefully . . . which in a way is worse. Frank/Panama do manage a bit of atmosphere on the eve of the mission, and the bomb run lends some tension (how could it not?), but the film is only intense in being intensely unmemorable.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Worried about appealing to ‘The Ladies,’ the trailer features encomiums from nearly every major female magazine editor & gossip columnist of the day. Starting with the holy press trinity of Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons & Sheila Graham.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: In a brief, tardy appearance, Gen. Curtis LeMay adds his approval to the bombing. (He famously didn’t believe in the concept of innocent civilians and in ‘68 ran for Vice Prez on the George Wallace ticket.) To play him? Who else but Mr. Magoo! Er . . . Thurston Howell of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND!! Oh, it’s Jim Backus.

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