Add a Review

  • In 1925 the U.S. Naval Air Force's major new piece of military hardware was a zeppelin that had been built in Germany at the end of the First World War, which was given to the U.S as a reparation, and renamed the U.S.S. Shenandoah. The craft had a crack team running it, and it had an excellent head, Commander Zachary Landowne. It was in fair demand around the country, for most people believed that the future of long distance air travel would be in airships, not airplanes. So the Navy brass frequently sent the Shenandoah on public relations flights, rather than using it for military purposes or long distance flights.

    It was sent to Ohio where local politicians wanted to use the zeppelin to impress voters. Unfortunately, there was a storm front with heavy thundershowers in the path of the zeppelin, and the zeppelin had recently had some damage to a fin on it's tale. There had been no time to repair the damage. So when the zeppelin crossed into the storm front, the zeppelin was ripped apart by the winds and crashed killing Landsdowne and fourteen men.

    Landsdowne's close friend, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell was exceptionally critical of the disaster. He blamed the politicians and military brass who ordered the flight. As Mitchell had been long a thorn in the side of these two groups, as he tried to push his views on air power and the need for a unified, strong air force, he was charged with insubordination and ordered to be court martial-ed.

    Gary Cooper plays Mitchell well, as an honest, honorable man, who realizes that the future will be only safe for those who have a strong air arm. He is fighting old fashion ideas, mouthed by old fashioned army leaders like Fred Clark. He does have allies like his lawyer, a Congressman played by Ralph Bellamy, and like one of the judges (General Douglas MacArthur - who was the only one to vote for acquittal). But the issue goes down to the Mitchell's insubordination. And this leads to the dramatic high point, when Cooper is cross-examined by the malicious and clever Rod Steiger. Steiger is able to get Cooper to not only reveal his lack of respect for the brass but to reveal his mistrust of the Japanese. That he is correct in the long run does not save him - he is found guilty and suspended without pay from the army for five years.

    Mitchell died in 1936, not in time to see his vindication five years later. But he is remembered now as the real founder of the modern American Air Force. The film is a pretty good retelling of his story, and reminds us how frequently a prophet is despised and rejected in his or her time.
  • Few who aren't students of the history of airpower today recognize the name of William "Billy" Mitchell. An early pilot in the U.S. Army's fledgling Air Corps, he served in World War I when no American-produced plane saw action above the trenches of France. Notwithstanding the Wright brother's initial breathtaking powered flight, by 1914 England, France and Germany were far ahead of us in not only aircraft design but also in fashioning tactics for a new kind of warfare.

    Mitchell returned from the war not only a convert to the future of airpower but as a zealot advocating his prophecy to all who would listen (and to very many who didn't want to). The post-war Army suffered massive cutbacks. Mitchell reverted from brigadier general to his permanent rank of colonel, a more gentle demotion than many others experienced.

    The Army's first postwar chief of staff was the only man ever to hold the rank of General of the Armies, John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. Pershing actually appreciated aviation's potential to a real degree but he faced a budget-cutting congress while leading an army with too many senior officers who dimly recalled fighting Indians from the saddle.

    Mitchell was given the opportunity to sink the German war prize battleship "Ostfriesland." A rather foolish cabinet member offered to watch the aerial bombing from the warship's deck, so certain was he that the vessel couldn't be destroyed from the air. Fortunately for him his offer was not taken up.

    Gary Cooper turns in a quietly passionate role as the Air Corps leader who did sink the "Ostfriesland." In the film he's shown disobeying war game rules and using one-ton bombs not approved for the exercise. That never happened. He went by the rules (that time). His and his pilots' achievements were dismissed, however, by battleship-loving admirals who claimed that the test was meaningless since the ship wasn't defending itself. Some Japanese observers were less sure that this was a valid analysis.

    Gary Cooper's Billy Mitchell, despite deviations from the real story, is a remarkably accurate picture of a dedicated officer with unrestrained hubris whose public and volatile denunciations of Army and Navy superiors for numerous fatal crashes led to his then highly-publicized court-martial.

    Ralph Bellamy as Congressman Frank Reid is Mitchell's chief counsel. A blistering but unreal cross-examination by the young Rod Steiger as MAJ Allan Gullion is the the dramatic high point of the film. It's something we expect from the courtroom genre. Mitchell is convicted of, in essence, disobedience, and is placed on a long-term suspended status (in reality the effective and actual termination of his military career without the continuing public interest that incarceration would have brought).

    Cooper is strongly expressive while exuding a powerful sense of personal morality and duty as Mitchell defined that quality. That largely matches the real Mitchell.

    As defense witnesses we see the young H.H. Arnold (to achieve five-star rank in World War II) and Carl Spaatz, a four-star architect of strategic bombing in the next war. These officers persevered in their dedication to birthing a powerful air force and they did it without losing their careers and thus their effectiveness (in that regard they mirrored young field grade officers such as George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower in their crusade to take the Army from the horse to the tank).

