28 May 2006 | aimless-46
Not Really a War Movie
In a larger sense "Command Decision" is not really a war movie but a film about the responsibility of command and leadership. It is one of the few films that effectively explores these topics; and belongs right up there with the original "Flight of the Phoenix" and "The Red Tent". Not having the visual power of those two films (the limited combat/action scenes are almost entirely stock footage), it must focus more narrowly on the human complications arising from the responsibility of command. The contradiction being that while a leader must cease to be human, no one who can do this is fit to be a leader.
Adapted from a stage play, "Command Decision" suffers from a fair amount of "long-windedness". Fortunately the most long-winded character (Major General Kane-played by Walter Pigeon), is well written and has many substantial things to convey. Much like his character in "Forbidden Planet", Pigeon is tasked with inserting historical and philosophical details into the story, and his commanding screen presence makes him ideal for this purpose.
Brigadier General K.C. Dennis (Clark Gable) has the most screen time and most challenging role, as his character is the guy stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is accountable for making the hard decisions that send his men off to die, but has a fragile authority dependent on how much independence his superiors are allowing him at a particular point in time. Gable does fine in this part, probably his best totally "serious" performance. Although the film takes pains to use the German high command to illustrate examples of bad leadership, it is easy to infer that the same mindset applies to the Allies. With many military leaders distorting events to cover their own ass and willing to sacrifice men for their own career advancement and personal ideology.
The premise of the film is the Air Corps discovery that the Germans have developed the first jet combat plane. Based on the real life Messerschmitt Me-262 (shown as a model in the film and in some archival footage), it is called the "Lantze-Wolf" here and considered so effective as a fighter aircraft that full production would allow the Luftwaffe to regain air supremacy over Europe.
The planes are being assembled in three cities deep in Germany. The only hope to delay their full production is "Operation Stitch" (named for its goal of gaining a stitch in time), a plan to attack these sites through dangerous daylight bombing raids. Dangerous because they will be heavily defended and because the bombers will have to go the final hundred miles without fighter escort-since the America fighters do not have the range to reach and return from the target. This type of daylight bombing was called precision bombing because the bomb-site was more effective with better visibility and a lower altitude. The alternative was safer but less accurate saturation bombing at night (insert Dresden here).
General Dennis must decide whether to start the operation, and then when the bombers take substantial punishment he must decide whether to continue in the expectation of additional high losses.
The film takes certain historical liberties as only after a postwar evaluation of the actual ME-262 did anyone really understand its strategic potential (in the hands of well trained pilots) as a fighter aircraft. Until the end Hitler insisted that it be utilized almost exclusively as a bomber. Although able to carry out this alternative role, its bomb load capacity was too little for any significant impact. That the ME-262 is more a footnote to the war than a major element was due more to Hitler's decision than to any allied efforts to limit its production.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.