Cast & Crew
O. E. Hasse
In the spring of 1948, the U.S. and Britain mount an airlift of food and supplies to Berlin to counteract a Russian blockade intended to force the Allies out of the divided city. Danny MacCullough and Hank Kowalski, members of the 19th Troop Carrier Squadron based in Hawaii, are transferred to Germany to become part of the new 53rd Squadron that will ferry supplies into the beleaguered city. While Hank, who was reluctant to go to Germany, is sent to Berlin to work in ground control, Flight Engineer Danny is stationed at Rhein Main. As almost seventy percent of what they carry to Berlin is coal, several months after their arrival Danny's plane, which was named "The White Hibiscus" when it left Hawaii has been renamed "The Black Hibiscus." One day, the plane becomes the air lift's 100,000th flight to land at Tempelhof Airport and representatives of the city's people present gifts to the crew members. War widow Frederica Burkhardt, on behalf of the women of Berlin, makes the presentation to Danny. After the ceremony, Associated Press reporter Richard O'Malley tells Danny that he wants to do a story about him bringing a load of flour from Rhein Main into the hands of the Berliners. As flight personnel are not normally permitted to enter the city and because he would like to see Frederica again, Danny agrees. After he finishes his work with O'Malley, Danny agrees to meet Hank and his girl friend Gerda for dinner and goes looking for Frederica, whom he finds at work clearing a bomb site. When Danny's uniform accidentally becomes covered with poster paste, Frederica takes it to be cleaned. Later, when she returns for the uniform, the shop is closed as the owner's son has been arrested by the Russians. On a subway journey to the owner's home, Danny learns a little about how the Black Market operates throughout the city. The owner has gone into the Russian Sector in search of his son so Danny, still in civilian clothes, and Frederica go to meet Hank and Gerda at a club. Hank treats Gerda badly as she asks him to explain concepts of democracy and American government which he is ill-equipped to do. Frederica tells them that her father was a professor at Berlin University who spoke out against the Nazi regime and is still missing. A male patron has been watching the foursome in the club, and Hank feels he has seen him before. When the man leaves, Hank follows him after remembering that the man was one of his guards in a P.O.W. camp during the war. Danny and the others arrive just in time to prevent Hank from killing the man, but when the U.S. military police arrive, Danny, who has no identification papers runs off with Frederica into the Russian Sector. As they attempt to cross into the British Sector, the Russians try to stop them, but Frederica tells them that Danny is her husband, injured in the war and unable to speak. While the British argue over jurisdiction with the Russians, and an international incident almost arises, Danny and Frederica simply wander off in the confusion. Although Danny and Frederica are in love, Hank warns Danny that she is only looking for a way of getting to the U.S. Some days later, Hank has run a check on Frederica and learns that her husband was in the S.S. and her father was not a university professor. Danny shows her the information, and she admits that she has lied to him as she believes that being dependent on the generosity of others, one has to make oneself more pitiful and brave. Danny walks away from her but after walking through the city and seeing many people living in great privation, returns to her. He then applies to the squadron's major for the necessary permission to marry a German civilian and is told that, even if permission is granted, the marriage cannot take place until thirty days before his departure. Because a rotation of personnel has already started, however, Danny's return to the U.S. is soon scheduled, and he arranges to marry Frederica immediately, with Hank and Gerda as witnesses. Meanwhile, Frederica has received a letter from an Ernst Mirbach in St. Louis, Missouri. Stieber, a neighbor of Frederica who has also become friendly with Danny, sees her addressing an envelope to Mirbach and offers to mail it for her but opens it instead. He learns that Frederica is asking Ernst to find out how long she must stay with Danny before she can get a divorce, without being expelled from the U.S. At the burgermeister's office, where they are to be married, Danny shows Frederica the letter Steiner has given him and leaves. Later, Danny says goodbye to Gerda who, is going to remain in Berlin to try to help create a new Germany. At Tempelhof there is news that the Russians may have lifted the blockade, and as Hank sees Danny off for home, he says that he is staying on permanently to help the recovery effort.
