We marked Veterans Day by watching a military-themed movie, ABOVE AND BEYOND, starring Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker. It was an outstanding film which I highly recommend.
Taylor plays Col. Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay. The film depicts Tibbets' training and preparation in the months prior to commanding the flight which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The secrecy and strain of the top-secret project took a toll on Tibbets' marriage to Lucey (Parker).
The film is extremely engrossing, with excellent acting and production values. Taylor gives a deeply felt performance as one of our nation's finest -- a smart, highly professional pilot committed to serving his country and winning the war, despite the impact on his personal life. Taylor also movingly depicts the gravity of Tibbets' mission; his one-word reaction after dropping the bomb says more than a page of dialogue would have conveyed. Over the last couple of years Taylor has become one of my favorite actors, and this film is a great example of Taylor's work.
Parker is also excellent in her role as Tibbets' wife. As with Taylor, I have very much come to admire Parker as I've become more familiar with her films. Parker and Taylor were later paired in VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954) and MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955). They were a romantic item off the screen for a period in the '50s, and one source says Parker would have married him "in a minute," but ultimately they went on to marry others. Parker is now 86.
Taylor and Parker are ably supported by Larry Keating as Tibbets' commanding officer and James Whitmore as the project's security officer. Keating and Whitmore's performances both add greatly to the film's overall quality. The fine supporting cast also includes Larry Gates, Marilyn Erskine, Hayden Rorke, Jeff Richards, Jim Backus, and Barbara Ruick.
ABOVE AND BEYOND was co-directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, who also cowrote the screenplay with Beirne Lay Jr. Lay was nominated for the Oscar for Best Story. Hugo Friedhofer was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Score.
The film runs 122 minutes and was shot in black and white.
ABOVE AND BEYOND is available on VHS. It can also be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies, where it will next air on February 20, 2009.
The trailer can be viewed here.
This is a film which richly deserves to be more widely seen. I hope that at some point it will be released on DVD, perhaps as part of a Robert Taylor or WWII collection.
May 2009 Update: ABOVE AND BEYOND is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.