    Cooper walks out of the film in civilian clothing, a slightly confused expression on his face. He should have been confused. For the remainder of his life, which ended before the war he predicted, he was essentially marginalized as aviation expanded and America slowly recognized the need to build a world class air force.

    Overall, for historical accuracy "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell" is solid on the central story and fictional on the margins.

    This DVD transfer, however, borders on dreadful. Colors are washed out and voice levels shift slightly over and over. But it's well worth watching.

    7/10.
  • In the USAF we were taught about Billy Mitchell as being the "Father of the Air Force", and how he sacrificed his career to bring attention to his points.

    What a good movie. Rod Steiger did steal the scenes, and I suspect that James Cagney would have made a better movie... but I found myself becoming drawn in by Gary Cooper's portrayal of Billy Mitchell. He might have been a bit long in the tooth, but remember, the real Billy Mitchell was 46 years old at the time of his Court Martial, at about the age when he should start thinking about retirement anyhow.

    It plays like a stage play; the story is enough to make a powerful punch.

    2 Thumbs Up. See it. Get it on DVD if you can, so you can read the subtitles and not miss a thing.
  • drdyer13 September 2002
    Too add to the comments already made in this database I would like to point out that viewers seem to forget that the testimony in the film by Major Hap Arnold, Captain Eddie Rickenbaker, Major Karl Spatz and Fiorello LaGuardia substantiated Colonel Mitchell's facts.

    As for whether the court-martial did what it intended to do, obviously it did not in Pearl Harbor's case, however, it may have helped development of better aircraft and aircraft carriers during the 30's, especially when one considers this was during a depression.

    What could have been brought to light was the complacency of the public at the time, roaring 20's, etc.. Also the public's isolationist outlook.

    At any rate, General Mitchell will always be a hero to airmen, along with General Hap Arnold and others.
  • This movie which is supposed to be about Billy Mitchell, an early proponent of air power and of his subsequent court martial for insubordination was entertaining, but as with most Hollywood productions which are made from true stories, was filled with errors.

    During the first part of the movie, Billy Mitchell allegedly violated orders by using one-ton bombs that he was told not to use. That is a falsehood. Mitchell had permission to use the heavier bombs. In addition, in the movie, the general overseeing the bombing tests was a General Guthrie. There was no such person.

    The movie showed Mitchell being reduced in rank for violating orders which was another falsehood. He was reduced in rank, but not for this reason. As previously stated, Mitchell had permission to use the heavier bombs.

    The movie also portrayed Mitchell as being a bachelor, when in reality, he was married. In fact, pictures of Mitchell at his court martial show his wife sitting next to him!

    The movie also showed Mitchell telling Congressman Reed, that he wouldn't go along with Reed wanting to challenge Army members of the court for prejudice. In reality, Mitchell had one general removed for that reason. After his removal, the general remarked that he and Mitchell were now enemies.

    Just once, I wish that Hollywood, when making a movie of a true event, would make it like it really happened and stop changing things to suit what they want the public to see.

    I think the biggest mis-casting was having Gary Cooper playing Billy Mitchell. The real Billy Mitchell was a firebrand who wasn't afraid to speak his mind. Cooper, in the movie, was more laid back and just didn't impress me as being the right actor to play Mitchell.
  • Otto Preminger was perhaps honing his skills as a director, because this film seems to be a dress rehearsal for his greatest achievement, "Anatomy of a Murder", which is a classic of the courtroom drama genre.

    The movie is interesting in that it presents a man of honor, Billy Mitchell, who not only was an aviation pioneer, but a visionary that pointed out to the future in uncanny ways. He realized that wars were going to be fought in the air, and that soon the world would shrink thanks to faster planes than the primitive two engine jobs he was flying during WWI.

    Billy Mitchell was an outcast, rejected by the same people that were too obtuse to realize the upcoming revolution in aeronautics. In trying to prove a point, Billy is found guilty and tried for disobeying orders. It's a sad story in which a highly developed mind, like Billy's has to contend with the ignorance of his peers. Testimony from other leading figures of the time, such as Eddie Rickenbacker, and others speak volumes about Mitchell's incredible insight on the new technology and how vulnerable America was from air raids by enemies.

    Gary Cooper's approach to the role doesn't clarify much about the real life Mitchell. He is not quite as effective as in many of his most outstanding films. Somehow we don't get any passion out of his character, where perhaps another actor would have run away with the role. Mr. Cooper's take on Mitchell, or perhaps Otto Preminger's direction, doesn't shed much insight in the character.

    The best thing in the movie is Rod Steiger as Allan Gullion, who is brought to the trial to help the main prosecution officer. He steals the picture in his short time in front of the camera. Mr Steiger brings a different concept to this officer; he stands out against all the other people around him. What a presence he had! In contrast with Mr. Cooper's stoic presence, Mr. Steiger was ready to smolder the screen if given the chance.

