Command Decision (1948)"'Key industrial objectives!' A fine comfort for a lot of new widows back home!"
So many war films find drama in the men on the front lines while the Generals are often mocked for putting lives at risk from high above the battlefield. Here's one that shows the commanders jobs to be just as dramatic and as intense, fighting the crushing moral weight of making decisions that will result in casualties.
Clark Gable plays the Brigadier General in World War II who decides to go for three important targets over three days that will surely result in heavy losses, but failing the objective could turn the war to favor Germany, resulting in more deaths over time. Watching over him is Walter Pidgeon, who doesn't want to second guess but must consider how such a risky operation will look to the government, particularly a visiting congressman (Edward Arnold) and a reporter (Charles Bickford). Brian Donlevy, works under Gable. He mostly watches and tries to find the middle ground between the two superiors. Rounding out the cast are Van Johnson as Gable's resourceful assistant and John Hodiak as a pilot who's also a close friend of Gable, (in case the drama wasn't personal enough.)
That's a hell of a cast, well-suited to what is essentially a filmed play, but like A Few Good Men there's enough outside locations, camera framing and dynamic performances to not feel pinned to the stage. The dialogue is more smart than clever. I'm more partial to clever and this gets off to a slow start while I tried to sort out the main objective. However, it isn't long before the actors start having a fine time, especially Pidgeon, who I've never seen less stoic. I'm used to 1940s Hollywood simplifying the story more, but this is one I can go back to and wrap myself again inside the thick dramatic blanket. A Discovery!Rating: * * * - Very Good