Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Big Lift

Here’s a really interesting movie, though not really a great one. It was filmed entirely in Berlin which, five years after the end of WWII, was still picking up the pieces after the Allied bombings. Actually, much of the city was still in ruins, and they make great backdrops for the movie. So the Russians decided to blockade West Berlin, cutting off all road and rail and river traffic, hoping to starve the people into opting for Russian subjugators. The only way in was by air, but how in the world would the smallish (by today’s standards) cargo planes of the day manage to bring in 5000 tons of food, fuel, and coal every day? The answer was, they couldn’t, at least not at first. A Douglas C-47 Skytrain (AKA Dakota, AKA DC-3) could lift 3½ tons. Allied air forces had already scaled back after the war, so there weren’t enough of them, nor of the larger 4-engine C-54 Skymasters (AKA DC-4). The best they could do was around 700 tons per day. So they brought in planes from all over the world, and before long they were meeting the tonnage goals with a plane arriving every five minutes, around the clock. They managed to unload ten tons of coal in as little as ten minutes.
This is such a fascinating story in itself that it’s almost a shame that the human interest stories get in the way. One involves Montgomery Clift who falls in love with a German woman who turns out to be only using him to marry and return to the States with her true lover. The other is Paul Douglas as an ex-POW who hates Germans, but learns to see them as people. Both are good stories, but they take away from what I really wanted to see.
One unusual thing: On the ground, German civilians are played by actors like O.E. Hasse (who was so creepily good in Hitchcock’s I Confess) and Cornell Borchers (Clift’s lying lover), but aside from Clift and Douglas, none of the military personnel were actors, they were all servicemen. And I have to say, they do as good a job of being gung-ho, aw-shucks, wise-cracking GIs as any supporting actor I’ve ever seen from that period. And why not? They saw all those movies, too.