Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker made three films in quick succession during the early part of the 1950’s. All three offered the pair in a different setting and genre. Above and Beyond being the dramatic effort on a most sobering topic.
It’s the tale of Operation Silver Plate as told in flashback via Parker. She’s married to a bomber pilot played by Taylor. Taylor stars here as real life flyer Paul Tibbets.
When a military General played by Larry Keating begins looking over first rate bomber pilots he happens upon Taylor who displays a firm hand over his crew while at the same time isn’t shy about clashing with his own commanding officer over orders he doesn’t believe should be issued which could result in the unnecessary loss of men and aircraft. Keating likes what he sees and has Taylor transferred to his top secret operation. Taylor is soon on his way back to the United States where Parker is waiting with open arms.
It’s to be a very short reunion which in turn sets the tone for their relationship for the balance of the film. When finally on the ground Taylor has thirty minutes before catching another flight. He sees his 2 year old son for the first time, explains to Parker he’s under orders and flies on to a testing area in Wichita.
It’s at this point of the film that Taylor will make a decision that will affect the entire human race. Keating’s General asks him if he could push a button knowing it could save a million lives yet kill 100 000 would he be able to do it. Tough scene to play both on screen and I can’t imagine just how much more so in real life.
Once Taylor commits to the mission he is given a free hand at recruiting top notch men and supplies to turn the project into a success. It also casts him in a very stern role where loose tongues and disobedience cause him to read the riot act on those beneath him. Wife Parker doesn’t like what she sees and the more she tries to understand his reasoning for becoming a no nonsense commander with little or no patience for the men under him or even his own family, the more he shuts her out. She will know nothing of his mission until it’s completed.
Serving as Taylor’s confidante and conscience is the always welcome presence of James Whitmore as his second in command. When Taylor cast his doubts about the mission and what it is doing to his marriage and family it’s Whitmore who stands strong with some tough advice.
There will be no surprises here in this tale as we all know how the story ends. “A guarantee didn’t come with the uniform,” is Taylor’s response to being told he may not survive the mission let alone the blast. When the blast does come it’s not a scene of military heroics. Even looking at this sixty year old film it stirs feelings of nausea when the blast is ignited over Japan.
Both leads do well in their assigned roles. Parker’s fine as the forgotten house wife who can’t get through the emotional blockade her husband has built and who begins to believe his ego and desire for promotions has overtaken the man she married.
Taylor is the stoic hero with the guilty conscience. He’s honor bound to be tough and expects the same from those around him. Though he knows it’s ruining his marriage he’ll carry on with his duties. If one wonders where the planes name Enola Gay came from there is a nice moment of reflection from Taylor where that is to be explained.
The credited writer on the film is Beirne Lay Jr. who seemed to have a handle on air force pictures having already done 12 O’clock High and would also move on to Strategic Air Command among others. Both Melvin Frank and Norman Panama are credited as the films scriptwriters and directors.
Spotting character actors can be a fun past time and you’ll find a young Dabbs Greer in here and the well known mug of famous castaway Jim Backus to.
Overall this is a solid entry in the careers of both stars though not as flashy as many of their other roles. Stock footage is used throughout for the required battle scenes to give it some authenticity. Not my favorite of the three Taylor/Parker pairings but that’s due to the subject matter and not the work that has been done on this MGM release that I secured through the Warner Archive Collection.