DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A GATHERING OF EAGLES (director: Delbert Mann; screenwriters: Robert Pirosh/from the story by Sy Bartlett; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; music: Jerry Goldsmith/Tom Lehrer (song: "The SAC Song"); cast: Rock Hudson (Col. Jim Caldwell), Rod Taylor (Col. Hollis Farr), Mary Peach (Victoria Caldwell), Barry Sullivan (Col. Bill Fowler), Kevin McCarthy (Col. "Happy Jack" Kirby), 
Leora Dana (Mrs. Evelyn Fowler), Robert Lansing (Sergeant Banning); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sy Bartlett; Universal; 1963)

 
"It's as dull and routine as it sounds, and only occasionally soars."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Delbert Mann ("Marty"/"Lover Come Back"/"That Touch of Mink") directs this peacetime Cold War military drama. The story is by producer Sy Bartlett. It has the same tension as a wartime film. The screenwriter is Robert Pirosh ("Battleground"). The film received an Academy Award nomination for its Sound Effects (there's lots of roaring B-52 jets taking off). It's a loose remake of the superior Twelve O'Clock High (also written by Bartlett) that has Rock Hudson leave his usual Universal roles as the amiable bachelor flirt in the Gregory Peck role as an obsessed hard-nosed colonel out to improve the alertness and efficiency of a Strategic Air Command base. Its story is also like Strategic Air Command (1955) with James Stewart and June Allyson. Going against type, Rock is still viewed as likable despite being such a stern taskmaster.

After a California Air Force base fails to pass a surprise alert test called Operational Readiness Inspection (an ORI-an extensive simulated test of base readiness) ordered by the Strategic Air Command (SAC), Col. Jim Caldwell (Rock Hudson) is brought in to bring down the hatchet as the new base wing commander. The colonel sends for his peachy British wife Victoria (Mary Peach), but he gets too busy on his job to keep her company. Neglecting her needs puts a strain on the marriage. It also makes the dedicated patriot unpopular with the men under him, as his first questionable act is to force the popular missile squadron commander, Col. Bill Fowler (Barry Sullivan), a heavy drinker, to take a forced retirement because he might at a critical time foul-up. That will later lead to him attempting suicide. His second in command, the vice commander, is the easygoing Col. Hollis Farr (Rod Taylor), an old buddy from their Korean War days, who develops a romantic interest in Victoria.  Jim becomes displeased with Hollis' job performance and recommends that he be replaced, finding him inefficient as he's more interested in the social aspects of the job than tightening things up on the base. In Jim's demand for a higher standard, he's also displeased with hands-on maintenance officer Colonel Joe Garcia (Henry Silva), who doesn't know how to delegate responsibility. It leads to a corny contrived climax that brings together the trio of Jim, Victoria and Hollis in a renewed harmony, as the base passes the next ORI with flying colors when Inspector General 'Happy Jack' Kirby (Kevin McCarthy) conducts a follow-up surprise alert test.

It's as dull and routine as it sounds, and only occasionally soars. But there's an amusing musical ditty by satirist Tom Lehrer entitled "The SAC Song." There's also one scene where the real "Red Phone," the device by which SAC commanders alerted all bases in the system to imminent threats and gave the go-ahead to mobilize, was used. The right-wing fanatical head of the Air Force, Gen. Curtis LeMay, wanted a patriotic air force film to counter Kubrick's vicious satire Dr. Strangelove (1964). The general got what he wanted, and as a result the film had excellent aerial coverage and other benefits in keeping things looking realistic because of the full cooperation it was given.

REVIEWED ON 2/5/2007        GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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