Target Unknown


1h 30m 1951

Brief Synopsis

In 1944, an American bomber squadron is tense and discontented from too many missions over France. Luck runs out for Capt. Stevens and his crew; they must bail out and are promptly taken prisoner. Their wily German captors, sensing that they have valuable information unknown even to themselves, use every form of velvet-glove trickery to worm it out of them. Will Stevens discover the danger? If so, what can he do about it? The fate of 100 planes depends on the answer...

Film Details

Also Known As
Prisoner of War
Release Date
Feb 1951
Premiere Information
World premiere in Baltimore, MD: 8 Feb 1951
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

gAt an American air base in England during 1944, Capt. James M. "Steve" Stevens' crew is assigned to the second bombing mission of the day. The men are exhausted both physically and emotionally because the squadron has been repeatedly attacked by the enemy, possibly because someone has leaked information about the raids. After the colonel warns the men that the Germans have clever, surreptitious ways of extracting vital data from downed pilots, the crew members set off on their assignment. As soon as they are over their target, however, the plane is ambushed and bombardier Russ Johnson is killed. The rest of the crew, Steve, co-pilot Sgt. Frank Crawford and gunners Sgt. Alfred Mitchell and Sgt. Ralph G. Phelps, are forced to parachute out of the plane. Steve and Al find each other on the ground but are promptly imprisoned by German soldiers. While their general plans a secret bombing raid on the French town of Cambrai, where the Axis gasoline supply is stored, Steve and Al are brought to a "holding area" to prepare them for a German prisoner-of-war camp. There, they are greeted by a Red Cross representative, but when Steve notices that the form he is asked to complete requires excessive information, he and Al refuse to fill it out. Nazi intelligence officer Col. Von Broeck then analyzes the little data they have given him and discovers clues to their personalities, including Steve's intelligence and Al's loyalty to Steve. Next, intelligence officer Capt. Fred Reiner, an American, visits another prisoner, Lt. Webster, and, by lying that he is an Allied sympathizer trying to damage the Nazi forces from within, urges Webster to reveal that Ralph is from Atlanta. At the same time, a beautiful German nurse tends the wounded Ralph, convincing him to fill out the bogus Red Cross form and divulge that two new crews were added to the bombing squad recently. With this information, Von Broeck surmises that the Americans are planning a big bombing raid, and pretends that he will kill Steve unless Al tells more about the raid. Since the raid has been kept top secret, Al can only divulge what kind of bombs they were preparing. Von Broeck fakes Steve's murder and then deduces from the type of bomb being used that the target must be one of four French cities, including Cambrai. Reiner interrogates Frank, who has been beaten by the Gestapo and brought to the intelligence station, and when he quickly discovers that one of the additional crews manufactures only high-tech bombs, Von Broeck deletes Cambrai from his list of possible targets. Al, who has been assigned to a cell with fake prisoner Folic, tells his cellmate that the top American pilot was removed from the mission, prompting a dumbfounded Von Broeck to dispatch Reiner to question Webster, who finally becomes suspicious and refuses to speak. Steve, the sole prisoner left to interrogate, vows to keep quiet but is tricked by a team of fake pilots into revealing that the special pilot had a head cold. Now realizing that the mission is a high-altitude one, Von Broeck once again identifies Cambrai as the target and prepares to move the gasoline to a nearby city and prepare the troops to attack the Americans when they arrive. Just before he is shipped out to the German POW camp, however, Steve overhears Folic bragging about what the Nazis have learned, and when he meets up with Al and Frank on the train, they form a plan to escape and warn the Allies. While Steve and Al jump off the train, Frank is shot by a guard. The two fliers walk all night and come upon a French farmer, whose kind daughter sneaks them into the nearest city, outfits them in peasant clothing, and finds them a ride to a town near Cambrai that harbors French Underground agents. Their driver Jean tells Steve and Al about Cambrai's gasoline supply, and they soon witness a convoy of trucks moving the gas to another area. The Americans find an Underground bar, where an agent slips Al fake identification papers, but a spy posing as a singer hums "Home on the Range" to tip off the police. In the ensuing fracas, Al is jailed but Steve escapes with the help of the agent. He is brought to the Underground headquarters, where he finally convinces the leader to send a warning to the Allies. As night falls, Steve and the Underground leader witness the American squadron flying away from Cambrai, and realize with satisfaction that another disaster has been averted.

Film Details

Also Known As
Prisoner of War
Release Date
Feb 1951
Premiere Information
World premiere in Baltimore, MD: 8 Feb 1951
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was Prisoner of War. The film begins with a written foreword that reads: "In the making of this picture, the cooperation of the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force is gratefully acknowledged." In the closing cast credits, Mark Stevens' character is mistakenly listed as "Jerome" instead of "James." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Hayden Rorke was originally cast as "Col. Von Broeck."
       A February 1951 Los Angeles Times article reported that after producer Aubrey Schenck saw a 1945 United States Army Air Corps training film called Resisting Enemy Interrogation (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), which instructed airmen how to avoid giving information to the enemies, he hired the writer, Harold Medford, to help remake it as a feature. The Daily Variety review points out that the picture portrayed "actual methods employed by Germans." According to the New York Times review, the picture contains footage from an actual 1944 bombing raid over France. The world premiere took place in Baltimore, MD on February 8, 1951, and was attended by Air Force pilot Robert J. Locke, the only POW to escape after being shot down and imprisoned behind North Korean enemy lines. Broadway actor Richard Carlyle made his motion picture debut in Target Unknown.