A Gathering of Eagles (1963)
Rod Taylor plays Col. Hollis Farr in this Cold War-era military movie.
ON THE SCREEN
"A Gathering of Eagles" presents the realities of the U.S. Strategic
Air Command and weaves in a personal story about its officers.
Rock Hudson has the lead role as Col. Jim Caldwell, who has just been
assigned to his first command at (the fictional) Carmody Air Force Base
near San Francisco. Carmody's previous commander was removed because the
base failed a surprise operational readiness inspection (ORI). Caldwell's
mission: Make sure the base passes the next one.
Rod's character, Hollis Farr, had been Caldwell's co-pilot during their
Korean War tour of duty, and Caldwell is delighted to find that Farr will
be his vice commander. Farr serves to explain how things have been done
on the base previously -- often making reasonable excuses for past shortcomings.
As the movie progresses, Caldwell becomes tougher and more demanding
upon his men. His wife, Victoria (Mary Peach), is unsettled by the ruthless
streak he displays and is often left alone because of the time her husband
must spend on the job. Farr befriends Victoria, and the two spend and increasing
amount of time together, but they back off after others begin to look askance
at their relationship.
After many a conflict between Caldwell and the men he commands -- including
firing Farr, his friend and assistant -- the movie culminates with the base
being put through the rigors of another inspection. Farr, and all others
pushed by Caldwell, rise to the occasion, even in his absence.
The movie is a good study in the nature of leadership and is regarded
as a realistic military movie.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Shooting for "A Gathering of Eagles" began July 16, 1962, and
most of the location filming was done at Beale Air Force Base in Marysvillle,
Calif., 40 miles north of Sacramento. Other scenes occurred at the Strategic
Air Command headquarters at Offutt AFB in Nebraska. The movie was released
in July 1963.
According to the movie's production notes, the makers of "A Gathering
of Eagles" received the full cooperation of the Air Force and devised
the film's military sequences to coincide with regular training operations
conducted at Strategic Air Command bases.
It was a pet project of Universal's producer, Sy Bartlett, an Air Force
reserve colonel. And it was directed by Delbert Mann, an Air Force veteran
with 35 wartime bombing missions to his credit. Mann directed Taylor in
two other productions: "Separate Tables"
and a Playhouse 90 presentation of "The
Other Rod Taylor "regulars" in this movie are actors Kevin
McCarthy and Henry Silva. Each appeared in episodes of "Bearcats!"
among other Taylor works.
A FAN'S PERSPECTIVE
The following information was offered by Rex Dean, who lives near
Sacramento, Calif., and who has done extensive research on his favorite
film, "A Gathering of Eagles."
Any discussion of "A Gathering of
Eagles" has to start with producer Sy Bartlett and director Delbert
Mann. I really believe they set out to make the best film ever made, and
to a large degree I think they succeeded. Both had World War II military
backgrounds and were well-suited to make the picture.
When watching the movie, it is important to remember that
all of it -- the B-52s, the ORIs, the nuclear weapons, the procedures, living
conditions, pressure -- everything existed in those days. By going all-out
to capture the feeling of the Strategic Air Command and Air Force, they
also captured the feelings of the time and place.
A B-52 crewman with the Strategic Air Command stationed
at Beale Air Force Base during filming related a lot about details of what
went on and offered little to contradict the accuracy of the film.
The B-52s used in the film were B-52 G models and were
only a few years old then. The B-52 has been through numerous paint schemes
and changes in regalia over the years. But if one could pick out the most
colorful and dynamic version of all time, it would probably be those used
in the film. The G model B-52 was the next-to-last model produced -- the
last one being the H model, which is being used in Afghanistan.
Rod's part was to play the vice commander of the wing who
had the perfect setup: Take the easy road for himself and let the wing commander
take the fall.When the new wing commander starts, he begins the entire process
over -- until Rock Hudson's Col. Caldwell cracks the problem. Rod played
The script originally may have called for there to be more
scenes between Hollis Farr and Victoria Caldwell. A source familiar with
the filming said they filmed a scene at the lake on base and showed more
involvement between them. In the final version, however, the film leaves
it up to your imagination as to whether anything was really going on between
Great effort was made to depict the real drama of the Air
Force action. The aerial sequences involving the refueling accident, for
instance, were coordinated by renowned Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz.