    The rest of the cast is outstanding. Charles Bickford, Ralph Bellamy, Elizabeth Montgomery, Jack Lord, James Daly, Fred Clark, among others, enhance this movie.

    The only problem with the copy I saw, is the horrible coloring that tends to give a fading images. This is a film in need of restoration.
  • Otto Preminger put together a real good cast to tell the story of The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, considered by many to be the spiritual founder of the American Air Force. Gary Cooper was only a few years older than Billy Mitchell when he chose to publicly criticize the existing services and invite a court martial and fits the part as right as he did when playing Lou Gehrig.

    What to do and who would control the airplane as a strategic weapon was a running debate even before World War I. By the time that Mitchell court martial took place in the mid Twenties, nearly every other country with the means had founded a separate Air Force. America would not have a separate Air Force until 1947 when the Army and Navy were put under one Department of Defense and an Air Force created from those members of the Army Air Corps who wished to join.

    No one ever doubted the airplane had some value in war time. Those like the general Charles Bickford played who is an amalgamation of many in the service that Gary Cooper unsuccessfully dealt with, saw it as a thing for scouting, maybe transportation. Billy Mitchell saw it as far more than that.

    Mitchell fought hard for money that to further develop airplanes that the Army and Navy wouldn't even ask Congress for if Congress were so disposed to give it back then. After several fliers were killed in some planes that were little more than kites with motors, Mitchell lambasted both services and got his court martial.

    Military historians from then till now still debate the value of the airplane in war. The best that can be determined is that air superiority can give one an edge in a close contest. It can't win a war all by itself. If it could Great Britain would have surrendered after the blitz or Germany would have been pounded into submission by Army Air Force and RAF bombing of the place for three years, starting even before one American soldier was in ground combat.

    My favorite analogy has always been the difference between the landings at Salerno in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944. In The Longest Day there's a famous scene where two airplanes take off and make a strafing run on one of the beaches and then fly away. That was the sole contribution of the Luftwaffe, by then they had no more contribution to make.

    A year before at Salerno, the battle took three weeks with planes from the Allies and the Axis engaged before Allies were established. It was a close run thing as the Duke of Wellington said about another battle a century earlier. Planes do make a difference, but they're not the whole ballgame.

    Billy Mitchell chose a course that finished his career in the U.S. Army. He knew it would end this way and he did it anyway. The military as an institution is resistant to change as most everyone agrees. Mitchell fought for air power and airplane development as a civilian as long as his health permitted.

    Besides Cooper and Bickford the most noteworthy two performances in the film are Ralph Bellamy as Republican Congressman Frank R. Reid from Illinois who served as Mitchell's civilian defense counsel in the trial and Rod Steiger who played the hired gun from the Judge Advocate General's office who conducts a devastating cross examination of Cooper on the witness stand.

    The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell is a good dramatization of one of the great criminal trials of the last century. And it's a wonderful story about sacrificing one self for an idea you believe in.
  • Gary Cooper plays the title role in "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell," a 1955 film based on the real-life court martial of former Brigadier General William Mitchell, who was demoted in rank after violating orders and later court-martialed for criticizing the Armed Forces in the press.

    Besides also starring Ralph Bellamy, Charles Bickford, and Rod Steiger, the film also features some later TV stars - Elizabeth Montgomery, Jack Lord, John Daly, Darren McGavin and Peter Graves.

    Apparently the film takes some liberties with the true facts, but Mitchell believed in the power of the airplane in war and wanted an upgrade in air power for the U.S. as well as the creation of an Air Force. Much of what he said about air power came to pass, and eventually the Air Force was formed, of which he is considered the father. However, at the time, the services were faced with budget cuts and narrow thinking. They weren't convinced of Mitchell's arguments. Mitchell (in the film) disobeys orders about the size of the bomb he's carrying, using one-ton bombs to destroy the Ostfriesland, which was an World War I prize from Germany. He is demoted in rank and sent to work in Texas. When a friend of his is killed in a "death trap" flier called The Shenendoah, Billy sets himself up for a court martial so that he can bring his cause to the American public.

    This is a good movie which holds one's interest. I have a confession, which is that I am not always impressed with the acting of Gary Cooper, though I do love him, and this was one of those times. One of the posters suggested that James Cagney would have been a better choice given the real-life character of Mitchell. Possibly. Cooper is passionate in a quiet way but a little too one-dimensional in his performance. There are strong performances from everyone, most especially Rod Steiger. He doesn't chew up the scenery; instead, he uses his voice like a knife. He's very effective.

