Cast & Crew
In England, in June 1944, as the 101st Airborne Division awaits its orders for the imminent Allied invasion, three new replacements arrive. Among them are the surly Pvt. Mason and the folksy Southerner Pvt. Corliss. Lt. Pauling, the head of the squadron, tells the newcomers that the team has spent the last two years training for their mission. Mason's belligerent attitude angers Sgt. Forrest, who assigns him to extra drill practice. One evening, as the men prepare for a night out at the local pub, Mason refuses to join them. Corliss, who served with Mason in the merchant marines, stays behind and advises his friend to learn to get along with the others. Mason, who never forgets a slight, launches into a litany of all those who have scorned him. As the squadron nears town, they are stopped by MPs and sent back to camp, signaling the start of their mission. Upon entering the barracks, they find that the drunken Mason has overturned all the bunk beds. While Corliss sobers up Mason, Forrest suggests that Pauling discharge the insubordinate private from their squad. The compassionate Pauling responds that he would rather try to redeem the embittered soldier. When Pauling polls the others about Mason, they all agree that he should be allowed to participate in their mission. On the sixth of June, after they take off in a transport plane, Pauling explains that their job is to hold a bridge on the road to Utah Beach, where Allied troops will be landing. Six miles from their drop point, Germans open fire on the plane, and when dense fog obscures the ground below, making their position uncertain, they are forced to jump. After reconvening on the ground, they split into three groups to look for landmarks that might indicate their position. Corp. Dreef leads Corliss and Mason and orders them to hold their fire. When they spot three Germans on a bridge, Mason wants to kill them, but Dreef insists on returning to their squadron. As Dreef and Corliss turn around, Mason sees a German sentry aim his rifle at Dreef and hurls a knife into the German, causing him to miss his target. Alerted by the gunshot, the other Germans see the Americans and fire, killing Dreef. After shooting the remaining Germans, Mason and Corliss rendezvous with the squad. When Forrest blames Mason for Dreef's death and suggests beating him, Pauling admonishes the sergeant that his responsibility is to hold the group together, not punish them. Although Mason asserts that he threw the knife to save Dreef's life, the men disbelieve him. Unknown to the Americans, one of the Germans from the bridge has survived and fires at Pauling. Throwing his knife, Mason hits the German in the arm, causing him to miss his target, but the gun blast blinds the lieutenant. With twenty miles of enemy-held territory between them and their objective, the blinded Pauling orders Mason to be his guide and puts Forrest in command. As he guides Pauling, Mason grumbles that no one believes his story. Pauling then assures him that he believes in him and reveals that the rest of the squad voted to include him in the mission. Coming upon a farmhouse occupied by German soldiers, the squad is attacked and several men are killed. After killing the enemy with a well-armed grenade, the Americans enter the farmhouse and find a German soldier attacking a young Frenchwoman. The woman, Marianne, is unable to speak English, so Pauling speaks to her in French. After she tells him that the Germans killed her mother and father, Pauling asks Marianne, who speaks German, to interrogate the prisoner for him. Through Marianne, Pauling learns that the Germans are headquartered at the village and that three hundred troops occupy the countryside. When the prisoner tells them that the Germans are sending a truck to pick him up, Pauling decides to hijack it. After overpowering the unsuspecting driver, the Americans climb into the back of the truck and force the Germans to drive them to town. There they take over the German headquarters and lock their prisoners in the cellar, except for the radioman. Pauling then commands the radioman to notify the troops in the field to move out to the northwest, a direction that will send them directly into the Allied advance. When the Americans are distracted, however, the German turns on the radio lines, thus enabling the German troops to overhear the Americans. Realizing that they have been tricked, the German convoy turns back toward the village. Before the Germans can arrive, Marianne notices that the radio set is on, after which they all escape out the back. Although Pauling orders Mason to leave him behind, the private pulls him into a house for refuge. When the Germans enter the house looking for them, Mason gets the jump on them, but is wounded in the crossfire. Mason then leads Pauling out back, and as he rails about the others deserting them, a burst of gunfire is heard and Forrest and the rest of the squad appear. After holding off the Germans, the group jumps into a truck and speeds off. Informed by Forrest that seven of their men were killed, Pauling, a former schoolteacher, recites John Donne's poem "no man is an island, everyman is a piece of the continent¿.any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind." After the truck's brakes give out, they are forced to continue on foot. As they approach their objective, they are met by Maj. Carter who informs them that the bridge has been secured. Carter offers to drive Pauling and Mason to the hospital, after which they bid Marianne goodbye. When Pauling wonders what will happen to her, Mason tells him not to worry because she is now a member of the 101st.
Joe Di Reda
Capt. Richard H. Case
Robert S. Eisen
Robert Presnell Jr.
