Strategic Air Command
In his seventh starring turn with noted alpha-male auteur Anthony Mann, Jimmy Stewart is aging third baseman "Dutch" Holland -- 152 RBI last season and a brand-new $70,000 contract, to boot -- whose country wants him back in the USAF.
Reviewed by Shawn Badgley, Fri., July 19, 2002
STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (1955)
D: Anthony Mann; with James Stewart, June Allyson, James Millican, Frank Lovejoy, Barry Sullivan, Alex Nicol, James Bell, Rosemary DeCamp, John R. McKee, Harry Morgan.
Introduction: "America today is watching her skies with grave concern." Introductory image: Blue sky, white clouds, and an iron-clad fist clutching an olive branch and red lightning, apparently the coat of arms for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command. But this Cold War relic's paranoid patriotism isn't the only reason that John Ashcroft has likely marched around naked singing along to "The Air Force Takes Command," which accompanies the opening sequence: The Missourian, after all, is probably as excited as I am to see Jimmy Stewart in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. His seventh (and second to last) starring turn with noted alpha-male auteur Anthony Mann, Stewart here is aging third baseman "Dutch" Holland -- 152 RBI last season and a brand-new $70,000 contract, to boot -- who served as an ace fighter pilot in World War II, and whose country wants him back. "Somethin' cookin'?" he asks Gen. Castle (Millican) when the latter interrupts him during a spring training scrimmage (at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., which is only the first of Mann's many technically accurate touches). "In a way," the general responds. That way happens to be a 21-month stint in S.A.C. -- making Dutch one more reserve preparing to fly a B-36 or 47 in the event of nuclear Armageddon. This spells trouble for his five-month marriage to Sally (Allyson), and the plot -- on one level an excuse to show off the latest military technology, complete with the full cooperation of the USAF -- eventually becomes an examination of the couple's fragile dynamic. Sally, it seems, suffers doubly: by her husband's tense absences, and by the role's demand for a clingy, uptight wife. "Are you angry with me 'cause I didn't wait for you to send for me?" she rasp-whines to Dutch after surprising him in Ft. Worth. "Well, I was kinda upset, at first, but now that I see you in that nightgown, I kinda changed my mind." That exchange is followed quickly by a scene for which Stewart was born: the roar of a jet overhead, a quick tug of a light bulb cord, darkness, shadows, and a mildly suggestive embrace. It's his presence, of course, that rescues a drama fraught only with bad weather, a sore shoulder, and sorer feelings; his hunched dignity and elliptical cadence accent a canvas whose most arresting image, arguably, is a satellite radar dish rotating in the rain (or, again, Stewart sporting the birds & bat). No, it's not his best work -- his association with Mann fell somewhere between his affairs with Capra and Hitchcock -- and it's not the director's, either. That would come six years later, with Charlton Heston and El Cid.