    Definitely recommended though it's not Cooper's best work.
  • This is a decent film, for the most part a very watchable telling of a good true story which is worth knowing about. Gary Cooper is solid in the title role (albeit he is apparently nothing like the real-life Mitchell) and the drama moves along at a reasonable pace.

    But for 17 minutes towards the end it rises above that and becomes mesmerising. What makes the difference? Two words: Rod Steiger. The cross-examination scene, where he goads and scorns Cooper mercilessly, is one of those very rare moments in cinema when a performance holds the screen and burns itself into your memory. No matter how many times I have seen this film, I always spend the first hour or so waiting to relish this particular scene. And I am never disappointed.

    So watch the film for two reasons: it is good in its own right. A well-played, thoughtful and dignified film about a good man who was ahead of his time. But whatever you do, make sure you don't miss the last half-hour!
  • This movie portrays a riveting historical account that tells the story of a visionary of his era who was wrongfully convicted of speaking his mind and not obeying military policy and procedure of the time. After the movie ended, I was immediately compelled to "google" Colonel Billy Mitchell and learn more about his court-martial. Movies like this are intriguing due to the fact that most people of the modern day do not remember, nor have ever been schooled in military history. Billy Mitchell's accounts and rationale for putting himself in the "hot seat" for the good of out country, despite having the knowledge that in doing so he'd undergo a court-martial, are commendable and honorable. Historically, time has told the truth and validated and, in my mind, vindicated Colonel Mitchell. His vision has led to the creation of the greatest Air Force the world will ever know.
  • escaparc-125 January 2007
    1st of all ...

    you need to realize what exactly sank the greatest battleship that ever so briefly sailed the sea was the German Bismark sunk a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor even happened --- they were WWI biplane torpedo dive bomber in a last ditch desperation attack flying off an English carrier by disabling the battleship's rudder control thereby demonstrating the point that Gen Mithchell was trying to make !

    Next ...

    I saw Billy Mitchell in a mid 30's news reel - pretty much in the Chuck Yaeger - Gary Cooper style - if I remember correctly - sitting back in khakis - cane at his side - " What I've been fired for - predicting the aviation dynamics of the next war - the devastation of - civilian targets - cities - the enemy nations industrial capacity to fight wars - WHEN THE NEXT WAR STARTS THE HEADS ARE GOING TO ROLL - what I have gone through will be nothing in comparison ! "

    What the movie got right so dramatically ... a poetic Hollywood license --- was when citizen Mitchell walked out from his court martial trial there was a propeller biplane fly - bye which turned into the Air Force JET Thunderbirds that the movie ended on !

    My thoughts on all this is America will be secretly attacked again and again - unprepared - coward into protracted generational conflicts due to the public's unwillingness to see the problem - get the job done !

    Clock punchers - pencil pushers - paper shufflers - war criminals - incompetents !

    Thank God for men like Billy Mitchell !
  • plparshall16 December 2006
    Don't look for for exacting factual screenplay here, rather enjoy Gary Cooper's sensitive acting. I agree it runs more like a play and in that sense is done very well and all the actors perform well. Half the fun of this movie is watching the younger supporting cast and identifying the future stars of Hawaii FiveO, Bewitched, The Nightstalker, and a few others I haven't figured out yet. You'll see better than half the supporting cast on the situational comedies of the 1950's. The cross examination scene with Rod Steiger and Gary Cooper is pretty good too. As much as I like Gary Cooper it would have been interesting, and probably a better movie, to see Cagney as Mitchell.
  • rspress28 September 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    While Gary Cooper was not anything like Billy Mitchell in the film that really does not matter. What does matter is that in his time he was fighting for an Air Force that would be able to defend America. He was right that at the time the armed services use of air power and the safety of the pilots was criminal, the number of Air Forces bases named for the people that died during this time can attest to that. He was also correct that the armed forces would depend on air power, a fact the armed forces ignored until nearly 1939 when Hitler proved what a modern air force could do. If it were not for the fact that private companies like Boeing were developing planes before the military were asking for them would could have been fighting the first year of WWII in biplanes.

    While many of Billy Mitchell's claims may have seemed absurd at the time the showed quite an insight of how air power would develop over the next 50 years.

    That being said do catch this film. The cast is top notch and their performances leave you feeling sorry for Cooper and hating Rod Stieger! This is one of my top 20 films not only for the cast and crew but for the subject matter.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I first saw this movie at a young age and it had a great impression on me. In this movie I saw where a man was willing to sacrifice himself for the common good, and the laws of democracy eventually prevailed. Also, years later, this one man's stand and dire predictions for the future all proved true. There was one time in the movie where the Army's top brass retired to the briefing room. In this room, it was discussed about whether or not to exclude certain testimony given in this trial. One of the commanding officers spoke up and declared that our legal system, even our society, is based on the fundamental right of a man to have the ability to prove his innocence.

