“Above and Beyond” is a dramatic portrayal of the Air Force’s project to deliver the first atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan (Hiroshima). Col. Paul Tibbets, played by Robert Taylor, is selected for the mission because of his combat record and also for his knowledge of the capabilities of the B-29 bomber. The movie has two aspects. It documents the difficulty of the mission to combine the scientific, military and logistical requirements while maintaining absolute secrecy. The second aspect is the toll that this secrecy takes on the marriage and family life of Colonel Tibbets, his wife Lucey and their two young boys. I watched this movie along with Camera Girl and I made sure I emphasized how truly annoying wives are when husbands are trying to get something really important done. Like when I have a really important horror movie that I need to watch and she bothers me with unimportant stuff right in the middle of a very important scene. Very annoying. But I digress.
Since mission security is one of the crucial aspects of the story they gave the part of security chief, Major Uanna, to James Whitmore whose other credential for atomic energy related movies was his turn as a police officer in “Them,” the story of giant ants created by the original Manhattan Project blast in New Mexico. And the Air Force general overseeing the project was Major General Curtis E. LeMay who is played by Jim Backus, better known to television audiences as Gilligan’s Island’s very own millionaire, Thurston Howell III.
The melodrama of Col Tibbet’s disrupted family life is reasonably well done. But the payoff is the bombing mission. And it is compelling. The men in the plane other than Tibbets didn’t know about the atomic bomb. Tibbets reveals this during the flight to Japan. And he reveals to them that for all anyone knows their plane will be destroyed by the radiation or the subsequent shock wave. Actual footage of the Hiroshima blast is run during this sequence of the film and the devastating nature of the detonation is conveyed in Tibbets’ reaction to the blast. Even all these years later and in context of our familiarity with the much more powerful hydrogen bombs that were to follow, the sight of the Hiroshima explosion is still a sobering sight.
I recommend this movie based on its temporal proximity to the events. It gives us a chance to see the transition from the almost naïve mindset of the WW II Americans to the almost overwhelmed perspective of inhabitants of the new atomic age. And it gave me new-found admiration for the courage and determination of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations who combined intelligence and hard work to produce the horrible miracle that became the basis for our modern world. If we still had their clarity, I wonder whether we’d be in the mess we’re in now.