Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


THE COURT-MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL (1955). Director: Otto Preminger.

Gary Cooper offers a low-key, occasionally wooden, but overall effective enough performance as the flying officer who deplored the conditions of the United States' military planes in the days after WW1 and before there was an Air Force. Poorly maintained and falling apart, the planes are responsible for the deaths of many military men, including some of Mitchell's colleagues. The problem is that few in the Army or Navy believe that planes will be the key to warfare in the future [despite their use in WW1, oddly enough] and are too short-sighted to see how sophisticated and fast planes will become and how they might be used to attack the U.S. in the future. Mitchell, on the other hand, can describe how easily, for instance, the base at Pearl Harbor could be wiped out by planes [which, of course, happened a few years later]. Statements deliberately made to the press after a friend dies gets Mitchell court-martialed, through which he hopes to get across his point of view to the military and the American people. Charles Bickford is excellent as his lawyer, who fears that Mitchell will be muzzled before he can say a word in his defense, and Rod Steiger plays one of the prosecutors with an oddly epicene oiliness that isn't quite as mesmerizing as he might have intended. This is an interesting if imperfect film, however, with an attention-holding courtroom climax.
Verdict: Worth a look, especially for Cooper fans. **1/2.

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