    I am sure that there are some in the military that would challenge this movie because of the "going against orders" thinking. I have been in law enforcement for twenty (21) years and I know the importance of taking and giving orders. However, there is a time and place where questioning or going against orders to save someone else's life, or many lives, is appropriate. In closing, this movie hits this topic head on, deals with sacrifice and honor, and I think that any youngster twelve (12) and older needs to watch it.
  • Having fought heroically in World War I, Gen. Billy Mitchell (Gary Cooper) tried to get his superiors to establish an Air Force. When they refused, he disobeyed orders and was sent to Fort Sam Houston, demoted to the rank of colonel. After there are two fatal crashes in which the planes were not properly equipped, Mitchell denounces his superiors and is put on trial for insubordination. While the prosecution tries to prove that he made the statements, Mitchell does everything possible to show that the statements were justified.

    The movie seems to have even more relevance today, with the story about the Humvees in Iraq that lacked sufficient armor. The army brass could really use some advice from Billy Mitchell.

    As a side note, it was interesting seeing Elizabeth Montgomery (as the widow of Mitchell's friend who gets killed in one of the crashes) before she starred on "Bewitched".
  • Warning: Spoilers
    'Court-Martial' belongs to that most uncinematic of sub-genres, the courtroom drama, the masterpiece of which, 'Anatomy of a Murder', was also directed by Otto Preminger. The epithet 'genre' is justified in that the courtroom drama has developed its own ritualistic codes, plots and characters as much as the gangster film or the musical - the brilliant, bullying prosecutor; the weak, inarticulate defence; the verbal battle-of-wills between lawyers presided over by a petulant judge; the grandiloquent speeches; the playing to the gallery; the last-minute crucial piece of evidence or overlooked witness etc.

    All are present and correct here, if not to the entertaining degree of 'Anatomy' or Wilder's 'Witness for the Prosecution'; Gary Cooper is not the man for epigrammatic fireworks. The courtroom drama is a way of airing debates, often of topical interest; or the revealing, or otherwise, of the workings of democracy as enshrined in its legal system. In such a set-up, the semiotic philosophies of Derrida and Barthes seem to have no place; words, easily spoken, are not yet emasculated, and have the power to bully and distort, as well as being a proven vehicle for decency.

    But words have to be linked to character. Gullion may be brilliant, but he emerges, in narrative terms, from nowhere, we know nothing about him; his narrative rootlessness robs his words of moral value. Cooper/Mitchell may not be the most graceful of rhetoricians, but both Cooper's four-decade proven persona, and our access to Mitchell's backstory contrive to give weight to his words, and a moral, if not verbal, eloquence.

    Yet the courtroom drama here shows the spirit of democracy - revealed not only in its legal system, but in its military - to be Pharisaic. The good man who wants to save lives, the patriot who wants to defend America is dishonoured, stripped of his livelihood and means of subsistence, found guilty. The film shakes with the wagging finger of hindsight, where the mad predictions of an insubordinate visionary have proven to be accurate, and the military establishment everything he accused them of, complacent, negligent, dangerously narrow.

    This kind of 'debate' risks seeming sterile, academic, uninteresting - we know Mitchell's right, and the army are blind; where's the conflict? But this is a Preminger film, and therefore more than a courtroom drama. The casting of Cooper is crucial. Like 'The Right Stuff', this film about the military is in actual fact negatively imbued with the spirit of the Western. Cooper, so often Man of the West, ranging the open spaces, embodying American values, now faces the modern world, and finds frontiers closed as he is hemmed in by bureaucracy. The individualistic spirit of adventure, risk, progress is no more, replaced by decision by committee (surely Preminger's metaphor for Hollywood).

    Mitchell may be the film's moral centre, but he is a sick man, a weak, passive transgressor, who is made to look stupid and helpless by the new rules of Machiavellian system-playing. The film, made in the mid-1950s, reveals how the founding spirit of America is being smothered by the new conformity - linking the military intransigence here to ex-General Eisenhower's America. The presence of Rod Steiger, fresh from 'On The Waterfront', also reminds us of another recent, prominent showtrial, the McCarthy purges. But, although the film is impeccably anti-military, -bureaucracy and -conformist, it questions that founding spirit, suggesting that such individualism always had something a little mad and sick in it.

    That's about all I can say about the film, because I saw it in a dreadful pan-and-scan version. Content is only ever a minor part of any film, so I don't know how Preminger treated his theme visually, only intellectually; which means I didn't really see it at all, although I liked the idea of the courtroom-in-a-warehouse wall being the same khaki colour as the soldiers' uniforms. Great to see the godlike Elizabeth Montgomery in a rare Hollywood role, very cute and young; maybe she should have wrinkled her nose at the script.
  • Apparently, the Mitchell family was not particularly pleased with this film. Some of it was because the star, Gary Cooper, was nothing like Mitchell...neither in temperament nor size. Still, it is a reasonably good movie...one worth seeing.

