What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of a blog-a-thon celebrating Rock Hudson. This is an event hosted by two blogs called and In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood. I’ve participated in several blog-a-thons with both of them, and for some reason they keep letting me come back. I’m glad they do, because it’s a privilege to work with bloggers of their caliber.
This movie borrows heavily from the Gregory Peck World War II flick “Twelve O’Clock High;” it many ways, you could say its really the same movie…just set twenty years later during the “Cold War.”
Rock Hudson plays an Air Force Colonel who has just been re-assigned as a cold war B-52 bomber wing commander who must shape up his men to pass a grueling inspection the previous commander had failed; an offense for which he was relieved of his command. and had been fired for. He is also recently married, and as a tough commanding officer doing whatever he has to do to shape his men up, his wife sees a side to him that she hadn’t seen before.
I’m not going to pretend this a great film; I’m not going to sell you on the idea this is a “must-see” for Hudson-o-philes because his performance is for the ages. It really isn’t. “A Gathering of Eagles” is a “B” movie and Hudson delivers a suitable performance in it.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, at the time it was made, getting Rod Taylor as a co-star added some hefty star power. Beyond that, it’s chock full of recognizable faces; Barry Sullivan, Kevin McCarthy, Henry Silva, Leora Dana, Richard Lansing, and Richard Anderson flesh out the cast.
Speaking of “hefty,” if you’re one of those who simply like to look at Rock, his physique in this film suggests there might have been a good barbecue place near the filming location. He’s not “fat” per se, but he certainly isn’t as svelte as he is in the Doris Day “rom-coms.”
On top of that, this movie suffers at the tyrannical hands of time; it has dated more than Warren Beatty in his prime. If you aren’t old enough to remember the “Cold War” between the United States and the Soviet Union, this movie has the potential to make absolutely no sense to you.
So, after having said all that, you’re probably wondering why in the hell I picked this movie. Because as classic film fans we all have those pictures we connect with for our own reasons; the quality of the movie matters little.
I was what is colloquially referred to as an “Air Force brat.” My father was a career U.S. Air Force officer; at the beginning of his service he was assigned to Strategic Air Command as a missileman. I was born on a base which was the epicenter of the “Cold War;” it may as well have been Burpelson Air Force Base from “Dr. Strangelove.” That’s likely also why this also isn’t the first episode of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies centered on a Cold War theme.
But to get to the point, good, bad, or different…this movie contains a nuclear-powered sports analogy.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Like I said, watching this movie and not being reminded of “Twelve O’Clock High” is like drinking a 7-Up and thinking you can tell the difference from a Sprite. From the take-off, it’s pretty clear that Rock Hudson’s Colonel Jim Caldwell is flying the same mission Gregory Peck’s Brigadier General Frank Savage. They are both charged with taking over an under-performing unit and returning it to a satisfactory level of performance, even if that means an unfriendly application of a flight boot to a backside.
That’s the standard palette for the common perception of the “hard-ass militarist” leadership style. But what this movie does…and almost as well as Twelve O’Clock High…is to capture the idea that when the “hard-ass” approach brings success, the “hard-ass” guy can engender extreme loyalty among his troops. The military isn’t the only place that happens; the sports world is the other perfect example. The reason is rather simple. Military people and athletes share a common trait; competitiveness. The competitive fire burns hot enough in both types that the exaltation of winning trumps the aforementioned “boot to the backside.”
That’s the case because successful leaders have a knack for getting more out of people than they think they have. Accomplishing that means pushing people in ways they may not like very much at the time. But everybody likes success; so much so that winning makes people understand why that leader was kicking them in the ass.
In the sports world, there’s almost no better example of that than Vince Lombardi. This is the guy who put more boots on backsides turning the 1960s Green Bay Packers into the greatest dynasty in the history of the National Football League.
But for all his exceedingly high-expectations, his over-bearing demeanor, and his general hard-assery, Lombardi was universally loved by those who played for him. Not only was that because he never expected anything out of his players that he didn’t expect from himself. He also kept that expectation simple with terms like “do everything right the first time.”
In the movies, you don’t get the “thirty years gone by retrospective” like you can with a football team, but I will say this. To this day, my father, the Air force officer whose service days are forty years behind him still reveres the first colonel who kicked him in the ass to make him the man he is today. Having such an impact on people’s lives is how the Super Bowl trophy gets named for you.
The Moral of The Story:
Being prepared to fight is the best way to avoid having to do so. That means being prepared to do what it takes to win, and that isn’t easy. Neither is the job for the guy who is responsible for making sure you’re ready for both.
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