Above and Beyond (film)
|Above and Beyond|
1952 film poster
|Directed by||Melvin Frank
|Produced by||Melvin Frank
|Written by||Beirne Lay, Jr.
|Music by||Hugo Friedhofer|
|Editing by||Cotton Warburton|
|Distributed by||Loew's Inc.|
|Release dates||November 21, 1952|
|Running time||122 minutes|
|Box office||$2.5 million (US)|
It stars Robert Taylor as Tibbets and features a love story with Eleanor Parker as his wife. James Whitmore plays security officer Major Bill Uanna. The story of the dropping of the atomic bomb is treated as a docudrama with an effort to recreate the training and operational aspects of the military units involved in the Hiroshima mission.
Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. (Robert Taylor) is assigned to a dangerous mission in testing a new bomber, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The perilous assignment has caused his wife Lucy (Eleanor Parker) to worry for his life and whether their marriage can survive the constant separations.
After a year of scrutiny, Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent (Larry Keating) who not only championed Tibbets as a test pilot, selects him to lead a new unit in the Pacific war, flying the B-29, armed with a new secret weapon. Scientists of the "Manhattan Project" explain what is "the best kept secret of the war," the atomic bomb. Along with Maj. Bill Uanna (James Whitmore), the only other person who knows what the mission will entail, Tibbets is expected to keep strict discipline over the personnel assigned to a B-29 conversion unit at Wendover Field, Utah.
When families of crew members are brought to Wendover, tensions erupt in the Tibbets family due to Lucy's attitude towards her husband's secrecy concerning the mission, as the decision to use the atomic bomb has been made. Flying out to the Pacific island base of Tinian, the B-29 designated for the Hiroshima bombing is named the Enola Gay.[N 1] Although the mission is a success, as he wrests the aircraft around to escape the aftershock, the realization of the devastation is brought home as Tibbets sees the flash of the bomb and the subsequent atomic blast. Back on Tinian, the crew is mobbed and although a second mission is mounted, the war has been decided by the actions of the B-29 bombers. Tibbets finally returns home, flying first to Washington where he has a joyous reunion with his wife.
As appearing in Above and Beyond, (main roles and screen credits identified):
- Robert Taylor — Colonel[N 3]Paul W. Tibbets, 509th Composite Group Commanding Officer and pilot of the Enola Gay
- Eleanor Parker — Lucy Tibbets
- James Whitmore — Major Bill Uanna (Security Officer, Operation Silverplate)
- Larry Keating — Major General Vernon C. Brent (fictional stand-in for Maj Gen Uzal Girard Ent)
- Larry Gates — Captain William "Deak"' Parsons, USN
- Marilyn Erskine — Marge Bratton
- Stephen Dunne — Major Harry Bratton, (fictional) co-pilot during B-29 tests
- Robert Burton — Brigadier General Samuel E. Roberts (Tibbets' fictional CO in Africa)
- Hayden Rorke — Dr. Norman Ramsey
- Lawrence Dobkin — Dr. Van Dyke (as Larry Dobkin)
- Jim Backus — Major General Curtis E. LeMay
- Christopher Olsen — Paul Tibbets Jr. (son) (as Christie Olsen)
The film was suggested by screenwriter Beirne Lay, Jr., a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, to General Curtis LeMay, then commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), who had discussed with Lay the problem of the high rate of divorce among flight crews. A film depicting the problems might help raise morale.
Lay suggested a film based on the experiences of Colonel Paul Tibbets, commander of the 509th Composite Group during World War II. LeMay approved, and after writing an outline, Lay handed over scriptwriting duties to Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. Although Tibbets gave his full approval and support to the film, he felt he was too closely involved to be objective, and suggested Lt. Col. Charles F.H. Begg, commander of the nuclear ordnance squadron, and Charles Sweeney, pilot on the follow-up Nagasaki mission, as technical advisors. Ultimately, Begg, Major Norman W. Ray (ret'd.) and Major James B. Bean served as USAF technical advisors.[N 4]
Principal photography began on February 5, 1952 at the Culver City studios before transferring to Davis–Monthan Air Force Base that was predominantly utilized for the airfield scenes of Wendover Air Force Base, Boeing's Wichita testing area and even Tinian Island. The production wound up on March 26, 1952. For dramatic effect, some incidents were somewhat exaggerated, such as the scene in which the Hiroshima bomb is armed in mid-flight. The filmmakers added some turbulence to increase tension, although in fact the flight was perfectly smooth throughout. In addition, the entire mission was filmed in daylight, although actual takeoff from Tinian was in full darkness at 2:45 in the morning. However, the scene in which Tibbet's wife calls over one of the men in white coats that she was told by her husband were "sanitary engineers", but were in fact nuclear scientists from Los Alamos, to help her unblock a drain, was true.
