Above and Beyond (1952)

 

 

 

Directors:  Melvin Frank and Norman Panama.

Starring: Robert Taylor (Col. Paul W. Tibbets, 509th Composite Group CO), Eleanor Parker (Lucey Tibbets), James Whitmore (Maj. William Uanna, Security Officer, Operation Silverplate), Larry Keating (Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent), Larry Gates (Capt. William 'Deak' Parsons, USN), Marilyn Erskine (Marge Bratton), Stephen Dunne (Maj. Harry Bratton, Co-pilot B-29 tests), Robert Burton (Gen. Samuel E. Roberts, Tibbets' CO in Africa), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Ramsey), Lawrence Dobkin (Dr. Van Dyke), Jack Raine (Dr. Fiske), Jonathan Cott (Capt. Dutch van Kirk, navigator), Jeff Richards (Maj. Thomas Ferebee, bombardier), Dick Simmons (Capt. Robert A. Lewis, co-pilot), John McKee (Staff Sergeant Wyatt E. Duzenbury, Flight Engineer).

bombing of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945)  by Col. Paul Tibbetts, commander of the Enola Gay

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"No one man was responsible for the historic success of 'Operation Silverplate', but it is hoped that the story told here for the first time, of the man who commanded the operation, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., United State Air Force, can serve to illumine the combine achievement of all."

Washington, D.C., 1945.  Mrs. Lucey Tibbets waits at the airport for the arrival of her husband Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.  She wonders if she will still have a marriage when Paul gets back home.  And she wonders how they got to this point.  She says the trouble started in 1943 over north Africa. 

Flashback.  A squadron of B-17 bombers is  flying a mission over Beserte (?) led by Tibbets.   One of the bombers is hit and goes down.  The crew complains that flying at 6,000 feet is bloody suicide.  Tibbets goes to see Gen.  Roberts.  Roberts is talking with his superior officer, Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent, about the bombing raids.  He says if they destroy Beserte, they will cut off supplies and reinforcement by sea and extend Rommel's supply line by over 1,000 miles. 

Brent says they are designing a new bomber called the B-29 with real range.  The problem is that the plane is a deathtrap.  It has to be modified to get the bugs out of the airplane.  They desperately need an experienced bomber pilot with plenty of guts.  Tibbets comes in to complain about the 6,000 feet level.  He wants to fly at 21,000 feet.  Roberts won't change it.  And he decides to delay Tibbets's promotion to full colonel.  Roberts may be upset with Tibbets, but Brent likes Tibbets standing up forcefully for the safety of his crews. 

Tibbets comes in to see Brent.  The major general tells Tibbets that he has a big job for him back in the States.  He is to be on the general's plane at 9 o'clock in the morning.  Tibbets leaves the office. 

On the plane Tibbets tells the general that every time he comes home to his wife Lucey, he brings her a bottle of perfume.  Brent tells him that the job is very taxing and he would prefer that Tibbets not bring his wife out to Wichita, Kansas.  Tibbets will only get 30 minutes at the airport to see his wife and child.  They land at Washington, D.C.   His wife and child are waiting for him.    With them is Tibbets's friend Major Harry Bratton, who wants be a co-pilot on the B-29 tests, and his wife Marge. 

Paul and Lucey have coffee in the airport restaurant.  Lucey is worried about the B-29 being a deathtrap.  Paul tells her not to worry about it. 

Lucey was right to worry about the testing.  A real problem was the frequent engine fires.  Lucey comes out to see her husband land.  One of his engines is out, his landing gear is stuck and he has to perform a crash landing.  Lucey gets so upset that after the plane lands and she sees he is safe, she leaves for Washington, D.C. saying that she just couldn't take it. 

Three months later.  Lucey and Paul have a few hours together at a rural cabin.  She says that they have been married for five years, but have only been together for a total of seven weeks.  They kiss by the fire in the fireplace. 

Finally, the B-29 is ready for combat.  They are now mass-producing the bomber.  Paul gets to come home.  It's not long, however, before Paul has to report to Colorado Springs, Colorado in the morning.  Lucey is pregnant and says she will have to have the baby by herself.  Paul promises he will be there for the birth.

