The McConnell Story (1955)
Not only does this Warner Brothers feature have James Whitmore which gives it instant credibility but it’s star players Alan Ladd playing opposite June Allyson sparkle on screen together making me wish the duo had done other films as a team. Ladd’s the energetic youngster who wants to be a fighter pilot and June is as always the spunky young gal that captures his heart and joins his lifetime adventure.
If he’s to be a flier it would appear as if Ladd is in the wrong branch of the service. He’s constantly going AWOL and taking flying lessons with Dabbs Greer while being pursued by MP, Gregory Walcott. It’s not exactly sitting well with his sergeant either played by Frank Faylen. It’s on one of his off base adventures that he comes across June and he’s smitten. From here forward the two are inseparable until the war intervenes. Ladd finally gets a transfer to flight school and meets Whitmore. The sure handed Whitmore gets the pilot’s job while Ladd gets navigator.
“I want to be the guy at the controls. Not a star gazer.”
While the war is a short segment of the film, it does give Ladd the chance to grab a machine gun firing from his bomber at incoming fighter planes to appease his fans as he is known on screen as a man of action. With the war over Ladd returns to home life with June and a desk job. The pair might be raising a family but Ladd isn’t happy. The skies still beckon and Whitmore rescues him from his dull existence in the military with the promise of new jets and the need for fighter pilots. Just as Ladd earns his wings the Korean War beckons and he and Whitmore are once again in harm’s way. Plenty more battle scenes are incorporated into Gordon Douglas’ film. Douglas was a very capable director who touched upon most genre’s. Films like the classic sci-fi thriller, Them. Musicals – She’s Back On Broadway. Drama – Young at Heart. He’d also work with Ladd on other films, The Iron Mistress, The Big Land and Santiago directing into the 60’s and 70’s on titles like The Detective and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs.
As this production proclaims to be based on a true story, it is in the Korean conflict that Ladd’s McConnell proves himself a hero who will be celebrated in his homeland upon returning from the war as an ace pilot. I won’t go any further with McConnell’s life and would encourage you to either see the film or do a little research on line if you’d like to see how his story will end.
While both Alan and June seem miscast in the opening scenes due to they’re playing characters far younger than they actually are they thankfully grow into their roles allotting them one of their better dramatic films. Why did the pair seem so perfectly cast opposite each other? Supposedly the pair were quite attracted to one another during the production and whatever happened off screen, it shows in the finished product. There’s some definite chemistry between the two.
Character players populate the movie so be sure to keep your eyes open and you’ll notice alongside Walcott and Greer, Dub Taylor, Frank Ferguson, Edward Platt, Willis Bouchey, Lillian Bronson and a pair I missed. According to the IMDB Perry Lopez and John Larch are in here so there’s your challenge, spot them and get back to me.
Whitmore scored third billing and thankfully it’s above the title. Here’s an actor who makes practically any film he blessed a little better. Sure he played the same type of role in plenty of films but like Ernie Borgnine, he could play it nice and Marty like or turn nasty with some despicable characters. It’s nice to see that he turned up in what many people proclaim to be their favorite film, The Shawshank Redemption. This gives him instant recognition when I’m chatting film to those who don’t know him by name and just how long his resume is.
Music from Max Steiner, plenty of archival aerial footage, big name stars and a story based in truth gives this one a foot up in interesting people who consider themselves “buffs” in different mediums or subjects. It’s available thru the Warner Archive Collection if you’re looking to score a copy as I did. For me it’s the Alan Ladd factor. I’ve always been a fan since falling for Shane as a youngster in love with the heroes of the western.