When initial reviews came in, Taylor's performance in Above and Beyond was considered the "finest performance of his career to date". Taylor was also proud of his accomplishments in the film and urged MGM to allow him to promote the film on television. Taylor and Tibbets appeared together on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town show in order to promote the film, an unusual step at a time when the major Hollywood studios disapproved of its stars appearing on television, which they saw as a threat. [N 5] Although the studio was hesitant about the television appearance, the publicity gained was important to the film's initial success.
Above and Beyond received generally favorable reviews, however, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther found the military elements of the film superior to its focus on the relationship between Tibbets and his wife. He liked Taylor in the military scenes, but not in the scenes concerning his marriage and found Parker to be "utterly theatrical."[N 6] Reviewer Robert Parish considered the film a comprehensive if lengthy account that was a "too meticulous detail-by-detail presentation," and considered Parker's performance "overwrought."  Although considered an aviation classic due to its subject matter focusing on the mission of the "Enola Gay", aviation film historians noted that the flying sequences were limited, and that the romance scenes "got in the way."
Contrary to Crowther and other reviewers' reactions, Above and Beyond was named one of the year's 10 best films by the National Board of Review, and celebrity and film columnist Louella Parsons, chose it as the "Best Drama of the Month" in Cosmopolitan. Leonard Maltin considered the film, "a meaningful account" of an important event. A more tepid later review by Alun Evans, noted the film was "pretty boring fare, but the right kind of Hollywood fodder for the days of McCarthy and Stalin."
Although unsuccessful, Above and Beyond was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Motion Picture Story for Beirne Lay Jr. and Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture for Hugo Friedhofer.
- In August 1945, during preparation for the first atomic mission, Colonel Tibbets, the pilot who assumed command of the aircraft, named the B-29 aircraft after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets.
- The on-camera Enola Gay was one of the B-29s stationed at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base.
- Paul W. Tibbets Jr.'s rank at time was Colonel.
- Bean and Ray served in the 509th, Begg as commander of the 1st Ordnance Squadron, Special (Aviation) and Ray as aircraft commander of Crew C-14 (Necessary Evil).
- Taylor, a pilot himself since the 1930s and who had served as Navy instructor in the war, had met Tibbets and found that they had much in common.
- Taylor and Parker were rumored to be lovers, and this conjecture helped the film's "box-office grosses." Recently divorced Taylor and Parker going through a divorce, were tabloid fodder during the production.
- 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
- Parish 1990, p. 3.
- Murphy, Charles J.V. "Carl Spaatz: A Register of His Papers in the Library of Congress." Library of Congress. Retrieved: 4 August 2010.
- Orriss 1984, p. 170.
- "Credits: Above and Beyond (1952)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 11, 2012.
- Orriss 1984, p. 169.
- Parish 1990, p. 2.
- "Boeing B-29 Superfortress." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 3 August 2010.
- Orriss 1984, p. 170.
- History of 509th Composite Group - 313th Bombardment Wing - Twentieth Air Force - Activation to 15 August 1945, pp. 6, 50. Tinian: 509th CG (AFHRA archived), 1945. Retrieved: February 3, 2012.
- Orriss 1984, pp. 171–172.
- Wickware, Francis Sill. "Manhattan Project: Its Scientists Have Harnessed Nature's Basic Force." Life, 20 August 1945, p. 91. Retrieved: November 25, 2011.
- Thames, Stephanie. "Above and Beyond." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 11, 2012.
- Tibbets et al. 1982, p. 263.
- Tibbets 1985, pp. 262–267.
- Crowther, Bosley. "Above and Beyond, film review." The New York Times, January 31, 1953. Retrieved: February 6, 2010.
- Wayne 1973, pp. 166–167.
- Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 50.
- Maltin 2009, p. 3.
- Evans 2000, p. 4.
- Orriss 1984, p. 172.
- Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
- Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
- Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2009. New York: New American Library, 2009 (originally published as TV Movies, then Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide), First edition 1969, published annually since 1988. ISBN 978-0-451-22468-2.
- Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
- Parish, James Robert. The Great Combat Pictures: Twentieth-Century Warfare on the Screen. Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8108-2315-0.
- Tibbets, Paul W. Mission: Hiroshima. New York: Stein & Day, 1985. ISBN 0-8128-8169-9.
- Tibbets, Paul Warfield, Clair C. Stebbins and Harry Franken. The Tibbets Story. New York: Stein & Day, 1982. ISBN 978-0-8128-2157-4.
- Wayne, Jane Ellen. Robert Taylor. New York: Manor Books Inc., 1973. ISBN 978-0-446-76103-1.
- DVD review
- Above and Beyond at the Internet Movie Database
- Above and Beyond at the TCM Movie Database
- Above and Beyond at allmovie
- About the RCA811-K radio that gives Mrs. Tibbets the news about Hiroshima