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The film begins in 1949, as attorney Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) spies a familiar toby jug in an English antique shop, triggering a flash back to 1943 and his service in World War II at an air base at Archbury. Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) is the commanding officer of the 918th Bomb Group, a hard-luck unit suffering from poor morale. He has become too close to his men and is troubled by the losses sustained. General Patrick Pritchard (Millard Mitchell), commanding general of the VIII Bomber Command, Eighth Air Force, recognizes that Davenport himself is the problem and, after a disastrous mission, relieves him. Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) is his replacement. Savage finds his new command in disarray and begins to address the discipline problems. He deals with everyone so harshly that the men begin to detest him. At one point, he closes down the officers club bar as punishment. Savage is particularly hard on Colonel Ben Gately (Hugh Marlowe), the Group Executive Officer, placing him under arrest for being Absent Without Leave (AWOL). Gately tries to take Savage on, but Savage calls him a coward for avoiding combat missions and ultimately demotes him to command of a B-17 named the "Leper Colony", manned by the worst airmen in the group. Whenever any man in the squadron fails to measure up, Savage transfers him to Gately's plane. Major Joe Cobb (John Kellogg), one of Savage's squadron commanders, takes Gately's place as Air Exec. Upset by Savage's stern leadership, all of the 918th's pilots apply for transfer. Savage asks the Group Adjutant, Major Harvey Stovall, to delay their applications.

The 918th resumes combat operations, and Savage continues to earn everyone's enmity with his blistering post-mission critiques. However, the airmen and pilots begin to change their minds after he leads them on a mission in which they are the only group to strike the target and all of the aircraft make it back safely. Savage tries to enlist a young pilot, Medal of Honor-recipient Lieutenant Jesse Bishop (Robert Patten) to help him change the attitude of the other pilots. Bishop eventually comes to believe in the general. When the Inspector General arrives to check out the unrest, Bishop convinces the others to withdraw their requests for transfer. Savage learns that Gately has been hospitalized, having flown two missions with a chipped vertebrae that caused him acute pain. Gately's stoicism in flying without complaint despite his injury brings about a rapprochement between him and Savage, and Gately is reinstated as the Air Exec. As the air war advances over Germany, missions become longer and riskier, with enemy resistance increasingly intense. Many of Savage's best men are shot down or killed. General Pritchard tries to force Savage to return to a staff job with him, but Savage refuses because he feels that the 918th Group isn't quite ready yet. Pritchard reluctantly leaves Savage in command because he needs a proven leader for two important upcoming missions. The first of these missions has the Luftwaffe throwing everything available at the bomber force. Although the target is hit, the 918th takes a beating and Savage watches Cobb's airplane blow up from a direct flak hit. On returning to base, Savage is convinced that a second strike on the same target is necessary and schedules a return trip for the next day. However, on mission day, Savage has a breakdown and is literally unable to climb into his bomber. Gately takes over command of the mission. Savage enters a fugue or catatonic state, sweating out the mission in his quarters. Savage finally relaxes when his B-17s return and goes to sleep. He, like Davenport before him, has allowed himself to care too much and pays the price in terms of his nerves; ultimately Savage is relieved of command.

Starring ... Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell,
Dean Jagger, Robert Arthur

Director: Henry King
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck


Year Released - Dec. 1949

Length - 132 minutes

Music Composer: Alfred Newman

Movie Distributed by 20th Century Fox



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