Cast & Crew
In the spring of 1944, American troops are stationed in England. One seasoned platoon, formerly headed by veteran soldier Capt. Tom Hale, now is training with Lt. Joe Mallory, fresh out of officer training school, in preparation for a big offensive. Among the soldiers in the platoon are Dominick, who plans to run for political office; a nineteen-year-old recruit, "4-F" Nelson; Pvt. Jimbo Hollis, who has befriended a little dog; and Sgt. Pete Bell, a seasoned soldier, who offers to help out Joe, a former high school teacher. As training intensifies, Joe shapes up with Bell's help, but Hale, who cares deeply about his former platoon, continues to criticize his decisions. Finally D-Day arrives and the Normandy invasion begins. While on board the ship carrying them toward Omaha Beach, Sgt. Roy Henderson writes to his wife and kids, while the other men pass the time playing cards or talking. In the morning, airborne paratroopers are dropped on the beach. The men in the platoon transfer to landing craft and immediately come under fire. Their transport is bombed by the Germans and their heavy artillery is destroyed, leaving them to advance without support. New artillery arrives and the Air Force strafes the beach, but despite the attack, the Germans maintain their positions. The Germans are entrenched in hedgerows, making it difficult to determine their positions until the soldiers are almost on top of them, but the infantry advances little by little. Joe demonstrates his battlefield savvy when he manages to take out a German anti-tank gun. During the fighting, the well-liked Henderson is killed. Joe is furious when Hale orders the men to continue fighting despite their sorrow. Later, when Joe tells Hale how he feels, he learns that Hale's apparent lack of feeling is only a defense against a complete breakdown. As the men advance, they are greeted by a white flag waved by an old French man and Collete, a young woman. They beg the soldiers to stop bombing their town and announce that the Germans have pulled out. Fearing a trap because the town is located at an important crossroad, Hale orders Joe to take a patrol and investigate. The townspeople warmly welcome the Americans, and Joe telephones that it appears safe. While the rest of the platoon celebrate, Hale sends Joe out on another patrol. Once he is gone, a sniper opens fire on the soldiers celebrating in the town square, killing Jimbo and two others. Hale kills the sniper, a woman, who is revealed to be a collaborator. The Germans, who have been waiting just outside the town, now attack with tanks and infantry. Joe calls in their location to Hale. After the American anti-tank gun is destroyed, Dominick crawls onto a German tank and throws a grenade inside. He destroys the tank, but is badly wounded in the process. Finally, after months of fighting, the platoon is sent away from the front for rest and recreation. When Patton's Third Army lands, their battalion is assigned to take an important town. Before the offensive begins, Hale is offered a job on staff and, realizing that he may be headed for a breakdown, asks that Joe take his place as commander. Later, Hale confesses to Joe that he has become afraid to make decisions in the field. Frederick Johnson, a new lieutenant, is sent to take Joe's place, and Joe advises him to follow Bell's advice. During the ensuing combat, the platoon achieves its objective, and the Germans are forced back.
Danni Sue Nolan
Wilma Van Fleet
John J. Lockett
Benj. O. Knight
James T. Root
Emil P. Eschenburg
Joseph I. Breen Jr.
Joseph I. Breen Jr.
Edwin Du Par
Lt. Col. R. G. Fergusson U.s. Infantry
C. A. Riggs
Despite the verisimilitude afforded by its use of stock footage, Breakthrough otherwise hews close to war movie convention, with a predictably eclectic assembly of dogfaces tasked with storming Omaha Beach and pushing the Reich back through the hedgerows of northern France to the gates of Fortress Europa. John Agar, Frank Lovejoy, and David Brian play the square-jawed squadron leaders, their unit made up of the Comedian (Dick Wesson), the Strongman (Greg McClure), the Schemer (William Campbell), the Hillbilly (Matt Willis), the Jew (Danny Arnold), the Newbie (Richard Monahan), the Complainer (Paul Picerni) and the Goner (Eddie Norris) who queers his luck by showing off pictures of his wife and kids back in Oregon. Skating past the D-Day landing with only a cursory acknowledgement of the carnage that Spielberg turned into a smorgasbord, Breakthrough concentrates on the battle inland, as the First Army crawls towards the strategic crossroads of Saint-Lô. A scene late in the film, as the squad's number is thinned by an unseen sniper in a seemingly liberated French village, anticipates a similar reveal in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987).