    The story is about Billy Mitchell, an Army officer who deliberately sacrificed his own career because he strongly felt the military was unfairly discounting air warfare. For example, in some tests, his superiors deliberately rigged the procedings to make the airplanes seem ineffective against naval ships. So, to prove his point, he ordered his men to make a more realistic attack...which resulted in his demotion. Still, he pressed until ultimately he was court martialed for insubbordination. This film is about the events leading up to this trial and a major portion of the film is a recreation of the trial.

    Considering I am a retired history teacher, I am thrilled that this forgotten period in history hasn't been completely ignored. While a few things here and there were altered for cinematic reasons, it generally sticks to the facts...something unusual for Hollywood. Overall, it's also pretty compelling and worth your time.
  • Stamp-35 December 2004
    I have always found this picture fascinating, perhaps, unwittingly, almost a milestone. The other contributors on this page have got quite worked up about the historical context and accuracy of the movie. What they have to say is very interesting and I am sure very valid. I confess I was content to enjoy the film as an involving, and at times quite compelling, drama.

    What has always interested me however about this movie is the acting. And the real sense of, in this one film, the baton as it were, being passed.

    For about the first three quarters of the movie the acting is exactly as one would expect from almost any "stiff upper lip" Hollywood military drama of the time. Dear old Gary Cooper (getting a bit long in the tooth) hitting his one note and doing it very well. And a few old stalwarts like Ralph Bellamy dutifully plowing the same furrow. And even the younger actors content to mimic the same stodgy expository style of their elders.

    And then...in comes Steiger. Fluid, fluent, naturalistic, delivering his lines twice as fast as everyone else. In short a real character, as opposed to a cut-out, hits the screen.

    I guess what you could call it is new acting mets the old. Now by the time this movie had come out, "The Method" had already had lots of screen time...Clift, Brando, Shelley Winters, Steiger himself. But they were in their own movies. Well perhaps "Red River" might be another example (Wayne and Clift); but this movie is the best example of all.

    When I saw the movie I knew nothing of the actual events portrayed, and I suppose, as I was watching it, I assumed that we would plod through in a totally acceptable way to Mitchell's certain triumph. And then wham! Rod blows the whole film out of the water.

    In the actual story Mitchell was "beaten" by Gullion (and historians I know that statement is a travesty...but allow me my soundbite point.) In the movie Cooper is knocked cold by Steiger.
  • The first World War had just ended in total victory for the United States and its Allies. Now war was a thing of the past, America disbanded its army and stabled its navy, its air force was still an unwanted child. In 1921 off the coast of Virginia, the high command of the army and navy gathered to consider a revolutionary experiment.

    William Mitchell was a controversial and famous character in American aviation history, his beliefs and future ideas as regards the importance and advancement of aviation in war got him into so much trouble it culminated in the Court Martial of the title. Though this Otto Preminger directed telling is not completely accurate in its history lesson, it is however (thanks to Gary Cooper's excellent portrayal) an excellent depiction of the man and his staunch nature. Naturally the picture is reliant on long pieces of dialogue, so really if anyone is after a blitzkrieg type war film then they should steer well clear, for this is a lesson in letting talking lead the way, and thus opening the door for the actors to do their respective stuff. Rod Steiger (solid if dangerously close to mugging too much), Ralph Bellamy, Charles Bickford and Elizabeth Montgomery round out the cast with varying degrees of success, but really it's with Gary Cooper that the films borders on success or failure, thankfully he comes thru with a fine line of sympathetic emotion that lifts the piece just above being middle of the road. 6/10
  • Although directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gary Cooper in the lead role, The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell is not a film often talked about. Admittedly the quality isn't the best, I suppose. In the copy that I watched it apparently switches cameras or lypes of film on occasion, though I don't know if that was intentional or not. Furthermore it may be just because this kind of film only appeals to those with an acute interest of U.S. Air Force history (such as myself.) And that's a shame because this is a geniunely good film. It's not as good as Anatomy of a Murder but it has a similar theme in that the defendant attempts to justify his actions. Admittedly, I don't know how historically accurate this is to the real Billy Mitchell but either way it's a fitting tribute to a great military innovator. If you like military history or court dramas (as I do both) you'll like this.
  • Otto Preminger's "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell" isn't that well known and it's easy to see why. It's something of a dull history lesson about the court-martial of a former general, demoted to colonel for disobeying orders and now charged with accusing the powers-that-be with criminal intent for their disregard of a fledgling airforce. Mitchell himself is played by Gary Cooper, looking stiff in his uniform, and old-timers Ralph Bellamy and Charles Bickford are the men for and against him. Rod Stieger is also on hand, lending the film a touch of gravitas as a hotshot army lawyer, a role George C Scott would play in Preminger's much better contribution to the courtroom drama, "Anatomy of a Murder". Preminger shoots the film in widescreen and visually it is impressive but it's also more than a little on the turgid side.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell" is an interesting look at the American military in the years after the end of World War I (Nov. 11, 1918). Some of the names have been changed, and some are fictional. Some details have been revised. But, overall, it's an accurate look at a time in American history and an event that was quite controversial.

