Above and Beyond (1952)

Above and Beyondabove_and_beyond
Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Written by Frank, Panama, and Beirne Lay Jr.; story by Lay
First viewing/Amazon Instant


“The movie ‘Above and Beyond’ starring Robert Taylor didn’t get anything right, … ‘Above and Beyond’ script writers put the words, ‘Oh my God, what have we done?’ into my mouth,’ Tibbets said. ‘I never said that. Bob Lewis (the copilot) wrote ‘my God’ in his journal he was keeping on the flight. That’s how I remember it, anyway.’” — Paul Tibbets

This account of preparation to drop the first atomic bomb seems to have been pretty heavily fictionalized.  There’s also some propaganda.  Nevertheless, it’s quite watchable.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Lucey Tibbits (Eleanor Parker), who is nervously awaiting the return of her husband from a bombing mission to Japan.

Maj. Gen. Vernon Brent is looking for a good pilot to head the ultra-secret “Operation Silverplate” that will test the B-29 bomber which is slated to drop the atomic bomb.  He finds his man in Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets (Robert Taylor), who has just been denied promotion for questioning his commanding officer.  Tibbets is cleared within an inch of his life and posted to Wendover Field, Utah.  He is expect to keep strict discipline over his men, who are forbidden at the point of summary shooting to enter restricted areas without a pass.  Few know the actual purpose of the testing.  In all this, Tibbets is assisted, and closely watched, by Security Officer Maj. Bill Uanna (James Whitmore) the only other person who knows the details of the mission.

above and beyond

Uanna eventually decides that it best to move all the wives of the men to Wendover, where they can be better controlled via confinement to the base.  He discourages Tibbets from bringing Lucey however.  The pregnant Lucey is thus left to give birth on her own in Washington.  Lucey has had very few days with her husband during their entire marriage. After the couple’s second son is born she insists on moving to Wendover.

When she gets there, she finds that the wives and men resent her husband mightily.  They figure their mission could not be anything very serious if it is headed by a mere lieutenant colonel like Tibbets and if the wives are being allowed on base.  They see Tibbets as overly heavy handed and self-important.  Lucey defends her husband and then begins to change her mind.  He refuses to tell her anything about anything he does and keeps ordering her to stay out of his business.  The marriage is strained practically to the breaking point.


I don’t care much for Robert Taylor in his matinee idol persona, but I do like him when he plays a tough guy.  Here he is definitely a grim, overly controlled tough guy and is very good.  Eleanor Parker has the thankless role of asking many inane questions and refusing to accept anything at face value but she is good at it too.  We are reminded over and over that the bomb’s purpose is to end the war fast and avoid massive additional casualties on both sides but this is not too preachy or heavy handed.  It’s not a bad watch.

Above and Beyond was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Writing, Motion Picture Story and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Hugo Friedhofer).


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