Paul arrives to meet Maj. William Uanna, Security Officer, Operation Silverplate.  He starts asking Paul about his background, including a speeding ticket.  The major then takes Paul into see Gen. Brent.  The general says he has been chosen to be the pilot on a very important mission.  He says that they have a new weapon that will definitely save around a million American and Japanese lives, but will kill around 100,000 people.  Brent asks Tibbets if he could push the button on a device that he hands Paul and make that happen?  Tibbets says yes by pushing the button down.   With that out of the way, the general has a number of men on the project come in to meet Paul.  One of the men is Captain Parsons, the naval representative, and four scientists Dr. Ramsey, Dr. Sloan, Dr. Van Dyke and Dr. Fiske.  Also present is Maj. Uanna. 

Dr. Parsons tells Paul that they are developing an atomic weapon that if dropped under the right circumstances would have the effect of dropping 20,000 tons of dynamite on a target.  The weapon is still being worked on.  Paul will be the leader of an air crew that will deliver an atomic weapon over Japan.   Brent tells Paul that he can't insure Paul's safety given that no one has actually dropped an atom bomb on an enemy target.  When Paul is alone, he stops and slowly says:  "My God!"

Paul calls Lucey saying that he will be away for a couple of months.    He heads out for Wendover, Utah where he picks the best bomber squadron to support him.  Paul is soon training the pilots and crews. 

Paul speaks to his crews using a loud speaker.  He says they are now all part of the 509th Composite Group.  Tibbets warns the men to keep their mouths shut about the project they will be working on.  All they are able to tell people is that they are in a B-29 outfit and going overseas.  Major Uanna tells the men that the Military Police have orders to shoot to kill if any of the men are found in restricted areas.  Tibbets then warns the crews again that the mission is never to be discussed on or off the air base.  He then grants them a ten day furlough (but, he adds, "keep your mouths shut".)

The furlough is a test of the secrecy commitment as agents follow the men on their furloughs to see if they talk about the mission.  A few men shoot off their mouths to the secret agents.  These men are arrested and court-martialed.  Paul tells the MP to release the men after a week.   

Maj. Uanna tells Paul that he is to bring the wives and families here to Wendover so even the families will be isolated from the larger community.  Paul's wife, however, should not come, because it will be too distracting to Tibbets.

Paul flies to see a Major Davenport, but winds up running into Davenport's replacement, Roberts of north Africa.  Tibbets is taken aback but he goes ahead and requests the six C-4s  that he needs for transportation purposes.  Roberts accuses Paul of abusing his position.  He demands that Paul give him a full justification for the request.  Of course, Paul can't do that, so the vindictive Roberts disapproves the request. 

Roberts suddenly hears planes taking off.  He looks out the window and sees the planes heading out.   He gets Tibbets on the phone to ball him out, but Paul just says that he can't hear Roberts.  He then goes on radio silence.  Roberts is very angry but he signs the request for the transportation airplanes. 

Lucey does not hear from Paul.  She only learns that the wives and families of the men are going to live at Wendover air base from her friend Marge.  This was a low point for her.  She felt she was all alone and not pretty.  But then she has her second baby.  Luckily she left her son Paul, Jr. with his paternal grandparents.  Lucey thinks of the funny name Grandmother has:  Enola Gay.  At the hospital, Paul cannot be reached.  At this time Paul is in Guam discussing flight tactics with Gen. Curtis Le May.  By the time je gets back to Wendover and his desk, he is exhausted.  Lucey calls him and tells him about their second son.   She then asks when she can come to Wendover?  She pressures him to be together and he gives in.  She can come out.  Paul falls asleep with his head on the desk. 

The train with the family arrives at Wendover.  Paul is there to pick up his wife and the children.  He gives her a tour of the air base.  Then he shows her their their new home.  It is a very simple house, but Lucey is still positive about it.  Paul gets a telephone call and has to return to headquarters. 

Paul tests the B-29 carrying four tons of cargo.  He just misses a water tower as he takes off. 

Marge complains to Lucey that the men think that Paul treats them like greenhorns -- that he has gone overboard.  Lucey gets angry at this, but Marge soothes her feelings. 