    Billy Mitchell was the top American officer with flying experience at the end of WWI. He rose quickly through the ranks, and very early on was convinced of the future of air power and need for an air force. He was well known and liked by the public and the press. But, he soon got into hot water for his criticism of military leadership and his constant nagging of the top brass about the air service. America was reducing its military after the war, and defense dollars were tight.

    Well before generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur questioned American military strategies in WW II, Billy Mitchell stuck his neck out to call military leadership incompetent. Yet, the court-martial of a general is rare in history. There might well have been some things other than insubordination that led to Mitchell's court-martial.

    All of that is played out well in this film. The cast is very good overall. And, while Gary Cooper does a fine job of acting, his rendition of Mitchell doesn't fit the real character. Mitchell was flamboyant and outgoing, where Cooper here is quiet and withdrawn. The real Mitchell had been more vocally critical for some time, and not withdrawn. But he did respect the service as the movie implies.

    Mitchell's criticism came to a head in September 1925, when he issued a statement to the press. It was prompted by the crash of the Shenandoah zeppelin and death of many of its crew, and then three seaplane crashes enroute from California to Hawaii. Mitchell said, "These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments." In October, the government brought the court-martial charges. But, it should be noted that after a 1924 inspection of Hawaii, Mitchell had returned and written a 324- page report in which he predicted an attack on Pearl Harbor and war with Japan. Perhaps that public information was too much of a hot potato for the U.S. government to handle.

    In the movie, Maj. Guillion (played by Rod Steiger) reads from Mitchell's report that says carrier-based planes will lay 150 miles off Hawaii and attack it. But, according to numerous other sources, Mitchell didn't think that carriers would be practical. Instead, he saw the attack coming from Japanese bases on other islands.

    In the movie, Billy doesn't want his counsel to challenge Gen. Jimmy Guthrie as president of the court, because he is a friend. That character, played by Charles Bickford, is fictional. In real life, Billy's attorney, Congressman Reid (played by Ralph Bellamy) challenged three of the 13 judges for bias. All of them were removed, to leave the court with 10 men as the films shows. Major General Charles Summerall, the president of the court, was one of them removed.

    A scene during the court-martial is noteworthy. Gen. MacArthur is one of the members of the court, then a major general. He says to the others behind doors that high-ranking officers should be able to voice their opinions as a matter of free speech under the constitution. He said that was something quite different than insubordination. The court, in secret ballot, with two-third concurring, found Mitchell guilty of insubordination. Later research found that MacArthur had voted for acquittal.

    Mitchell's sentence was suspension from active duty for five years without pay. The movie ends with Mitchell watching as a squadron of planes flies overhead. In real life, President Coolidge changed his sentence to half pay, but Mitchell instead resigned on Feb. 1, 1926. He spent the next decade writing about and campaigning for air power. He died in 1936 at age 56 from influenza and other complications, including a bad heart.

    Mitchell is considered the father of the U.S. Air Force. After his death, he was given many honors. Franklin Roosevelt made him a two- star general. But, as assistant secretary of the Navy (1913-20), Roosevelt once had called Mitchell "pernicious." Many places and things have been named after Mitchell. It's too bad he didn't live until 1942 so he could be officially and publicly exonerated after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • It was known as ONE MAN MUTINY in the U.K. since Billy Mitchell's was not a name to conjure with over here. (Warners had a similar problem with the Alan Ladd vehicle THE McCONNELL STORY which wound up as TIGER IN THE SKY). I'd never heard of Mitchell either before this but had connection at the time with the world of military protocol and what happened when you broke the rules, if only as a humble National Serviceman. A courtroom drama was always a draw, here allied with a recreation of the Twenties in the new CinemaScope and a score by Dimitri Tiomkin which appropriately stiffened the sinews and summoned up the blood. Gary Cooper cut an impressive figure in his uniform and though I now learn that he wasn't everybody's choice for the part his HIGH NOON image - the lone man of integrity at odds with his own community - probably made him more sympathetic.

    War-hero Mitchell was tried for insubordination after speaking out of turn to the press about the Army's indifferent attitude to his beloved Air Service - underfunded and undervalued, losing fliers in clapped-out planes (on peacetime exercises and duties) and unconvinced by Mitchell's vision of the future role and importance of aerial combat. Found guilty, which technically he was, he was suspended for five years without pay but later chose to resign (not shown in the film). History was to thoroughly vindicate his stance and the man himself posthumously recognised and honoured (not shown either) but it still seems pretty courageous, in the politically-touchy Fifties, to mount a production in which the military establishment is the 'heavy'. All grist to the mill, however, for Otto Preminger who delighted in giving the censors sleepless nights though Mitchell's attack is somewhat softened. "You want to give the Army a kick in the pants but you want to do it like a gentleman," his counsel wryly observes. In reality the in-fighting was a good deal more abrasive but Coop, true to his movie-code, never sneaks a low blow.