Allen K. Wood
Charles Haas is one of the few Hollywood directors - if not the only one - to have studied under poet T. S. Eliot, who was a visiting professor during Haas' final years at Harvard University. In Hollywood by 1935, the Chicago-born Haas got his foot in the film industry's door as a movie extra but found regular work as an editor's assistant at Universal in the years leading up to World War II. During his military service, Haas shot training films for the Army Signal Corps and after his discharge turned to making industrial films and later directing for television. A stint with ABC led to Haas being recommended for work as a live action director on Disney Studio's The Mickey Mouse Club, for whom he made the first Hardy Boys serial. Screaming Eagles marked Haas' feature film debut, which he shot back-to-back with the western Star in the Dust (1956), starring John Agar. Haas would helm eight more features over the next decade but remains best known as an efficient and reliable TV director, his resume proud in episodes of such popular series as Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Despite the high testosterone level of Screaming Eagles' principal players, the nut of the project was the work of a woman. A former Los Angeles Times reporter, Virginia Kellogg was a story developer for Warner Brothers who had gotten the ball rolling on the noir classic White Heat (1949) and spent time behind bars to research the prison picture Caged (1950); both received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Story. (Kellogg's chosen title, "White Heat," had been a reference not to the madness of James Cagney's gangster antihero Cody Jarrett, whom she called Blackie Flynn, but to the relentlessness of the US Secret Service.) As had been the custom at Warner's, Kellogg's treatment was handed off by Bischoff and Diamond to writer Robert Presnell, Jr. A former journalist himself, Presnell had parlayed his experience as a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal into careers as a novelist and second generation screenwriter (his father wrote Meet John Doe  for Frank Capra), while also writing and directing for radio. Presnell's draft of Screaming Eagles was ultimately passed to David Lang, whose specialty was westerns and whose shooting script went before the cameras in and around Georgia's Fort Benning in November 1955.
Most of the cast of Screaming Eagles went on to greater glory on both big and small screens. After his tenure as a Hollywood leading man in such films as The Cardinal (1963) and In Harm's Way (1965), Tom Tryon enjoyed a second career as a bestselling novelist. Martin Milner starred in two successful TV series, Route 66 (1960-1964) and Adam 12 (1968-1972) while Alvy Moore played harebrained hayseed Hank Kimball on the CBS sitcom Green Acres (1965-1971). Paul Burke enjoyed moderate success as a second string Hollywood leading man and the star of two dramatic TV series, Naked City (1960-1963) and Twelve O'Clock High (1963-1967). Robert Blake had struggled after his early success as one of Hal Roach's Our Gang but scored with his incendiary turn in In Cold Blood (1967) and as the star of the hit cop show Baretta (1975-1978). Screaming Eagles offered an early film role for Mark Damon, later the star of Roger Corman's House of Usher (1960) and an independent producer of note (the Academy Award-winning Monster ). In his 2007 memoirs, Damon recalled little about the production, except for a memorable compliment paid to him by costar Alvy Moore after shooting his last scene: "You die good, kid."
Producers: Samuel Bischoff, David Diamond
Director: Charles F. Haas
Screenplay: David Lang, Robert Presnell, Jr. (writers); Virginia Kellogg (story)
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Art Direction: Jack Okey
Music: Harry Sukman
Film Editing: Robert S. Eisen
Cast: Tom Tryon (Pvt. Mason), Jan Merlin (Lt. Pauling), Pat Conway (Sgt. Forrest), Martin Milner (Pvt. Corliss), Ralph Votrian (Pvt. Talbot), Paul Smith (Pvt. Foley), Joe Di Reda (Pvt. Dubrowski), Alvy Moore (Pvt. Grimes), Paul Burke (Cpl. Dreef), Jacqueline Beer (Marianne, French refugee).
by Richard Harland Smith
Jan Merlin biography, www.slick-net.com
Interview with Jan Merlin and Frankie Thomas by Bill Ruehlmann, http://thethunderchild.com
From Cowboy to Mogul to Monster: The Neverending Story of Film Pioneer Mark Damon by Linda Schreyer with Mark Damon (AuthorHouse, 2008)
White Heat: Warner Brothers Screenplay Series, introduction by Patrick McGilligan (University of Wisconsin Press, 1984)
"Caged: Classic, Not Camp" by Alan K. Rode, Noir City Sentinel (Summer 2010), www.filmnoirfoundation.org
The opening and closing onscreen cast credits differ slightly in order. In the opening credits, individual members of the cast are shown parachuting out of a plane as the name of each actor and his character are superimposed over the images. The film opens with the following written onscreen dedication: "This is the story of fifteen paratroopers of Company D, 502nd Parachute Regiment-101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. A small part of the great and powerful force which brought victory to the free people of the world-- but to each of them the war was his personal affair-every skirmish-every battle-won or lost took its toll but never destroyed the spirit of 'this is my war and I won it.' To these gallant men and to all the others who fought so valiantly with them we respectfully dedicate this picture."
The film closes with the following written acknowlegment: "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army in the production of this motion picture." "Screaming Eagles" refers to the bald eagle emblem that graces the shoulder patches of the 101st Airborne Division. The term became the nickname of the division, which gained prominence when it was under seige from the Germans at Bastogne during the 1945 Battle of the Bulge.
Although November 1955 Hollywood Reporter news items place Peter Norman, Nicky Blair and Robert Knapp in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to an October 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the picture was partially filmed on location at Fort Benning, GA. Screaming Eagles marked the screen debut of Jacqueline Beer.