command decision

I am going to be perfectly blunt. Here’s the thing about this movie: I don’t like it. I don’t like it and I wish that I did like it. But having just viewed it for probably the sixth or seventh time, it’s confirmed–not my cup of tea.

Gable is K.C. Dennis, an American General in England during World War II. His duty is to plan bombing missions over Germany, at the loss of hundreds of men. Despite objections from fellow soldiers and Congressmen, he continues his mission because he believes it is key to the U.S. victory over Germany.

Clark is supported by a great male cast, including Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy and John Hodiak. But that’s all the support Clark receives as there are no females in this picture. That’s right, it’s practically a mens’ The Women. Except no catfights, no romantic much of anything, to be honest.  As a fleeting mention towards the end, Clark says that he has a wife and children–a son he’d like to take fishing. That’s the most of any romanticism we get here.

clark gable command decision

The main problem with this film is what happens to a lot of films based on plays–instead of adapting it to a film, it is filmed as if someone filmed the play on stage. The sets are limited, costume changes are nil (naturally, all uniforms) and all they do is…talk. Talk about the deaths of servicemen we never get to meet, talk about bombings, talk about women they are going to marry or babies they are going to have. Problem is, we never see any of this. I would feel a bit better about the film if we got acquainted with soldiers before they burst into flame on a runway, or actually saw Clark talking to his wife on the phone, or even maybe him changing into a polo shirt and having a drink outside the barracks. I find the film completely lacking in human touch.

clark gable walter pidgeon

Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon

Clark was anxious to do this film–probably for the reasons it wasn’t well received, frankly–it was a different role for him, a serious role, with no women to sweep off their feet. Since returning to the screen after a three year hiatus while he served in the Army Air Corps over Europe, none of his films had been well received.  He seemed on uneven footing. Perhaps he thought this film was a sure thing, as the novel and play by William Wister Haines had done quite well, with the play running for 409 performances.

I can see that as a play the suspense of unseen people and unseen events would be fine; it works in that atmosphere. There is just something missing for me in the film adaptation. And not only for me, as the film was critically panned as being too talky. It ended up losing $130,000–Clark’s first box office offering to be in the red since 1939’s Idiot’s Delight.

clark gable van johnson

Clark Gable and Van Johnson on the set

I think Clark was drawn to the role because it was a serious one, a non-romantic one and he was aching to do something different. Since the war, he had become restless in his career. It’s failure was a disappointment to him.

clark gable command decision


Interestingly, Clark’s longtime friend Robert Taylor was originally cast in the role of General Kane, but had to drop out. While I do like seeing Clark spar with Walter Pidgeon, it would have been great to see Taylor and Gable paired together onscreen.

Command Decision is available on DVD. You can see pictures from the film in the gallery.