Above and Beyond (1952) – A Movie Review

“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.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 4 Episode 16 – On Thursday We Leave for Home

A colony has been trapped for thirty years on a marginally habitable planet.  The planet has two suns and never has night and the temperature is always well over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  The machinery that refrigerates the below ground dwellings of the colonists has finally completely given out and the drinking water is always hot.

The colony is at the brink of despair and all that keeps them from giving up is their leader Captain Benteen.  Whenever they despair, he preaches to them about the rescue ship that will arrive any day.  His assistant Al Baines, has lost hope and when they find that one of the women has committed suicide Al says that she has done the wise thing and none of them should have to go on enduring the hell they live in.  But Benteen tells them a comforting story about the beauty of Earth with its fall foliage, white clouds and cool black nights.  They hypnotically repeat his words like cult followers and calm down.

And then the ship arrives and Colonel Sloane announces that he’ll be able to bring the whole colony home in a few days and they’ll head to Earth where they’ll leave behind the misery and despair of their hell world and join the human race on green Earth.  Everyone is ecstatic except Benteen.  He’s anxious because he’s losing the control over his flock.  When the Colonel describes how the colonists will be treated like heroes back on Earth Benteen tells him that his people won’t be able to understand that experience.  Benteen tells Sloane that the colonists are like children that he has led through their lives telling them whatever they needed to know.  He assures the Colonel that even after they return to Earth, he will continue to control their lives as head of the group and that they will not separate after reaching Earth.  Colonel Sloane listens to Benteen’s speech but at the end he replies that he wants Benteen to allow the colonists to vote on whether they want to stay together or go their own ways.

Benteen calls a meeting with the colonists and tells them that when they get ack to Earth he will arrange for Earth to give them a place where they can continue to live together under his leadership.  But they all want to go to different places that they have heard about from their older relatives.  Benteen is upset by this lack of loyalty.  The next day he tells the colonists and Colonel Sloane that the colony won’t leave on the ship but will stay on the planet.

Colonel Sloane demands that the colonists have the chance to vote on returning to Earth by a show of hands.  Eventually all of them vote to leave.  Benteen, feeling betrayed, runs off.  The next day when the ship is ready to leave Colonel Sloane and Al Baines go searching in the underground caves calling for Benteen to leave with them.  But he ignores their calls and stays hidden until they leave.  Once they are gone Benteen comes out and starts talking to an imaginary gathering of his colonists.  He starts describing the beauty of Earth but when he hears the sound of the space ship leaving the planet he runs out and cries out “don’t leave me here, don’t leave me here, please, I want to go home.”

James Whitmore plays Captain Benteen and he is a very capable actor.  He gives the script a very good rendition.  He portrays a man who considers himself the present-day Moses of a lost tribe.  And he also portrays his jealous possessiveness for his prerogatives over his people.  He allows his desire for power to overrule his judgement as to what is good for his people.  So, Whitmore does a good job with the story line.  And the cast is also pretty good.  Their misery and desperate trust in Benteen are fairly compelling.  The crisis over leaving is handled fairly well and Benteen’s final plea to go home is affecting.

I’ll give this a solid B+.


After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

Them! – A Science Fiction Movie Review

You may be asking yourself, is photog becoming demented?  Didn’t he already write a review of Them!?  The answers to those questions are yes and no.  I have referenced Them in several posts about cheesy 1950s science fiction movies.  But it has never gotten its own exclusive treatment.  Well, I mean to remedy that situation, pronto.

Them! is the grand-daddy of all atomic energy fear films.  Instead of fearing cancer and radiation sickness we are provided with a much more rational fear, giant ants.  It is 1954 and nine years after the first atomic bomb was tested at White Sands, New Mexico.  During those nine years ants have been traipsing around the New Mexico desert ignorant of their future as future contenders for mankind’s crown as King of the Earth.  But the wait is over.  A small prop plane is inexplicably cruising over the desert and spots a little girl holding a doll aimlessly walking in the hot sun.  The pilot alerts a nearby police cruiser which intercepts the little girl and finds that she’s catatonic.  With the help of the pilot they trace her point of origin to a recreational vehicle parked in the desert.  On closer inspection the officers discover that one side of the RV has been ripped to shreds.  But being crack forensic experts and logical linguists, they proclaim that the RV wall, “wasn’t caved in, it was caved out.”  Whoever wrote the deathless prose of this dialog is partly responsible for the sad position we currently find ourselves in, vis-à-vis cultural and actual illiteracy.  Later on, the policeman redeems himself when at a general store that has been similarly destroyed, he declares, “this wasn’t pushed in, it was pulled out.”  Okay, stupid rant over.

Based on blood found in the RV the officers determine that the girl is the only survivor of an attack.  On the way back from finding the girl and the trailer they stop off at a local general store and find it similarly damaged and the store owner brutally killed.  One of the police officers, Ed Blackburn is left at the store to guard the remains.  His partner, Sgt. Ben Peterson played by James Whitmore, drives off and shortly afterward, Blackburn is heard off camera firing his revolver at some thing and then screaming as he suffers horrible death.

Evidence found at the site of the RV, a foot print, is sent to the FBI for identification and so the story moves on to its next logical step, Santa Claus is called in.  Or more precisely Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.  Gwenn plays Dr. Harold Medford a world-renowned myrmecologist who with his myrmecologist daughter have come to lead the effort to save the world from the giant ants.  Representing the government is FBI agent Robert Graham played by James Arness.  Arness who later found fame as Marshall Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke is the brave, competent hero of the movie and the love interest for the myrmecologist daughter.  And to provide local color Ben Peterson is always on hand to provide the comic relief.

With the help of the scientists, the army locates the giant ant nest and destroy it with cyanide gas.  But after inspecting the inside of the nest the scientists break the bad news.  New queen ants have escaped the nest and will be forming new nests elsewhere.  Now a war room is set up and armed forces from all the services mobilize to battle the giant ants on land, on sea and in the air.  Dunt, dunt, daaaah!!!

The final showdown takes place where it must, in the storm drains of Los Angeles.  And in fitting fashion, the ants capture two little boys who wander into their nest and are rescued by the US Army.  Unfortunately, Ben Peterson dies saving the boys but dies the good death of a hero.  And when the ants are finally finished off Dr. Medford gives a speech and tells us that the atomic age is fraught with danger and giant insects.

Despite how thoroughly I’ve mocked this movie, I actually enjoy it immensely.  Other than the laughably fake animatronic ants the production values for the movie are quite good and the actors are actually very effective for the most part, including the character actors performing the bit parts as police, military and civilian participants.  My favorite scenes are where the scientific expertise of the Medfords is showcased for the benefit of the poor ignorant soldiers and police.  While under attack from their first giant ant Dr. Medford makes sure he uses the Latin singular and plural versions of the word antenna when instructing the police to shoot at the ant. “Shoot the antennae, shoot the antennae,” he yells and once one of these has been shot off he continues “now shoot the other antenna.”  In another scene Dr. Medford is attempting to convince the Pentagon that the giant ants are an existential threat to humanity and he uses an ant film clip that looks like it could have been made by my high school biology teacher.

Them! is a wonderful time capsule of the 1950s.  Americans are the good guys and giant ants are definitely bad.  What could be simpler?