Cinema: The New Pictures, Dec. 26, 1955

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The Army had no choice but court-martial, and Billy Mitchell made the most of it. He declared that the U.S. military establishment was obsolete; that the day of armies and navies, as history had known them, was done; that planes would one day fly faster than sound; that the air force should be an independent branch of the armed services. Infantry of the future, he predicted, would be transported through the air ocean and dropped with full equipment on enemy territory. As diplomatic collars popped, he announced that the next war would begin with a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; he told the court precisely how the attack would be delivered—and history, 16 years later, proved him precisely right.

The court* suspended him from service for five years, with loss of rank and privilege, and he resigned. (He died in 1936 at the age of 56.) The air force had lost a leader but found a prophet and a martyr, and in the next two decades Billy Mitchell was a major article of faith in the new cult of air power that justified its doctrines in World War II.

This is the story the film tells competently. At times, however, the celluloid seems to have been coated with whitewash as well as WarnerColor—a treatment that damages Billy as well as the story. Billy's virtues (courage and sincerity) were set off, as well as offset, by his vices (fanaticism and tactlessness). In the part as it is written, Gary Cooper plays the flamboyant Billy for a sort of militant old maid, and his historic cry for justice for the air service sometimes seems about as exciting as an old maid's protest that the neighbor's cat has swallowed her beloved canary.

The Last Frontier (Columbia) ought to put the white man on his guard. It has been a long, hard fight, but the Indians are beginning to win. The reason is not hard to find. Victor Mature is a scout for the bluecoats, but every time old Red Cloud's boys creep up to the fort for a hair party, Mature is reconnoitering the firewater or the colonel's wife (Anne Bancroft). The colonel (Robert Preston) is 'presented as a psycho who would rather chase Red Cloud than Actress Bancroft. Vic is only too happy to take over the home detail. "Animal!" Anne pants at him one night. "Sometimes," Vic complains, "she looks at me as if I was a bear." "H'm," says his sidekick (James Whitmore).

Whitmore advises Vic that "a good Christian fights it off." Vic is staggered. "How?" Says Whitmore: "He gets another woman." Says Mature indignantly: "I call that real sneaky." He much prefers to leave the colonel in a bear pit for the Indians to find. However, the script hauls him out just in time to lead the final charge—an exceptionally bloody bore.

If nothing else, the acting in this western is unusual. Robert Preston, playing the villain, reads his lines with an engaging military crispness and filches most of the moviegoer's sympathy from Hero Mature, who most of the time can hardly make himself understood. "I seen a boid," he keeps saying. "I seen a boid." Careful study of the script reveals that he is referring to a tribe of Indians called the Assiniboins.

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