Above and Beyond
Cast & Crew
In 1945, as Lucey Tibbets waits at a Washington, D. C. airport for her husband, Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., she recalls the past two years: In North Africa, Paul, an Army Air Corps pilot, incurs the anger of his commander, Gen. Samuel E. Roberts, when he questions an order to fly futile missions. The officious Roberts subsequently turns down Paul's pending promotion to full colonel, but Paul's tenaciousness in standing up to Roberts impresses visiting Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent. Brent later tells Paul he has a hunch that Paul is the man for an important job and orders him to return to the U.S. Paul further impresses Brent by not asking what the job is.
When they are flying to Washington, Brent tells Paul that he will be sent to Wichita to test a new long-range plane, the B-29. Because the testing will be dangerous, Brent informs Paul that he cannot have distractions, therefore Lucey and their young son, Paul, Jr. cannot join him. At the airport, Paul lovingly greets Lucey with his usual gift, a bottle of perfume placed in a paper bag and tied with a pink ribbon. Although disappointed at their short reunion and concerned for Paul's safety, Lucey accepts the situation and later visits Paul in Wichita. She is so unnerved by a crash-landing she witnesses, though, that they see each other only one more time during his tour, meeting for a weekend in the mountains. After the B-29 is finally determined to be safe, Paul returns home to Washington, but their short period of family happiness is again interrupted when Paul is summoned to Colorado Springs by Brent. Outside Brent's office, Paul meets Maj. Bill Uanna, who gruffly goes over details of Paul's life, including some seemingly casual conversations Paul has had with other officers.
A few moments later, Brent tells him that he is one of a hundred men who have been "under a microscope" for the past year and that Paul was one of only four considered for work on the most important project of the war. Although Paul is the youngest and lowest in rank, Brent thinks he is the man for the job. Before telling Paul what the job is, he hands him a buzzer and asks if he would press it if by doing so the war would end tomorrow and save 1,000,000 lives but kill 100,000 in one flash. Paul considers Brent's words for a moment, then presses the buzzer. Brent invites several members of the "Manhattan Project," a group of scientists developing an atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to explain the project to Paul. Brent then tells Paul that only he, Uanna and Paul will know what the true nature of Paul's job is, overseeing an operation to prepare a crew he will head to drop an atomic bomb over Japan. Although Paul expresses doubt about killing civilians, he agrees and soon leaves for a desolate base in Wendover, Utah. Every man assigned to Wendover is strictly screened and tested on his ability to keep absolutely secret about his job. Paul becomes known as a strict disciplinarian, surprising even Maj. Harry Bratton and other close friends he brings onto the project from the North Africa campaign. Because of the secrecy of his unit, Paul must frequently overstep the bounds of his rank, but does whatever necessary to keep the project on course.
To stop speculation about Wendover, and make it seem like a normal facility, Uanna suggests that families be brought to live on base, but strongly urges Paul not to bring Lucey, who is now pregnant and might prove a distraction. Paul initially agrees, but after Lucey gives birth in Washington, he sends for her and the children. Although at first they are happy to be together, Lucey soon detects a change in Paul and, after listening to complaints over Paul's strict discipline from Harry's wife Marge and others, thinks that Paul is overcompensating for not being promoted to full colonel. Meanwhile, Paul and his team are constantly testing and refitting B-29s to ensure that they will be able to carry the weight of an atomic bomb and withstand the blast's aftershock. The constant stress and overwork wears on Paul, who becomes more distant from Lucey.
One night, when she expresses sadness over the innocent children who have died during the war's bombing, Paul angrily lashes out at her. Their relationship deteriorates after Paul severely disciplines one of the soldiers over allowing Lucey into a restricted area to see Paul. Meanwhile, Brent has told Paul that the Japanese have refused another offer of surrender and the president has authorized use of the bomb, which will soon be ready. Paul alone must bear the responsibility of giving Los Alamos the "blue light" when the bombers are ready. Repeated testing and trips to Los Alamos take their toll on Paul. One night, when the exhausted Paul returns home, Lucey suggests that they take a weekend to go to a fishing area and casually mentions that Harry had made up an excuse to get a weekend off to take Marge there. Paul immediately has Harry relieved of his duties and confined to the base, precipitating a bitter quarrel with Lucey, who accuses him of being ruthlessly ambitious and says she wants out of the marriage. The next day, Paul goes to Colorado Springs to see Brent, who has been terminally injured in a plane crash, and tells his mentor that it is "blue light." When he returns to the base, he learns from Uanna that Lucey came to him wanting to know how important their work was.