At a dance with the air crews, Lucey gets a lot of attention from the men.  A drunken Harry talks too much and Paul tells him to go home to sleep.  At home Lucey asks her husband did he have to be so tough with Harry?  He says he will keep his nose out of her business, if she will keep her nose out of his. 

Paul is called away from his 6th wedding anniversary.  He flies to Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Here he listens to the scientists talking about the atomic bomb.  The speaker says that the bomb has to be exploded in the air, preferably at 16,000 feet.  Captain Parsons gets up to talk about the delivery system of the weapon.  They are working on the trigger for the setting off of the chain reaction.  Tibbets will do the testing of the trigger. 

The trigger testing takes many flights before they can set off the bomb at 16,000 feet. 

A injured local boy named Tommy needs permission from Col. Tibbets to use an airplane to take him to a large hospital.  Mrs. Tibbets rushes to find Paul.  A determined Lucey brushes past the guards.  She is able to tell Paul, but then Paul sends the guard that let her in to headquarters.  This upsets Lucey because she feels it was not the young man's fault.  She asks Paul does he really have to go this much overboard with his men?  Paul says they told him he shouldn't bring his wife out to Wendover. 

Brent tells Paul that Truman has given the okay to drop the atomic weapon over Japan.  The code word is: blue light.  In addition, Paul has received his approval for his promotion to full colonel. 

Paul comes home.  His wife is mad at him.  This makes him mad and he yells at his eldest son.  The boy starts crying.  Lucey tells her husband off.  Paul goes back to his office. 

The 16,000 feet problem is solved.  Now Paul talks with the project scientists.  They want two more months of testing, but Paul knows this is too long of a time.  Paul tells them he will have to think about this.  He calls Brent to make the decision, but he then remembers that Brent told him that only he, Paul, can make the decision.  At home, Paul is very irritable.  Lucey says they just can't go on like this.  He tells her to leave him alone, but she refuses.  She says he's exhausted and needs a rest.  She asks if they can go with Harry and Marge to some small cabins for a rest.  Lucey mentions that Harry used a plane to get to the lake.  Paul reports Harry to the military police to relieve Harry of his duties and to confine him to the base. This infuriates Lucey.  She tells him off and also tells him that she wants out of Wendover.  Paul clams down and says he will get her out as soon as he can arrange the transportation. 

One of the planes crashes and Gen. Brent is hurt.  Paul goes to the hospital to talk to the general.  He tells the general:  "It's blue light, general."   Downtown, Paul picks up some perfume for his wife. 

Lucey goes into see Major Uanna.  She wants to know where Paul is.  The major won't tell her and this makes her mad once again.  She demands to know why Paul is here?  What is he doing?  The major can't tell her.  She says if he is doing something really important, she could relax because she would know that Paul is just acting strangely because of the nature of his duty.  She leaves.  The major contacts Paul and tells him that Lucey should be sent back to Washington, D.C.  And he wants Paul to start a fight with her, so everyone, including Lucey, will think she is going home due to a breakup.  Paul is mad that he has to put Lucey through this, but says she will be on a plane by tonight. 

When Paul sees Lucey, she immediately apologizes, but Paul coldly tells her that she has to go back to go to Washington.  He takes the family to the plane and says he will be home as soon as he can.  Paul doesn't give Lucey a kiss goodbye. 

Paul and his crew now fly to Tinian (now one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, located southeast of Japan and east of the northern Philippines).  From Tinian Paul has to fly to Guam to speak with Gen. Le May.  Paul tell the general and his staff that they will fly at 31,000 feet.  They will only be accompanied by two camera ships to record the blast.  The weather will determine which of four cities they will drop the bomb on.  Tomorrow will be clear, so they will be going tomorrow. 

Back on Guam Paul tells his men they will take off a 2 p.m.  He tells them to get some sleep.  Paul himself writes a letter to his mother.  Later the flight crewman asks Paul what name he wants on his plane.  He wants:  Enola Gay. 

