The Mitchell family was very unhappy with the film, especially the casting of the tall, laconic Gary Cooper in the lead role. The real Billy Mitchell was short with an explosive temper. The family thought James Cagney would have been ideal.
Although Gary Cooper had said long ago that he would make no more biopics, he signed for The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955). It was a poor Otto Preminger film and even Billy Mitchell's widow expressed disappointment with Cooper's performance. Possibly the story had appealed to Cooper on political grounds and Mitchell may have been a hero of his - the general who accused the government of neglecting military needs. Cooper went on Ed Sullivan's TV show to promote the film and home viewers were quite disappointed - David Shipman referred to Cooper's "effeminate mannerisms in his TV interviews".
The character played by Charles Bickford, Gen. Jimmy Guthrie, was a fabrication; such a person never existed. Instead, he was used by the filmmakers as a composite representative of two officers: Maj. Gen. Mason M. Patrick (Chief of the Air Service and Mitchell's direct superior at the time of the battleship Ostfriesland's sinking) and Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Howze, who presided over Mitchell's court-martial.
Gen. Frank R. McCoy, one of the court-martial's judges, served as a pallbearer at Mitchell's funeral in 1935, ten years after the trial.
The appearance of Major H. H. ("Hap") Arnold, played by Robert Brubaker in the film, is significant, for it was he who would authorize the famed Doolittle air attack on Tokyo in April 1942. The raid consisted of B-25 Mitchell bombers - named in honor of Billy Mitchell.
In August 1946, Congress authorized President Harry Truman "to award posthumously in the name of Congress a Medal of Honor to William Mitchell." However, this was not THE Medal of Honor, but instead a special medal, engraved on one side with an image of Mitchell's face.
The North American B-25 Mitchell is an American twin-engine, medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation (NAA). It was named in honor of Major General William "Billy" Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation.
Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall was the original presiding judge until he was challenged by Mitchell's defense team and subsequently dismissed before testimony commenced. Summerall later gave evidence on the stand as a prosecution witness. Moreover, in interviews with the press, he described Mitchell as "one of that damned kind of soldier who's wonderful in war and terrible in peace."