O. E. Hasse
Capt. Dante V. Morel
Capt. John R. Mason
Capt. Gail R. Plush
Capt. Mack Blevins
Capt. William A. Stewart
First Lt. Alfred L. Freiburger
First Lt. Gerald Arons
First Lt. James Wilson
First Lt. Richard A. Kellogg
First Lt. Roy R. Steele
Staff Sgt. James H. Blankenship
Staff Sgt. Harold E. Bamford
Staff Sgt. D. R. Simmons
Staff Sgt. O. B. Schultz
Sgt. Andrew Chamlee
Sgt. Elbert Garrett
Sgt. Billy Pierson
Corp. Donald R. Neild
Sgt. Herman Dornbusch
Pfc. William L. Davenport
Pfc. William J. Hardiman
Pfc. Donald W. Keniston
Lt. Col. T. F. Lancer
Lt. Col. Harry Pretty
Major R. L. Hetzel
Major John T. Mitchell
Capt. W. T. Michau
Capt. Harry Holt
Capt. C. C. Hurt
Capt. Ray Tyler
First Lt. William Thompson
Ap Correspondent Richard O'malley
Abc Correspondent Lyford Moore
Carl Ulrich Blecher
Charles G. Clarke
J. Russell Spencer
Darryl F. Zanuck
The Big Lift
At the end of World War II, a defeated Germany found itself divided among the four major occupying nations: the U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Berlin, the capital, was also divided into four districts but was about 100 miles inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany, connected to the West by only one highway and rail line. Tensions grew between the USSR and the other three nations, particularly the U.S., which had emerged from the war as the major world power and a threat to Soviet dominance in Europe. Conflict came to a head over a plan by Western powers to introduce a new Deutschmark into the currency system, over Soviet objections. On June 23, 1948, the day the new mark hit the streets, the Soviets cut electric power to West Berlin and the following day stopped all land and water access to the capital, initiating a complete blockade meant to starve the city into submission. After much maneuvering in Washington by American Forces Commander Lucius Clay, President Harry Truman gave the go-ahead--against the judgment of his military advisers--to step up efforts to bring food and other supplies to Berlin by air. By August, the airlift was fully operational, with more than 4,500 tons of rations and coal for energy being brought into the city.
Bringing these events to the screen was not without its difficulties. Even though the airlift had been successful and West Berlin's security and survival assured, it hadn't been that long after the actual incident for tensions to cool off between East and West. Complicating it further was the fact that it had only been a few years since the war and resentment toward Germany was still very much alive. Director George Seaton certainly seemed an unlikely candidate for successfully bringing such a touchy and complex story to the screen. His most prominent film efforts to this point had been the Betty Grable musicals Diamond Horseshoe (1945) and The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) and the holiday fantasy Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which earned him a Best Screenplay Academy Award. But Seaton was determined and came up with a way to play out many of the issues on a character level by having Clift's Sgt. Danny MacCullough fall for a local girl and get a taste of what life was like for ordinary Germans at the time. He also created a character (played by Paul Douglas), a former POW who still harbored much anger and hatred toward the Germans.
Seaton came up with an engaging way to introduce the situation right at the film's opening, shifting from historical facts to the fictional narrative without missing a beat. The first thing we see is newsreel footage about the blockade; the camera cuts back to a wide shot revealing the newsreel playing on screen for a group of GIs stationed in Hawaii. The screening is interrupted by the news that they are about to ship out quite suddenly; before we know it, we're at Berlin's Templehof airport and in the thick of the conflict just minutes into the picture.
As expected, the production was rife with challenges and problems. The picture was made on location in occupied Germany, as a title added to the opening of the film explained: "All scenes were photographed in the exact locale associated with the story, including episodes in the American, French, British and Russian sectors of Berlin." The production was based at Berlin's Ufa Studio, which supplied the sound crew, camera assistants, makeup artists, and assistant director. According to cinematographer Charles G. Clarke, "One of the inducements for making The Big Lift in Germany was that it afforded [the] opportunity for our studio to utilize some of its 'frozen' funds in that country--money that had been earned there by other 20th Century-Fox releases." But shooting in a country ravaged by war and then embroiled in a new international conflict was not always a pleasant experience.
