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A tribute to the aircraft carrier and its role in establishing the U.S. Navy as a major military force, Task Force (1949) focuses on the human drama behind this little-known aspect of American history. The story begins in 1921 as junior officer Jonathan Scott (Gary Cooper) and fellow crewmen try to convince their superiors of the strategic importance of aircraft carriers in battle. Spanning two decades, the movie follows Scott's naval career from its lowest point (he was transferred to a desk job at the Panama Canal for his outspoken behavior) to a peak achievement (commanding his own aircraft carrier after the attack of Pearl Harbor).
While some may view Task Force as little more than a World War II propaganda film for the U.S. Navy, there is another, more revealing aspect to the story, one that shows how slow the wheels of progress can turn within our government bureaucracy. It is only through Scott's aggressive campaign for change that his vision for naval aviation is adopted after years of lobbying. Adding an additional note of realism to the film is the use of World War II footage taken from the Battle of Midway and the subsequent kamikaze attacks by the enemy.
During the making of Task Force, Cooper came close to being seriously injured twice. The first time occurred during gunnery practice on the aircraft carrier, USS Antietam, when the actor and several cast members were almost struck by a robot target plane that caught fire and skimmed over the deck before crashing into the ocean. The second mishap took place as Cooper was riding in a naval barge that broke up on a rocky edge of Long Beach Harbor in the midst of a thick fog bank. Luckily, the sinking barge was located in time by another naval vessel and Cooper was rescued but later hospitalized with a severe cold and high fever.
Task Force, directed by Delmer Daves, was well received by both the critics and moviegoers with special praise going to Cooper's performance as Scott. But, according to the biography Coop by Stuart Kaminsky, the actor had little regard for the movie. "When asked about his performance by Hedda Hopper, Cooper replied, "The main thing I remember about that film is that it interfered with my fall hunting." Copper then claimed he had made the film for money and that, in spite of the fact that he was getting more than $300,000 a picture, his expenses, including a newly acquired seventeen-acre home in Colorado, kept demanding more."
Producer: Jerry Wald
Director: Delmer Daves
Screenplay: Delmer Daves
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Cinematography: Robert Burks, Wilfred M. Cline
Editing: Alan Crosland, Jr.
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Gary Cooper (Jonathan L. Scott), Jane Wyatt (Mary Morgan), Wayne Morris (McKinney), Walter Brennan (Pete Richard), Julie London (Barbara McKinney), Bruce Bennett (McCluskey), Jack Holt (Reeves).
BW &C-117m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford