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The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)

aka The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell

"He defied the army and navy . . . and they gave him a Court Martial!"

Directed By: 
Details: 100 mins · English


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Small Col. Billy Mitchell
No_movie_poster Lt. Col. Herbert White
Small Col. Moreland
Small Lt. Cmdr. Zachary 'Zack' Lansdowne
Small Congressman Frank R. Reid
Small Maj. Allan Guillion
Small Margaret Lansdowne
Small Gen. Jimmy Guthrie
Small Capt. Bob Elliott
Small Capt. Russ Peters


Small Otto Preminger Director
No_movie_poster Milton Sperling Production
No_movie_poster Milton Sperling Other
No_movie_poster Ben Hecht Writer
Small Dalton Trumbo Writer
No_movie_poster Michael Wilson Writer
No_movie_poster Milton Sperling Story Contributor
No_movie_poster Folmar Blangsted Editing


"He defied the army and navy . . . and they gave him a Court Martial!"


Brigadier General William Mitchell tries to prove the worth of the Air Service as an independent service by sinking a battleship under restrictive conditions agreed to by Army and Navy. He disobeys their orders to limit the attack to bombs under 1,000 pounds and instead loads 2,000 pounders. With these, he proves his aircraft can sink the ex-German World War I battleship Ostfriesland, previously considered unsinkable. But his superiors are outraged.

Politically vocal, he is demoted to colonel and sent to a ground unit in Texas. A high-profile air disaster occurs in which his close friend Zachary Lansdowne is killed, the crash of the dirigible USS Shenandoah. This is followed by a second disaster in which six planes, poorly maintained because of lack of funds, flying from a base on the California coast to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, crash.

Mitchell at this points calls a press conference in which he makes harsh criticisms of the Army.

He is then court-martialed.

It goes slowly for Mitchell's attorney and friend, Congressman Reed of Mitchell's home state Wisconsin, who tries everything, until he subpoenas President Calvin Coolidge. At this point the court decides to adjourn.

Clearly the military wants out of this limelight, but Mitchell refuses to sign a paper Reed has presented him in which he withdraws his criticisms in return for saving his career as an Army officer. Margaret Lansdowne, widow of Mitchell's dead friend from the Shenandoah, then appears in court. The previous barring of evidence demonstrating a justification for Mitchell's criticisms of his superiors failure to develop air power is repealed and many witnesses are then called forward to corroborate Mitchell's criticisms, including Eddie Rickenbacker and Fiorello LaGuardia.

Finally Mitchell testifies and is cross-examined by a prosecutor specially brought in for the job (played by Rod Steiger) who stresses his having disobeyed his superior officers and who ridicules his attempts at foresight, even that accurately describing, in 1941, both Philippines and Hawaii were attacked by Japan.

The court finds Mitchell guilty, but he has presented his case to the public, which is somewhat of a win considering he wanted to raise awareness about the state of the Air Service. As his pilots salute him Mitchell steps out and looks up and sees a squadron of four biplanes in flight; the biplanes are replaced with a squadron of jets, demonstrating what Billy Mitchell's actions will result in for the future of the United States and its Air Force.

Release Dates:

Theatrical : 1955-12-22 : New York City

Theatrical : 1955-12-31 : United States of America

Theatrical : 1956-05-30 : Denmark

Theatrical : 1956-07-13 : West Germany

Theatrical : 1956-07-25 : France

Theatrical : 1956-09-12 : Portugal

Theatrical : 1956-11-26 : Sweden

Theatrical : 1957-01-04 : Finland

DVD : 2003-12-16

2012-08-03 : Switzerland