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Above and Beyond (1952) – Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker

Above_and_beyond_-_movie_posterAbove and Beyond is a blend of genres; part military history of Lt. Colonel Paul Tibbets at Wendover Air Force Base preparing to drop the atomic bomb on Japan and part melodrama about his strained relationship with his wife. Made in 1952, it stars Robert Taylor as Paul Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his wife, Lucy.

The film is narrated by Eleanor Parker, recounting how their marriage has nearly fallen apart. It begins in 1943, when Tibbets is brought back to America from overseas (where he was flying the B-17 over Africa) to fly test runs of the new Boeing B-29 bomber, which has been having technical problems and even crashed during one test, killing the pilot. Lucy is thrilled to see her husband for the first time in two years – and to introduce him to the son he has never seen – but discovers that he only has thirty minutes to be with her before he reports to Wichita to begin test flying the B-29.

They do manage a few moments together in the coming months and Lucy is soon pregnant again. She comments on how they have been married for five years, are the parents of a child and yet they have really only lived together for about seven weeks. But the war continues and because of Tibbets’ experience with the B-29, he is chosen to head the 509th Composite Group, an Air Force group that was part of the Manhattan Project and the group in charge of actually delivering the bomb, training the crew and modifying the B-29 so that it could carry the bomb.

The 509th Composite Group is located at Wendover Air Force Base in Utah. Initially, there are no women and children, but out of concern that the women would do too much talking and speculating, the decision is made to allow all the wives and children to live on the base….except Lucy. Major Bill Uanna (James Whitmore) is the security officer and strongly advises Tibbets against bringing Lucy. He’s concerned that the pressure on Tibbets will make him of little use as a husband and father and that the stress would be too much for her. But after Lucy has her second child, she can’t understand why she has been excluded when other wives are there and insists on coming.

At first, everything is okay. The house is cramped and dingy, but she’s happy to be with him. But soon she hears some complaints from the wives on the base. Because Tibbets is not even a full Colonel (still a Lieutenant Colonel) and because of the intense secrecy on the base, some of the men don’t believe he is really in charge of anything important and think he’s being strict because he’s angling for promotion.

Eleanor Parker and Robert Taylor

Eleanor Parker and Robert Taylor

She dismisses it, but soon begins to suspect that perhaps they are right and can’t understand why he won’t tell her anything. The only people who know what is going on are Tibbets, the scientists, Major Uanna and General Brent (Larry Keating), who meets with Tibbets periodically. Soon she begins to wonder if he’s hardening before her eyes and if she can even live with him anymore. Tempers are short, words are spoken and she’s contemplating divorce. Meanwhile, he is agonizing over whether or not to announce to General Brent that the bomb is ready to be deployed.

The film is well-acted and absorbing, though at 122 minutes, a bit too long and it does hover uneasily between aviation history and melodrama. I’m not sure how much of the story between Lucy and Tibbets is accurate. On the one hand, it seems like she could have been more understanding about the stress he’s under (though according to Wikipedia – a grain-of-salt source – the film was made to explore the very issue of high divorce rates among flight crews). But in the film no one on the base seems to really believe that what they are doing is vitally important, which is what causes the misunderstandings in the first place.

There are two moments in the film that I know are true: when Lucy gets one of the Manhattan Project scientists to fix her sink (Tibbets had told her, when she asked about the men in white overalls, that they were sanitation men) and when the bomb is armed once the Enola Gay is in air and not before. They were concerned that if the Enola Gay crashed before taking off (still a somewhat common occurrence) the whole base would blow up.

I have not seen many of Eleanor Parker’s films; I still think of her as the Baroness from The Sound of Music, so it was fun to see her in another role. She’s quite good, though she is required to spend most of the movie frustrated and anxious. Robert Taylor is another actor I am not as familiar with, though I was impressed here. He’s playing a man who does not generally express his emotions, but feels deeply and cannot tell anyone what he is thinking or going through at all while he as at Wendover.