Seaton detailed some of the problems in an article he wrote for the New York Times: "The Soviets promised cooperation on the condition we inform them well in advance as to what, where, when and how we planned to shoot. We supplied the information to their satisfaction and a few weeks later made our way through the Brandenburg Gate. Our location, just inside the Gate, was deserted. While shooting in the other sectors, we had been given soldiers or district police to handle traffic and the inevitable crowd that likes to watch a picture company at work. Here there was no one. We controlled the spectators who quickly gathered as best we could and began rehearsing. Then, just as we were about to turn the camera, a radio blared forth. Looking up, we saw, directly over our heads, a newly erected loud-speaker through which was coming the voice of a news commentator revealing 'the miserable poverty which existed the world over except in Russia, certain neighboring countries and the East Zone of Germany.' We waited and waited, but the voice droned on. There was nothing to do but to shoot the scene silently and add the dialogue sound track later."
In his article about the movie in American Cinematographer, Clarke talked about further struggles. "As the script required that many of the scenes be played in heavily overcast weather, to point up the difficulty with which the airlift was carried on, we shot many of the scenes in stormy weather.... Those who have seen the picture remark about the very effective aerial shots. These may be attributed to the fact that we used a C82 'Flying Boxcar' for our camera ship. The construction of this famous Fairchild plane is such that the rear of the fuselage may be removed, permitting a clear, unobstructed view and allowing panorama shots up to 170 degrees."
On top of the political and logistical issues, the production was also under the gun for swift completion of scenes involving both Montgomery Clift and German actress Cornell Borchers, playing his romantic interest, as each had other pressing film commitments. (During production Clift refused an offer to star in Sunset Blvd and was set to move on to A Place in the Sun, 1951).
Clift's schedule proved to be the least of the problems he posed for The Big Lift. Coming from the New York stage and preferring his life there to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the young actor had already made enemies in the film industry over what many considered his smug attitude and difficult on-set behavior. Co-star Paul Douglas arrived on location already prepared for problems; Clift's Red River co-star John Wayne had warned him "this kid's a little sh*t." During filming of their first scenes together, Douglas noticed how Clift would lean into a two shot so far that he almost squeezed him out of the frame. Finally, the older actor stomped hard on Clift's foot, causing him to cry out in pain. "You do that again and I'll break your f***ing foot," Douglas threatened. Clift never did it again, but the two didn't speak for the remainder of the production.
Clift also alienated director George Seaton over his insistence that his friend and drama coach, Mira Rostova, be on set at all times. After every take, Clift would look to her for either her approval or a negative reaction to determine whether he should do another take, whether Seaton deemed it necessary or not. After many such takes and re-takes in scene after scene, Seaton had his wife help him with a ruse to get Rostova off the set during a major scene shot at the airport. Once the two women had left the area, Seaton rolled the cameras, infuriating his young star. From that point on, Clift refused to let her out of his sight. They continued to confer after every take and whispered to each other during rushes. Then Clift would argue with Seaton over which take he thought should be used. Finally, the exasperated cinematographer told Seaton, "That woman is directing your picture." The remark pushed Seaton to order Rostova off the picture completely, but when Clift threatened to leave the production if she did, Seaton had to give in.
Although he never had a good word to say about Clift personally, Seaton begrudgingly admitted he gave a top-notch performance. Reviewers agreed and also singled out Douglas for his work. (The two were the only professional actors playing military men in the film; all the others were actual soldiers and airmen.) In his review dated April 27, 1950, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called Cornell Borchers "magnetic and possessed as the girl who takes advantage of romance to accomplish her own selfish ends." And Variety singled out Seaton for "masterful scripting."
The film's working titles were "The Quartered City" and "Two Corridors East." In December 1949, after location work had been completed, additional filming was done at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, CA. A radio dramatization of the story starring Paul Douglas in his original role was broadcast on the Screen Directors' Playhouse program on January 18, 1951 under Seaton's direction. Edmond O'Brien played the role created by Clift.