The plane takes off.  The bomb will be armed in flight.  Captain Parsons is the man who goes to the back of the plane to arm the bomb.  Once that is done, Paul tells the crew about their mission.  He tells them that they have an atomic bomb and are going to drop it on a Japanese city.  It will be the biggest explosion they have ever seen.   The weather report comes in and the only target fully clear of clouds is Hiroshima.  They will be over their target at 9:15 in the morning.  The camera planes leave the main bomber.  They drop the bomb. quickly veer away from Hiroshima and get ready for the shock wave.  They are wearing dark goggles to protect their eyes.  There is a really bright flash and even with the goggles the men have to avert their eyes.  Then then see this huge cloud climbing higher and higher into the sky.  The plane is hit by the shockwave and rocks the entire plane.  The men can see some of the building burning below them.  Later they see the now well-known mushroom cloud formation caused by the explosion.  Paul says to himself:  "Results:  good."

When Tibbets arrives home, armed forces newspapermen ask him all kinds of questions.  Marge runs over to Lucey's home to tell her that Paul and his men dropped the first atomic bomb in history.  She also says that it's bound to shorten the war.  Lucey turns on the radio and listens to the announcement.  She goes into her bedroom and over to Paul's photograph and starts crying.

Back to the present.  Paul arrives at the home airport.  Lucey is there to greet him.  He has the perfume bottle with him.  They run to each other, hug and kiss. 

 

 

Good movie.  More than anything else, the movie is about the marital tensions between Paul Tibbets and his wife Lucey created by the great secrecy around the atomic project.  It is a great strain on Lucey and the family because they don't know what their husband/father is doing.  Everyone else on the base at Wendover, Utah probably knows at least that they are working on an important project, but Paul won't even tell that to Lucey.  So Paul has marital and family problems that put him under a great deal of stress.  Actually dropping the bomb probably was a great relief for Paul given that now he could go home and act naturally with his wife and children.  The bomb ended most of his family problems.  The best part of the film is the ending when they drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The first time the crew actually learns the nature of their mission is when Paul tells them on the plane in the air that they are set to drop an atomic bomb on one of four Japanese cities.  On the subject of the bomb, the film shows Paul as being very touchy about the subject.  He usually flips a question about his reaction to the dropping of the atomic bomb back on the asker and asks them how to they feel about the dropping of the atomic bomb.  Taylor's part made Paul look too secretive and, therefore, a bit rough on his wife and children.  He could have at least told her he was working on an important matter.  I doubt she would have thought, oh, on an atomic bomb?  Then his wife and kids (and Paul Tibbets himself)could have relaxed more and been happier.  Eleanor Parker was very good as Mrs. Tibbets. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

 

1945 (May 10-11)  --  the Target Committee at Los Alamos (where they created the atomic bomb) recommended several different places in Japan as targets: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama and the arsenal at Kokura. 

1945 (July 25)  --  General Carl Spaatz was ordered to bomb one of the targets as soon after August 3 as weather permitted. 

Hiroshima was chosen because as the first target.  It was chosen because it was a large city, had an important army depot and that the bomb effect would be greater because Hiroshima is surrounded by hills, thereby concentrating the effect of the blast. 

The decision was made to go on August 6 because there was a cloud formation over Hiroshima.  

1945 (August 6)  --  the B-29 Enola Gay, piloted and commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets, took off from Tinian airbase in the West Pacific.  The flight to the target took six hours of flying time. 

During the flight, Navy Captain William Parsons armed the bomb, known as "Little Boy."  (It had been left unarmed to minimize the risks of explosion during takeoff.) The weapon carried 60 kg (130 pounds) of uranium-235. 

Accompanying the Enola Gay was The Great Artiste (a recording and surveying craft) and the the photographing plane.

The bomb was dropped around 8 o'clock in the morning over the center of Hiroshima, exploding about 2,000 feet above the city with a blast equivalent to 13 kilotons of TNT.  From 70,000 to 80,000 people were killed instantly.  The radius of the blast zone was about 1 mile.  Fires raged in an area of 4.4 square miles.  About  90% of Hiroshima's buildings were either damaged or completely destroyed.

Including the deaths through radiation poisoning, the total dead in Hiroshima was around 145,000.

 

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