Movie-AboveBeyondThe film reflects a definite post-atomic bomb consciousness of the horror of nuclear weapons. It is not apologetic about dropping the bomb, but is nonetheless ambivalent about the existence of such a weapon. The film mentions President Truman soul-searching about whether to use it or not and Tibbets is clearly uneasy (when the scientists are discussing how to maximize the damage of the explosion, he gets a queasy look on his face) as if they were fully aware of what a weighty moment in history it was. But in 1945, I have read of no soul-searching or agonizing over the decision or consideration past the primary objective, which was to end the war as quickly as possible, the atomic bomb being considered one method of several concurrently employed to bring it about.

Interspersed in the film is quite a bit of actual war footage, including of the mushroom cloud billowing upwards (which is eerie), footage of the B-17 and B-29, of dropping bombs, of explosions and damage and it is quite well integrated. The ending of the film is chillingly effective, as the crew looks out of their plane at the cloud and the flattened, burning city of Hiroshima. All Tibbets’ says is “God,” in a hushed tone while his men look on, a bit in shock by what they just unleashed.

It’s not a moral exploration of the use of the bomb (Michael Bess writes a thorough and excellent one in his sobering and deeply thoughtful Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II), but is a look at a historical moment in time, as well as a more timeless account of the pressures on a loving marriage were the husband is frequently gone, in danger and unable to talk about what he does.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Movies

 

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Waterloo Bridge (1940) – Waterloo Bridge Three Post Series # I

MV5BMTQ3NzUzOTc1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzcwMDkxMTE@__V1_SX214_When I first watched the movie Waterloo Bridge from 1940 with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, my reaction was twofold; I reacted to the movie itself and to it as a remake of the 1931 Waterloo Bridge with Mae Clarke and directed by James Whale. I wanted to compare the movies, but I also thought that both movies deserved to be analyzed on their own, as individual movies, so I’ve decided to write a three post series about each movie and ending with a comparison of the two, with each post being released on a Monday: the 22nd (today), 29th, and the 6th of October.

The original story was a play by Robert E. Sherwood who is said to have based it loosely on events of his own life while he was stationed in London during WWI. The play was released in 1930 and was made into a movie only a year later, and was remade nine years after that when MGM bought the rights to the play from Universal (who made the first one) for the first movie Vivien Leigh made following her Oscar winning, fame-catapulting and fiery performance as Scarlet O’Hara the year before.

The 1940 Waterloo Bridge is by far the most beloved and well-known of the two movies. In fact, it is a highly beloved movie, period; inspiring real affection and not just liking in many of its viewers.

The movie opens with Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor), an officer in the British army during WWII, who must leave London and stops at Waterloo Bridge to remember another time, during the first world war, when he was young and first met the woman he loves on that same bridge. The rest of the movie is a flashback, and I don’t believe I am giving anything away when I say that you just know by the way the older Roy is reminiscing that the story does not end happily. The entire movie is drenched in gentle, yet tragic, remembrance; most of the movie taking place in the evening or at night, as if to say that the story was over even before it began. The song “Auld Lang Syne” is the theme of the movie, gently playing and foretelling the inevitable end of the story.

tumblr_ln0agaei1L1qiwalto1_500Except the end isn’t inevitable, really. And that’s why it is also so frustrating, because it is also about the inherent defeatism that we impose on ourselves, which defeat does not come from the outside world.

At the beginning of the flashback, Roy meets a group of ballerinas on their way to the theater and when there is an air raid, they all take refuge in a shelter, where he meets Myra Lester. He is instantly attracted, and she is too, but because he must leave the next day, she assumes that they will never meet again. However, that night he puts off a dinner with his colonel and goes to see her dance. Despite being forbidden to go out with him by the director of the ballet troupe, (Maria Ouspenskaya – highly memorable, as always), her much more worldly, though kind-hearted, friend Kitty (Virginia Field) arranges for Myra to meet Roy.

They have dinner and dance and talk and fall so deeply in love that you know no one else could ever do for these two people, no matter what happens. In many ways, though, they are quite different in their attitude towards life. He is eager to embrace life and to make life happen. He is brash, warm-hearted and confident and unwilling to ever let her get away from him, no matter if there is a war. She is young, very innocent and trusting, but with a much less aggressive attitude towards life. She assumes that life happens without her and when he says that she is a defeatist and that she could imagine never seeing him again, she agrees. She does not expect to see him again.