(Mantz began working in the movies in the 1930s and died in 1965 during
the filming of "The Flight of the Phoenix.")
One of the best scenes in the film is the minimum interval
takeoff sequence in which five B-52s take off back to back to back. This
was one of the scenes shot in coordination with an exercise on base because
it would have been too expensive to stage it for the movie. Watching those
things launch and understanding the meaning behind the drill really gets
the adrenaline pumping. Right after the planes took off, the movie shows
Rod and Rock talking like nothing happened, but I'll guarantee you they
probably had to wait an hour for the adrenaline to subside.
The ORI scenes at the end were shot at sunset -- a common
time for ORIs in those days -- and it still probably was about 98 degrees.
My guess is that the filmmakers were trying to capture this pressure-cooker
A source at Universal Pictures said they threw a big party
for everybody on base to celebrate the end of the shooting. My source tells
me Rod Taylor and Mary Peach showed up, but Rock Hudson didn't. However,
this does not indicate a lack of interest Hudson's part. He may have been
in Omaha filming the opening scene (it was done last). And the pressbook
for "A Gathering of Eagles" reports that Hudson took a strong
interest in SAC and did a lot of reading on the subject after being exposed
to it in filming.
I found another interesting tidbit a couple of years ago.
It seems an airman stationed at Beale also had a small rock band and played
at a nightclub in Marysville on the weekends. One time during filming Rod
Taylor, Rock Hudson and Mary Peach dropped by the nightclub for some entertainment.
Apparently this guy was so impressed he considers it one of the great highlights
of his life.
After meeting Rod at the Hollywood Collectors and Celebrities
Show in April 2002, I was glad to hear him say that he really likes the
As I understand it, GOE did not do as well at the box office
as they hoped, and it one of the last films Sy Bartlett was involved in.
But on the other hand it was one of composer Jerry
Goldsmith's first films, and he went on to have legendary career that
included dozens of scores, including several "Star Trek" motion
pictures and another Rod Taylor film, "Fate is the Hunter."
In a TV biography on Rock Hudson, Mann said the film may
have hurt Rock's career. Rock had been doing the Doris Day comedies, which
were very popular. The idea was to expand Rock's career and have him play
more of a heavy. According to Mann, that didn't sit too well with Rock's
Click for gallery
Variety magazine, 1963:
Rock Hudson invests his role with the right blend of authority
and warmth. Rod Taylor creates a colorful figure as the undesirably easy-going
vice-commander who shapes up when the chips are down.
THE SAC SONG
Musician/satirist/mathematician Tom Lehrer wrote "The SAC Song"
for a scene in "A Gathering of Eagles."
here to hear Rod sing
(390 KB .mp3 file)
Here at SAC we're filled with pride.
There's just one thing we can't decide:
Which we'd rather get clobbered by,
An enemy attack or an O.R.I.
Our wing commander's got a racket,
Though sometimes it's hard to hack it.
Whenever he gets his wife alone,
Ding-a-ling-a-ling goes the little red phone.
Oh, we love the seven-day alert.
For a week we will not see a skirt.
But we know it's part of SAC's main goal:
To test our positive control.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Whatever became of the wild blue yonder?
How we wish the good ol' days were back.
In "A Gathering of Eagles," Rock Hudson played the wing
commander of an Air Force base, but the real wing commander at Beale Air Force
Base, where the movie was made, was Gen. Sam Byerley.
Correspondent Rex Dean spoke with Gen. Byerley and learned
some new insights on the making of the movie and about Rod Taylor's role.
He said Rod was very nice and very friendly but that he
was very focused on making the film and doing the job. However, he did manage
to enjoy himself, including going water-skiing at a lake near the base.
In the movie, Gen. Byerley thought Rod did an admirable
job. In fact, he really liked his part. He thought Rock Hudson's character
came across too strong and that Rod's character was always trying to get
him to ease up. So, according to the general, Rod in the movie was sort
of right all along!
For the general to compliment Rod should not be taken lightly.
He was a highly respected man in the Air Force. The decision to shoot "A
Gathering of Eagles" at Beale was partially because of Gen. Byerley.
When Sy Bartlett and Delbert Mann initially called the
Air Force and told them what they wanted to do, the Air Force told them
to call Gen. Byerley -- he would take care of you. And the rest is history.