The Big Lift (1950) 

 

 

Director:  George Seaton.

Starring:   Montgomery Clift (Sgt. 1st Class Danny MacCullough), Paul Douglas (M/Sgt. Henry "Hank" Kowalski), Cornell Borchers (Frederica Burkhardt), Bruni Löbel (Gerda), O.E. Hasse (Stieber), Captain Dante V. Morel (Himself), Captain John R. Mason (Sergeant), Captain Gail R. Plush (Himself), Captain Mack Blevins (Himself), Captain William A. Stewart (Himself), First Lieutenant Alfred L. Freiburger (Himself), First Lieutenant Gerald Arons (Himself), First Lieutenant James Wilson (Himself), First Lieutenant Richard A. Kellogg (Himself), First Lieutenant Roy R. Steele (Himself). 

Two Air Force Sergeants in the Berlin Air-lift. 

 

The movie was filmed in occupied Germany and, more specifically, in Berlin.  When the Soviet Union put a ring around west Berlin, the allies responded with a huge air lift of supplies.  The movie begins with the 19th troop carrier squadron in Hawaii flying out of Hickam Field.  Two sergeants, Sgt. 1st Class Danny MacCullough (Montgomery Clift) and M/Sgt. Henry "Hank" Kowalski (Paul Douglas), are sent to Westover Air Base in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts to receive training for some 45 days.  From there they are sent to Templehof air base in Rhine, Germany. 

From there they fly back and forth to Berlin to be a part of the air lift system.  When they arrive, they are surprised by a huge reception, because, unbeknownst to them, they are the 100,000th air lift flight to Berlin.  They participate in a ceremony celebrating the event at which Danny meets German widow Frederica Burkhardt (Cornell Borchers).  The two soon start a dating relationship. 

When Danny goes into Berlin proper to meet Frederica, there are some great shots of devastated Berlin.  Many lots are completely vacant, while others are occupied by partially or completely damaged buildings.  Danny finds Frederica working at cleaning up the debris of a damaged building. The two soon fall in love.  But they will have to face a number of obstacles before they can be together, and perhaps marry.  Hank, who is still bitter about his P.O.W. experiences at the hands of the Germans, is very suspicious of Frederica does what he can to sow doubts about Danny's new girlfriend.  And there is always the shadow of the possibility of Danny being rotated out of Berlin back to the states before he can cement his relationship with Frederica.  Will Danny and Frederica be able to overcome the many barriers to their relationship so we can have a happy ending to this story  -- that's the million dollar question.

Good movie.  The best part of the movie was seeing the shots of the destroyed city of Berlin, which gives the reader a better appreciation for the amount of damage done to Berlin during WWII.  Paul Douglas was very good as the bitter sergeant who has a grudge against all Germans.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

1945 (May 8)  --  WW II  ended in Europe.

1945 (July 17 to August 2)  --  the Potsdam Agreement called for the division of Germany into four occupation zones and a similar division of Berlin into four zones, later called East Berlin (under the Soviet Union) and West Berlin (under the French, U.S., and British). 

When President Harry S. Truman refused to give the Soviet Union reparations from West Germany's industrial plants, Joseph Stalin made the Soviet occupation zone of Germany into a Communist state known as East Germany. 

1948 (June 18)  --  the three Western sectors ended the use of occupation currency by introducing the Deutsche Mark.  They did this in order to put  pressure on Stalin to reunify Germany and to spur German reconstruction.

The Soviets did not want an immediate reunification of Germany.  After all, they had just lost 23 million people in the war against Germany (while the United States lost a half million).  Instead, they wanted Germany demilitarized like Japan before a reunification took place.

1948 (June 24)  --  the Soviet Union blockades the Allied sectors of Berlin to bring the entire city under their control.

The French, British and Americans respond by dropping supplies into West Berlin via the air in one of the most massive airlifts in world history. 

1949 (May 11)  --  end of the Soviet blockade.

 

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