But when Roy is given unexpected leave for two days, he rushes to Myra’s house and proposes. It is so unexpected and magical and wonderful for Myra and it is as if she were infused with the same spirit as he is as they both rush to get married. It is too late in the day, however, for the reverend to marry them and before they can marry the next morning, Roy’s leave is canceled. Myra then misses the ballet performance because she had rushed off to say farewell to Roy, and she is fired along with Kitty, who stood up for her.

1822457,ZIPp_ZrhMBsQR1mNUksR_qhMKuWNa0vMvaD19GLii+37Y6ndrWVt3TSkakTsbdK0YDjzV1xJTYwtQa_3w1eR_w==And then Myra reads in the newspaper that Roy has died. After she falls ill and finally recovers, she realizes that Kitty has resorted to prostitution to pay the bills, including Myra’s medical ones. Myra doesn’t want the burden to fall on her friend and soon becomes a prostitute as well. But Roy was not really dead and he comes back completely unexpectedly to carry her off to meet his family without knowing what has transpired.

Spoiler Warning: the rest of this post contains spoilers.

This was quite interesting because the main obstacles in this film to the couple’s happiness are the war and her own defeatism. The war constantly drives them apart, but it is not insuperable. And unlike the first Waterloo Bridge film, there is no class or family prejudice against her. Everyone who meets her absolutely love her. The only thing that stands in her way is the fact that she is hiding from him that she worked as a prostitute during the time he was away and her own guilt over it. She is afraid to tell him and ultimately she is the one who decides that she is not worthy of him and his great family name; and because she can no longer imagine living without him, she walks in front of an army truck on Waterloo Bridge and kills herself.

Roy does find out, however, about her past. After she had left him he goes to Kitty and hears the whole story and what is so tragic is that it would not have mattered to him if she had been a prostitute or not. He loves her and he knows that she always loved him and all he wants is to be with her. It is so sad because she did not realize just how much he loved her and she never even gave him the chance to tell her. She makes her decision far to quickly and takes the irrevocable way out of the situation. Even if she had simply chosen to leave Roy – without killing herself – the simple act of choosing to live would probably have meant happiness for them both since Roy would have found her and they could have been happy.

c318b0edc8eeb1677b6701c95f56500dGoing along with the sense of defeatism is also the sense that Myra had that all her happiness was unreal. She asks several times in the movie if it is real, as if she can hardly believe that so much love could really come to her. The irony is that every time she says it, it is because of something Roy has done to make her happy. He works to make happiness. He is the one who puts off his duty so he can see her again and he is the one to propose so quickly. When he was presumed dead, he was really in a German prison camp and he escapes, returns to England, and brings her to his family home. She has trouble accepting what would essentially be a fairy tale ending for her; and one wonders if she never, in her heart, subconsciously believed in happy endings.

And in the end, in a tragic twist, it is now Roy who echoes Myra’s defeatism when he says that he knows he will never find her again. He says it the same night that she kills herself.

I still can’t decide whether or not I enjoyed it. It’s a very haunting film and the pathetic tragedy of the theme song, “Auld Lang Syne” stayed with me long after the movie was over. Of course, it didn’t help that afterwards I was reading about the tragic death in prison of Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Franz Ferdinand of Austria – which sparked WWI – and about the love between Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia and how their final thoughts before they died were of each other and about how their two sons were sent to Dachau in the late 1930s when they opposed the Nazi takeover of Austria. It put me in a regular, reflective funk about life, loss and suffering. And how the greatest tragedies in life – like WWI – are often self-inflicted.

However, there is a slight, hopeful note at the end of the movie, despite the tragedy. After Myra kills herself, we flash forward to WWII where Roy Cronin is remembering her. It is clear that, despite the tragedy, what he is really remembering is her and how much he loves her and how much he knows she loved him. Their love has endured, despite her death. It is another cosmic romance.

Vivien-Leigh-and-Robert-Taylor-in-Waterloo-Bridge-1940-4

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Drama, Romance

 

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