Shot on the Warners lot in Burbank and on location at Fort Ord, California, with the Monterey coast subbing for Omaha Beach, Breakthrough was itself a crossroads for many of its leading players. Frank Lovejoy and Paul Picerni (in his film debut) were both recipients of new Warners contracts (the two would pair again to oppose Vincent Price in Andre de Toth's House of Wax in 1953) while John Agar was enmeshed in both the process of a painful divorce from actress Shirley Temple (his costar in John Ford's Fort Apache  and the mother of his daughter Susan) and a troublesome dependence on alcohol that would result in a DWI arrest in 1951 and the cancellation of his contract with independent producer David O. Selznick (who had discovered Agar while he was still an Army enlistee); it would take Agar several years to rebound but with a new contract at Universal he scored in a string of sci-fi crowd pleasers, including Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955) and The Mole People (1956).
Given that at least a third of its running time is comprised of existing footage, it should come as no surprise that Breakthrough was a quick shoot for all involved. Southern California's infamous "June gloom" necessitated the transport of lights and reflectors to Monterey during the beach landing scenes while star David Brian suffered a bruised shoulder from a misfiring Bangalore torpedo and both Frank Lovejoy and director Lewis Seiler were stung by hornets during the filming. Breakthrough received a big rollout from Warners on November 11, 1950, with a premiere event enlivened by an hour-long military parade, which incorporated tanks from the 13th Motorized Division, the 40-piece Marine band from the El Toro Marine Air Base, troops shipped in from Fort McArthur, a fleet of Army jeeps to ferry the stars, and MPs retained to handle the crowd of eight thousand onlookers. Reviews were largely positive, with The Hollywood Reporter heralding "a powerful, tensely absorbing film" and Louella Parsons of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner's crowed, "Here is realism of the finest kind." The Hollywood Citizen News mistakenly praised Roy del Ruth for "a brilliant job of directing" and a grudgingly complimentary Newsweek lauded the "grime-smeared honesty" of Breakthrough's dramatis personae.
Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: Lewis Seiler
Original Story: Joseph Breen, Jr.
Writers: Bernard Girard, Ted Sherdeman
Music: William Lava
Cinematography: Edwin DuPar
Editor: Folmar Blangsted
Art Director: Stanley Fleischer
Technical advisor: Joseph Breen, Jr.
Cast: David Brian (Captain Tom Hale), John Agar (Lt. Joe Mallory), Frank Lovejoy (Sgt. Pete Bell), William Campbell (Cpl. Danny Dominick), Paul Picerni (Pvt. Edward Rojeck), Greg McClure (Pvt. Frank Finley), Richard Monahan ("4-F"), Edward Norris (Sgt. Roy Henderson), Matt Willis (Pvt. Jumbo Hollis), Dick Wesson (Pvt. Sammy Hansen), William Self (Pvt. George Glasheen), Danny Arnold (Pvt. Rothman), Janet Barrett (Sniper), André Charlot (Mayor), Suzanne Dalbert (Colette), Helene Bank (Red Cross Nurse), Danni Sue Nolan (Lt. Janice King), Howard Negley (Lt. Col. John Lewis), Joan Winfield (Barmaid), Christopher Appell (French boy).
by Richard Harland Smith
TCM Remembers - John Agar
Popular b-movie actor John Agar died April 7th at the age of 81. Agar is probably best known as the actor that married Shirley Temple in 1945 but he also appeared alongside John Wayne in several films. Agar soon became a fixture in such films as Tarantula (1955) and The Mole People (1956) and was a cult favorite ever since, something he took in good spirits and seemed to enjoy. In 1972, for instance, the fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland mistakenly ran his obituary, a piece that Agar would later happily autograph.
Agar was born January 31, 1921 in Chicago. He had been a sergeant in the Army Air Corps working as a physical trainer when he was hired in 1945 to escort 16-year-old Shirley Temple to a Hollywood party. Agar apparently knew Temple earlier since his sister was a classmate of Temple's. Despite the objections of Temple's mother the two became a couple and were married shortly after. Temple's producer David Selznick asked Agar if he wanted to act but he reportedly replied that one actor in the family was enough. Nevertheless, Selznick paid for acting lessons and signed Agar to a contract.