The Big Lift was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Film Promoting International Understanding. The prize went to Broken Arrow (1950), a Western in which James Stewart tries to make peace between settlers and Apaches led by Cochise.
Director, Screenplay: George Seaton
Producer: William Perlberg
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke
Editing: William Reynolds, Robert Simpson
Art Direction: Russell Spencer, Lyle Wheeler
Original Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Montgomery Clift (Sgt. Danny MacCullough), Paul Douglas (Msgt. Henry Kowalski), Cornell Borchers (Frederica Burkhardt), Bruni Lobel (Gerda), O.E. Hasse (Stieber).
by Rob Nixon
The Big Lift
When you live in a sewer, you soon discover that the sewer rats are best equipped to survive.- Frederica Burkhardt
This film's working titles were The Quartered City and Two Corridors East. George Seaton's onscreen credit reads: "Written and Directed by George Seaton." The opening titles include the following statements: "This picture was made in occupied Germany. All scenes were photographed in the exact locale associated with the story, including episodes in the American, French, British and Russian sectors of Berlin. With the exception of Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas, all military personnel appearing in this film are actual members of the U.S. Armed Forces on duty in Germany." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the Berlin production was plagued by logistical and political problems. Seaton wrote an article for the New York Times in which he detailed some of the difficulties involved in filming: "Finally the Soviets promised cooperation on the condition we inform them well in advance as to what, where, when and how we planned to shoot. We supplied the information to their satisfaction and a few weeks later made our way through the Brandenburg Gate. Our location, just inside the Gate, was deserted. While shooting in the other sectors, we had been given soldiers or district police to handle traffic and the inevitable crowd that likes to watch a picture company at work. Here there was no one. We controlled the spectators who quickly gathered as best we could and began rehearsing. Then, just as we were about to turn the camera, a radio blared forth. Looking up, we saw, directly over our heads, a newly erected loud-speaker through which was coming the voice of a news commentator revealing 'the miserable poverty which existed the world over except in Russia, certain neighboring countries and the East Zone of Germany.' We waited and waited, but the voice droned on. There was nothing to do but to shoot the scene silently and add the dialogue sound track later. The scene over, we packed up our equipment and returned into the British sector. The radio stopped abruptly. Out of curiosity we went back to the spot the next day-the loud speaker had been removed."
According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at UCLA, the production was based at the Ufa Studio on Viktoriastrasse in Berlin. That studio supplied the sound crew and filled various other craft positions including camera assistants, makeup artists, and assistant director. In an Am Cin article, cinematographer Charles G. Clarke described other problems involved in shooting in post-war Germany; "One of the inducements for making The Big Lift in Germany was that it afforded opportunity for our studio to utilize some of its 'frozen' funds in that country-money that had been earned there by other 20th Century-Fox releases....As the script required that many of the scenes be played in heavily overcast weather, to point up the difficulty with which the airlift was carried on, we shot many of the scenes in stormy weather....Those who have seen the picture remark about the very effective aerial shots. These May be attributed to the fact that we used a C82 'Flying Boxcar' for our camera ship. The construction of this famous Fairchild plane is such that the rear of the fuselage May be removed, permitting a clear, unobstructed view and allowing panorama shots up to 170 degrees....In the very beginning we were under pressure to complete all scenes in which Montgomery Clift appears, because he had another commitment back in the United States. Then, after these scenes were disposed of in record time, we faced a new problem; time was running out on our German leading lady, Cornell Borchers, who was committed for another picture." Studio records reveal that shortly after Clarke and camera operator Lou Kunkel arrived in early May, before prinicipal photography began, they shot much of the activity at both terminals of the Lift, in addition to shooting process plates for later use.
According to studio records, the supporting cast May also have included Harold Dyrenforth, Otto Grevis, George Ghermanoff, Erno Kiraly, John Peters, Fred Spitz, Walter Thiele and Bruce Morgan. On Sunday December 11, 1949, additional filming was done at Lockheed Aircraft Service Inc., Burbank. A radio dramatization of the story starring Paul Douglas was broadcast on the Screen Directors' Playhouse program on January 18, 1951.