6 December 2009 | bkoganbing
The Builder Of Allied Bridges
Of the people that became presidents in the 20th Century, one of the very few who would have had some considerable space in our history books had he not become president was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike made his historical bones as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II where he made decisions that shaped the very world we live in today. He was responsible for sending more Americans into battle than any other in history and it weighed heavily upon his shoulder.
The principal of integrated allied command Americans and the British, Canadians, and various and sundry other allies was not new, but it took special talents to pull it off. Some in a roundabout way of denigrating Eisenhower's military talents said he was a better diplomat than warrior. The diplomacy aspect of his job as well as the military part is brought out very well in Ike though at times Ike was one rough diplomat.
But first and foremost this is a love story, whether a true one is still a matter of speculation. Ike was like the millions of other Americans overseas, missing home and possibly taking comfort. There was considerable speculation of the gossipy underground type about Ike and his British driver Kay Summersby at the time. Summersby wrote one book post World War II about Ike, but the book she wrote on which this TV movie is based was written when she was dying of cancer and heavily in debt because of her medical bills. The physical aspect of the relationship if any is handled oh so delicately.
Robert Duvall and Lee Remick really do become Eisenhower and Summersby, you feel like you're getting a fly on the wall of allied headquarters view of history. All the players are there, military leaders and civilian heads of state and government. Best scenes are Ike with Bernard L. Montgomery played to perfection by Ian Richardson and also with Charles DeGaulle beautifully done by Vernon Dobtscheff.
I'm surprised no one has made a mini-series called Monty. Now that was one controversial general whose ill manners made diplomacy a high art in dealing with him. Richardson captures him beautifully, but also pay attention to Charles Gray as General Francis 'Freddie' DeGuingand, one of the unsung heroes of the war. Note his relationship to Montgomery and how he smooths out many problems caused by his boss's bad behavior. Maybe the British have done a Montt mini-series, hopefully this was emphasized. DeGuingand by all accounts was a man of great class.
Because of Monty's personality he needed one kind of chief of staff. Ike the builder of allied bridges needed an abominable no man, guarding the gate and giving out the bad news. He had that in Walter Bedell Smith played here by J.D. Cannon. He could be really gruff and nasty and having an ulcer didn't help the situation. Later on as president Ike was similarly served by Sherman Adams until Adams was caught up in scandal and resigned as Chief of the White House staff in 1958. I would strongly recommend reading Stephen Ambrose's books on Eisenhower for additional insights.
But for insights into the pressures on our Supreme Commander personal, political, and military don't ever pass up viewing one of television's best TV dramas, Ike.