British war veterans and historians have longed griped that Hollywood films of the post WWII-era often credited Americans for heroics and strategies that should have been attributed to the Brits. One of the most glaring examples of this revisionist history was the 1963 classic The Great Escape, which shoe-horned Americans into primary roles when, in fact, they were not present during the escape itself. MGM has released the 1969 WWII flick The 1,000 Plane Raid as a burn to order DVD and it fits perfectly into this niche of British-based WWII movies in which Americans get the lion's share of credit. This was largely because it was felt that having an American actor in the lead role would make a film more commercial in U.S. markets. The film was produced by Oakmont Productions, which specialized in making modestly-budgeted WWII films shot in the UK and generally top-lining American leading actors (one exception was Mosquito Squadron, which starred David McCallum.) Christopher George, fresh from starring in the WWII TV series The Rat Patrol, is the star of The 1,000 Plane Raid, which distorts historical fact by giving credit to Americans for launching this first, massive bombing of Germany. In fact, it was a British operation over Cologne that took place in 1941. George plays Col Greg Brandon, a U.S. Army Air Force officer who is uniformly grim, humorless and hard-driving. He has concocted an audacious plan to deliver a death blow to a major German industrial complex that is considered a crucial target. Brandon suggests launching a thousand bombers from British airbases for a day time raid over the German complex. The top brass accepts his idea but most of the pilots consider the plan to be a suicide mission- and even Brandon concedes that a daylight raid will result in massive casualties.
Much of the story is devoted to the human element, with Brandon not winning much love from the men in his command due to his relentless methods of training them for the big day. He even alienates the few men who admire him as well as Gaby (Laraine Stephens) , a sexy female British officer who shares a romantic relationship with him. Brandon also comes into conflict with British liaison officer Taffy Howard (Gary Marshal), a sarcastic, independent officer whose daredevil tactics result in many a downed enemy plane but which also infuriate his superior officers. He and the buttoned-down, by-the-book Brandon lock horns instantly. Brandon also threatens to court martial Lt. Archer (Ben Murphy), a pilot he suspects of cowardice but whom Howard has taken under his wing for private training. The film is quite effective in building tension as the day of the big raid arrives- with even Brandon starting to have doubts about the prospects for success. As with most Oakmont productions, the movie benefits from a fine, intelligent script (this one by Donald S. Sanford) and strong direction by Boris Sagal (the two had previously collaborated on Mosquito Squadron). To get around the budget limitations, the producers utilize extensive real life combat footage with varying degrees of success (some of these scenes are very grainy and blurry). Nevertheless, like any Oakmont film, The 1,000 Plane Raid is first-rate entertainment on a second-rate budget. Christopher George gives a very commanding performance and one realizes that he should have been a much bigger star. To offset George's grim character, the humor in the film is deftly provided by Gary Marshal, who gives a spot-on performance as the quirky British liaison officer. (Look for Gavin MacLeod in a fairly sizable supporting role.)
(Cinema Retro's Howard Hughes is covering the Oakmont WWII movies with in-depth coverage. Issue #26 features Mosquito Squadron.)