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Film / Strategic Air Command

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A Cold War era military film released in 1955, directed by Anthony Mann and starring Jimmy Stewart, Strategic Air Command follows the exploits of Lt. Colonel Robert "Dutch" Holland, an Air Force Reserves officer who has been pulled away from a promising career in baseball and recalled to active duty based on his distinguished record as an Army Air Forces bomber pilot during World War II. Aside from some excellent visual effects featuring a variety of Air Force bombers from the era, the film's big draw is that Jimmy Stewart, of course, was in Real Life an Air Force Reserves officer with a distinguished record as an Army Air Forces bomber pilot during World War II.

Dutch initially protests being recalled to active duty, pointing out that he's old and hasn't flown in years, and even has the misfortune to make a bad first impression with his take-no-prisoners boss General Hawkes. Further, his new bride, who had married him expecting a comfortable life with a well-paid pro athlete, must now adjust to her husband's strange new career, and the stressful restrictions his work schedule puts on their home life.

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The film is essentially a Cold War Propaganda Piece, a sort of 1950s counterpart to Top Gun, so it is of course heavy in idealistic representations of Eagle Land.


This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abandon Ship: A fuel leak leads to an engine fire en route to Thule, forcing Dutch's crew to bail out during a blizzard. Dutch stays in the cockpit to keep control of the plane while his crew hits the silk, and his navigator stays aboard as well, with the implication that he didn't want to leave his pilot to fend for himself.
  • Ace Pilot: Dutch Holland was a decorated bomber pilot during World War II, having flown Consolidated B-24 Liberators and Boeing B-29 Superfortresses. Now he has to learn to fly the much more powerful Convair B-36 Peacemakers and Boeing B-47 Stratojets.
  • Adult Fear: After Dutch nearly dies in a plane crash, his wife begins turning into a nervous wreck every time he flies. Because she doesn't want him to know how scared she is, he doesn't realize what kind of stress she's going through.
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  • Career-Ending Injury: Dutch's crash injured his right arm, when trying to land a B-47, that arm is frozen in pain. The same injury likely puts an end to any plans for a professional baseball career.
  • Cast the Expert: In Real Life, Jimmy Stewart was a Colonel in the Air Force Reserves and a decorated World War II bomber pilot and Group Commander.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Dutch bangs up his shoulder in a plane crash midway through the movie, and is ordered to go get it looked at as soon as he can. He shrugs it off, and the injury bothers him for the rest of the film, and flares up badly during the film's climax.
  • Cold War: The Air Force crews train intensely, maintaining a wartime state of readiness despite America being at peace, simply because of the level of potential danger the Soviet Union presents. By being prepared to fight at any moment, they mean to deter the Soviets from starting a fight.
  • Coming in Hot: An unidentified DC-3 makes an emergency landing at Carswell, which turns out to be a ploy to allow the plane to storm the flightline of parked SAC bombers and begin deploying soldiers. The Air Police aren't alert enough to stop the plane from getting onto the taxiway, but do quickly surround the plane and prevent any of the soldiers from getting far.
    • During the film's climax, Dutch and his crew have to divert from Yokota in Japan to Kadena in Okinawa, and make the landing in zero visibility with minutes of fuel left, all while Dutch's shoulder flares up worse than ever before.
  • Exact Words: For his first flight, Dutch is promised that it will be "one takeoff, one landing." As a prank, the crew doesn't clarify that they will be taking off at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, flying out to Anchorage, Alaska, then turning around to land back at Carswell. When he realizes this, Dutch can't help by Face Palm and laugh.
  • Expy: General Hawkes bears a strong resemblance to Real Life Air Force General "Bombs Away" LeMay, who was known not only for leading the devastating firebombing campaign of Japan during WWII, but also for being a merciless Cold War leader when in command of Strategic Air Command.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Averted. Dutch gets stuck at the gate because the Air Policemen won't let him on without an ID card (which he doesn't have because he was never issued one). One of the guards explains that they previously got in trouble over an incident where someone bluffed their way onto base. A few minutes later, a plane in distress makes an emergency landing, only to make a beeline towards the bombers lined up on a flightline before soldiers begin pouring out. The Air Police, despite being caught by surprise, still manage to surround the plane and contain them before they can get far.
  • Home Guard: Dutch is a Reservist, having signed up after World War II as a favor for an old comrade. Naturally, he gets called up for Active Duty right when his career at home is taking off.
  • "Join the Army", They Said: Dutch signed on with the Air Force Reserves after World War II ended, not expecting to ever be called back to active duty. Naturally, he gets recalled just when he's hitting his prime in his sports career and when he's newly married, derailing his life plans.
  • Keep the Home Fires Burning: Dutch's wife is left home alone while her husband is sent off to train and fly constantly, with strict Operational Security measures meaning he can't even tell her where he's going or for how long. She (and several others) point out that there isn't even a war on to justify all of this time spent on missions.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: Technically, Dutch never retired, but he joined the Reserves never expecting he'd be called up unless the country went into a shooting war.
  • Non-Uniform Uniform: Dutch wears a civilian baseball cap while flying the B-36 to Thule. Probably because General Hawkes won't be able to see him to call him out on it.
  • Old Soldier: Dutch is recruited based on his experience and expertise during WWII, as SAC has many highly motivated professionals but is short on experienced leaders.
  • Plane Spotting: The film heavily features the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, and a few other aircraft such as a Douglas DC-3 and a Boeing KC-97 refueling tanker.
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: Before leaving for Greenland, Dutch asks his wife what she'd like for a souvenir: "polar bear, penguin?" After crashing his plane, he does bring back a (plush) penguin. Apparently the Thule AFB gift shop is used to dealing with this trope.
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