Although Lucey apologizes to Paul, saying she only wanted to understand, he coldly tells her that she and the children will leave for Washington that afternoon. With the work at Wendover completed, the project's next phase, called "Operation Silverplate" sends Paul and his handpicked crew to the Pacific island of Tinian. A short time later, Paul learns that weather conditions will enable them to make the mission the next morning. After giving Uanna a letter for Lucey, Paul cannot sleep and writes a letter to his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets, telling her his fears about killing so many people and what the future holds once the bomb is unleashed. Comforted by thoughts of his mother, Paul decides to name his plane after her.
The next morning, his crew senses the importance of their mission, but is not fully briefed until their flight is near the coast of Japan. Paul receives a radio message that weather conditions have determined Hiroshima to be the target. Before the bomb is dropped, the men don darkened glasses and are told to avoid looking at the light flash. After the bomb is released, Paul desperately turns the plane around while the men steady themselves for the aftershock. After the Enola Gay turns, the men see the devastation on the ground, and Paul whispers "God." Back on Tinian, Paul is surrounded by the press. When one reporter says his readers want to know how he feels about killing 80,000 people, Paul snaps "How do they feel about it?" and leaves. Soon after, in Washington, Madge rushes to Lucey's house and tells her to turn on the radio. When Lucey learns what has happened and Paul's role in the bombing, she runs into her room and sobs.
As Lucey's thoughts return to the present, Paul's plane lands at the Washington airport. She is certain their marriage is over, but when Paul leaves the plane and walks toward her, she sees that he is carrying a paper bag with a pink ribbon and runs to embrace him.
John W. Baer
Robert Warde Wood
H. Allen Sharpe
G. Pat Collins
Paul F. Smith
John Milton Kennedy
William Graeff Jr.
James B. Bean Major, Usaf (ret.)
Charles E. H. Begg Lt. Colonel, Usaf
A. Arnold Gillespie
Beirne Lay Jr.
Beirne Lay Jr.
Norman W. Ray Major, Usaf
Edwin B. Willis
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
Best Writing, Screenplay
Above and Beyond
A. Arnold Gillespie and Warren Newcombe joined forces on the special effects and created a documentary-like re-creation of the bombing. The technical aspects of the mission are carefully detailed and interspersed with newsreel footage of Hiroshima and the mushroom cloud to give the film a haunting realism. There's an especially chilling moment after the bomb's impact as the inside of the plane goes entirely white.
Actor Robert Taylor didn't require any help from special effects or stuntmen in Above and Beyond. He had learned to fly for an earlier film, Flight Command (1940) but Taylor's performance in Above and Beyond is even more impressive than his flying skills. Some critics even agreed it was the finest performance of his career to date. And Taylor was also proud of his accomplishments in the film; so much so, that he urged MGM to allow him to promote the film on TV. Up to this point, MGM had withheld TV promotion for all its films and had not allowed any stars to appear personally for such promotion. But Taylor was allowed to publicize Above and Beyond and appeared on television with clips from it. MGM could not dispute the numbers. The promotion greatly aided Above and Beyond at the box office.
Above and Beyond also teamed Taylor for the first time with Eleanor Parker. The pair would make two more films together - Valley of the Kings (1954) and Many Rivers to Cross (1955). Off screen, Taylor and Parker began an affair during Above and Beyond that ended only when Taylor married his second wife, Ursula Thiess. Taylor's first marriage to Barbara Stanwyck lasted from 1939 to 1951. He reportedly believed that Parker was too much like Stanwyck for a marriage between them to work out. So instead, Taylor married Ursula Thiess, a German actress and the ex-wife of German director George Thiess, in May 1954. The union lasted until Taylor's death in 1969.
Producer/Director: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Screenplay: Beirne Lay, Jr. (also story), Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Cinematography: Ray June
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Film Editing: Cotton Warburton
Original Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Robert Taylor (Colonel Paul Tibbets), Eleanor Parker (Lucy Tibbets), James Whitmore (Major Uanna), Larry Keating (Major General Vernon C. Brent), Larry Gates (Captain Parsons).
BW-123m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames
Above and Beyond
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 Joffè 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.