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.
THE SAC SONG
Tom Lehrer wrote "The SAC Song"
for a scene in "A Gathering of Eagles." About 45 seconds are used in
the film, although the full song is about twice as long.
In the movie, Rod plays piano and sings the song during an officers' club
party. Director Delbert Mann wanted there to be a true air of
informality in the scene, so "We did the scene 'live,' recording the
song as it is sung in front of the camera." That brought about a
more natural effect than having Rod lip-synch the words to a
pre-recorded soundtrack. (No word on how the piano playing was
Universal's music department noted that Taylor has a fine baritone
voice and "a swinging style of his own."
The SAC Song lyrics, by Tom Lehrer
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.