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Above and Beyond

Above and Beyond(1953)

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The film's working titles were Eagle on His Cap, The Story of Col. Paul Tibbets and The Story of Colonel Tibbets. The film opens with the following written prologue: "No one man is responsible for the historic success of `Operation Silverplate'-but it is hoped that the story told here for the first time, of the man who commanded the operation, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., United States Air Force, can serve to illumine the combined achievement of all." The film is told in flashback, with voice-over narration provided throughout by Eleanor Parker as her character, "Lucey Tibbets."
       Hollywood Reporter news items include Wally Russell and Jeff Weston in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Another Hollywood Reporter news item indicated that Carleton Young had been cast as an Air Force major, but he was not in the viewed print. According to news items and press releases, portions of the film were shot on location in Arizona, at Davis-Montham Field in Tucson and at Red Rock.
       As shown in the film, twenty-nine-year-old Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. then a Lt. Col. in the Army Air Corps., piloted the Enola Gay, a B-29 airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb. The bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, killing over 100,000 people in the initial blast and causing the deaths of, according to modern historical sources, as many as 100,000 more people in the ensuing decades. Although a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, the film does not dramatize the flight of the second crew. The Japanese government unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces on August 14, 1945, thus ending World War II.
       Previous to his work on the project that became known as "Silverplate," Tibbets flew extensive missions over Europe and North Africa. He returned to the United States in March 1943 and, as dramatized in the film, tested the B-29. In September 1944, he headed the project to test the planes and prepare the flight crew to drop the first atomic bomb. Tibbets continued as an Air Force pilot after the war, retiring with the rank of brigadier general in 1966. He continued in the field of aviation until 1985. Although expressing regret at the loss of life after the bombing, Tibbets always expressed support of the decision to drop the bomb to put a quick end to the war.
       Many of the characters within the film are fictional or composites, including "Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent" (Larry Keating), but the basic storyline of Tibbets' career, most of the crew that flew the Enola Gay and Tibbets' involvement with the atomic bomb project were historically accurate. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, producers-directors-writers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank flew to Washington, D.C. in mid-May 1952 for a special screening of the film before Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett, as well as Secretary of the Air Force Thomas K. Finletter, General Hoyt Vandenberg and other officials. Just prior to the film's world premiere in Washington, the Air Force granted official approval of the film.
       Although not emphasized in the film, Enola Gay co-pilot Capt. Robert Lewis (Dick Simmons) kept a log of their flight. In March 2002, the log garnered $350,000 when it was sold at auction as part of an American historical records collection of the late publisher Malcolm Forbes. The log included the following comments after the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima: "15 seconds after the flash there were two very distinct slaps (air turbulence) that was all the physical effects we felt. We then turned the ship so we could observe results, and there in front of our eyes was without a doubt the greatest explosion man has ever witnessed...I am certain the entire crew felt this experience was more than any one human had ever thought possible. It just seems impossible to comprehend. Just how many did we kill? I honestly have the feeling of groping for words to explain this or I might say My God what have we done."
       In 2002, on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, an interview of the eighty-seven-year-old Tibbets by author American author Studs Terkel was printed in the British newspaper The Guardian. In the interview, Tibbets, recounted the events that led up to his being chosen for the mission and reflected on its execution and outcome. He said that he never had second thoughts about the mission and would not hesitate to do it again if it was needed.
       Above and Beyond received two Academy Award nominations, one to Hugo Friedhofer for Best Score (Drama or Comedy) and another to Beirne Lay, Jr. for Best Motion Picture Sory. A 1980 television movie, Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb was also based on Tibbets' life and the dropping of the bomb. That film was directed by David Lowell Rich and starred Patrick Duffy as Tibbets. Many other theatrical and television movies have dramatized other events surrounding the development and deployment of the bomb. Among them are the 1989 Paramount release Fat Man and Little Boy, directed by Roland Joff and starring Paul Newman and Dwight Schultz and the 1991 television movie Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, directed by Robert Iscove and starring Stacy Keach, Jr. and Richard Thomas.