    Charles Bickford, in his third and final film for Preminger, heads up the support as Mitchell's austere C.O. who becomes an implacable opponent. Twenty years earlier he was the villain Latigo to Coop's Bill Hickok in THE PLAINSMAN. Ralph Bellamy, for so long the squarejohn who never got the girl in Thirties comedies, bounced back on the screen after ten years away treading the boards with a zesty turn as Billy's attorney whose achieving of a deal with the court is scuppered when his client resolutely refuses to compromise. The young Rod Steiger, back in the days when he was prone to show his teeth and sneer at the camera, gives one of his more modulated performances as the prosecution's hired gun, possibly overawed by Preminger (an even bigger ham on set). I like the way he introduces himself by rapping on the table, as if respectfully knocking at the door before moving in to nail his prey, even sharing a joke with the defendant during their pertinent exchanges. In the film Mitchell is given a bout of malaria to also contend with during the trial. Whether this was authentic or a device to help bolster Coop against the new boy's darting swoops and tricks is interesting to consider. All this is taking place, of course, during Prohibition - which explains why Billy is only offered a glass of milk when he visits the Landsdownes' apartment. Preminger respects his audience sufficiently not to elaborate here though Billy tactfully doesn't drink it. We're left to wonder whether young clean-cut Commander Zack might have a covert bottle or two stashed away. Maybe even Crazy Otto couldn't go that far...
  • rmax30482314 December 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    I find it kind of enjoyable in a smooth, Hollywood kind of way. Billy Mitchell did go through the various experiences we see on screen, only not in the particular details shown. The deck is stacked in favor of Gary Cooper as the hero, Billy Mitchell.

    I read a reasonably balanced biography of Mitchell some years ago and he didn't come across as the idealistic firebrand we see on screen. Rather, as I remember it, he had married well and was something of a social aristocrat, which isn't bad in itself.

    The story's probably familiar. Mitchell is an advocate of air power and, against orders, blows a test battleship out of the water with out-sized 2,000 pound bombs. For this he's sent to Siberia in Texas. When his friend in killed in an airship accident and other friends expire in a cross-country flight, he makes a public announcement accusing the War Department of being "criminally negligent" and "almost treasonable." For this he gets a court martial, found guilty, and is cashiered.

    He was evidently correct about a number of things. The day of the battleship was limited. The majority lost by all sides in World War II were sunk by airplanes. No air force ever used 2,000 pound bombs though, with one exception (the Tirpitz) to sink them. Nor did air supremacy ever win a war by itself. Not in World War II -- and not since then.

    The best scene -- both the most dramatic and the most unintentionally comic -- is the court martial scene. Every participant in the trial has a single dimension. There are the good guys and the bad guys. The bad guys are winning at the start but the tide turns and they lose. The last witness is Mitchell himself. He not only has to undergo the agonizing ordeal of being cross-examined by a particularly slimy and sarcastic Rod Steiger but he must be suffering from an attack of malaria at the same time. Man, does he suffer. He keeps a handkerchief to his face, patting away the sweat.

    I don't recall from his biography whether Mitchell actually made the predictions attributed to him by the film. They include a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by planes from aircraft carriers 150 miles off the Hawaiian coast. The enemy will be the Japanese. He also calls for the Air Force as an independent branch of the armed forces. This is, like, 1927, mind you. Steiger keeps making snotty references to Mitchell's "crystal ball." A friend and I made up outrageous Mitchell predictions that might have been cut from the script. The Finns will build an undersea tunnel and fly airplanes that will come out of a Washington sewer and bomb the White House, and so forth. Well -- who knows? Anyway I get a kick out of it. Worth catching if you don't care much about historical accuracy.

    Oh -- and Kids, in 1941 the Japanese actually DID do what Billy Mitchell said they would. It began what we call "World War II." PS: We won.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Unsurprising that a noted Western star like Cooper was chosen for the lead role. In the film Mitchell is really the Lone Ranger. His best friend is not a horse but an aeroplane. He pursues his idea of right. He defies the US Marshall. The townsfolk meanwhile rally around him.

    The real Billy Mitchell was a pretty rough diamond. Presumably he did issue a press statement in effect accusing high-ups of treason. Cooper portrays a much gentler type; he would never have used such language. Incongruous then to find him doing just that.

    A final historical note. At one point Mitchell gives a pretty accurate forecast of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Was this brilliant foresight or did the Japanese read the court proceedings?
An error has occured. Please try again.