Agar's first film was the John Ford-directed Fort Apache (1948) also starring Temple. Agar and Temple also both appeared in Adventure in Baltimore (1949) and had a daughter in 1948 but were divorced the following year. Agar married again in 1951 which lasted until his wife's death in 2000. Agar worked in a string of Westerns and war films such as Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Breakthrough (1950) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Later when pressed for money he began making the films that would establish his reputation beyond the gossip columns: Revenge of the Creature (1955), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), Invisible Invaders (1959) and the mind-boggling Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966). The roles became progressively smaller so Agar sold insurance and real estate on the side. When he appeared in the 1988 film Miracle Mile his dialogue supposedly included obscenities which Agar had always refused to use. He showed the director a way to do the scene without that language and that's how it was filmed.
By Lang Thompson
DUDLEY MOORE, 1935-2002
Award-winning actor, comedian and musician Dudley Moore died on March 27th at the age of 66. Moore first gained notice in his native England for ground-breaking stage and TV comedy before later building a Hollywood career. Like many of his peers, he had an amiable, open appeal that was balanced against a sharply satiric edge. Moore could play the confused innocent as well as the crafty schemer and tended to command attention wherever he appeared. Among his four marriages were two actresses: Tuesday Weld and Suzy Kendall.
Moore was born April 19, 1935 in London. As a child, he had a club foot later corrected by years of surgery that often left him recuperating in the hospital alongside critically wounded soldiers. Moore attended Oxford where he earned a degree in musical composition and met future collaborators Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The four formed the landmark comedy ensemble Beyond the Fringe. Though often merely labelled as a precursor to Monty Python's Flying Circus, Beyond the Fringe was instrumental in the marriage of the piercing, highly educated sense of humor cultivated by Oxbridge graduates to the modern mass media. In this case it was the revue stage and television where Beyond the Fringe first assaulted the astonished minds of Britons. Moore supplied the music and such songs as "The Sadder and Wiser Beaver," "Man Bites God" and "One Leg Too Few." (You can pick up a CD set with much of the stage show. Unfortunately for future historians the BBC commonly erased tapes at this period - why? - so many of the TV episodes are apparently gone forever.)
Moore's first feature film was the 1966 farce The Wrong Box (a Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation) but it was his collaboration with Peter Cook on Bedazzled (1967) that's endured. Unlike its tepid 2000 remake, the original Bedazzled is a wolverine-tough satire of mid-60s culture that hasn't aged a bit: viewers are still as likely to be appalled and entertained at the same time. Moore not only co-wrote the story with Cook but composed the score. Moore appeared in a few more films until starring in 10 (1979). Written and directed by Blake Edwards, this amiable comedy featured Moore (a last-minute replacement for George Segal) caught in a middle-aged crisis and proved popular with both audiences and critics. Moore's career took another turn when his role as a wealthy alcoholic who falls for the proverbial shop girl in Arthur (1981) snagged him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor and a Golden Globe win.
However Moore was never able to build on these successes. He starred in a passable remake of Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours (1984), did another Blake Edwards romantic comedy of moderate interest called Micki + Maude (1984, also a Golden Globe winner for Moore), a misfired sequel to Arthur in 1988 and a few other little-seen films. The highlight of this period must certainly be the 1991 series Orchestra where Moore spars with the wonderfully crusty conductor Georg Solti and leads an orchestra of students in what's certainly some of the most delightful television ever made.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - John Agar
The film ends with the following written statement: "Our grateful appreciation to the United States Armed Forces for permitting us the use of its actual combat film and troops and for its aid and cooperation in making this picture possible." Reporter Ernie Pyle called the invasion on the beaches at Normandy that began on June 6, 1944 the most terrible part of the war. Over 3,300 American planes bombed the Germans in one action. Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed during the fighting. The picture makes use of official U.S. and British Army Air Force and Navy films, as well as captured German footage. According to a February 17, 1950 Los Angeles Times news item exterior shots were made in Normandy. Other scenes were filmed on location at Fort Ord near Monterey, CA, according to a press release. The Los Angeles Times news item reported that former army captain Joseph I. Breen, Jr. lost a leg during the war.