Cast & Crew
Herbert L. Strock
During the Korean War, U.N. forces learn to depend on the Air Rescue Service branch of the American Air Force, whose dedicated pilots often brave great danger while using their helicopters to rescue the wounded. One of the best ARS commanders is Capt. Russ Edwards, a stern but fair disciplinarian, who constantly reminds his men that when they take unnecessary chances and damage their helicopters, a wounded man may not receive the help he needs. Of particular concern to Edwards is Lt. Pete Stacy, who had trained as a jet pilot but because he also had helicopter experience, was transferred to ARS. After Stacy pulls yet another dangerous stunt, Edwards reprimands him, telling him that because the helicopters are not equipped with weapons, his duty is to pick up the wounded and not engage the enemy. Edwards is in turn cautioned by Lt. Col. Philip Stoneham, who informs him that his unit has had more helicopters out of commission than any other, and that he must improve his safety record. Stoneham offers to send the over-worked Edwards on leave, but he declines and promises to whip his team into shape. Meanwhile, Stacy, his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Tim Vernon, and a medic are on a mission, and after the medic welcomes a wounded soldier aboard his "taxi," the soldier frantically points out that his patrol is trapped by an enemy tank. Although Vernon insists on calling on a jet squad for backup, the arrogant Stacy charges the enemy tank, shooting flares to distract it from the patrol. The jets arrive in time to bomb the tank, but not before Stacy's helicopter is shot through the rotor blades. When he arrives back at base, an infuriated Edwards lambasts him for his carelessness, while Stacy bitterly replies that he would rather be "in the batting box" than serve as a mere "waterboy." Edwards tries to explain how much jet pilots admire the helicopter flyers who save their lives and vows to work him hard until he understands how much the ARS means to those it aids and their families. The next evening, Edwards commands Stacy to accompany him during a briefing of Stacy's old squad, during which they explain the ARS's function. Stacy is embarrassed in front of his friends, but nonetheless tells them that if their jet becomes disabled, they should attempt to bail out over water, where one of the large "Dumbo" rescue planes can pick them up. Edwards then explains that due to the limited range of the helicopters, they have an ARS station on one of the northernmost islands held by U.N. troops, although it is deep in enemy territory. Stacy is nonplussed when Edwards then announces that he is assigning him to the island, called K83, the next day. Later, Edwards joins Stoneham at central headquarters to help coordinate rescue operations during a big push against the enemy. Meanwhile, at K83, Stacy gets a call from jet squadron Blue Boy and picks up downed pilot Blue Boy Three without any problems. The copter does not have enough fuel for another rescue and must return to base immediately, but when Stacy hears a mayday from jet pilot Lazy Joker Two, he decides to pick him up. Vernon objects, but nonetheless helps to execute a perfect water rescue of the pilot. Listening on the radio, Edwards worries that Stacy will not be able to return to the island before running out of fuel, and that they will lose all of the men as well as the helicopter. While they fly over enemy territory, Stacy sees an abandoned enemy truck and decides to use its gasoline in the helicopter, despite the fact that the craft requires aviation fuel. They retrieve the gas tanks and make a hasty retreat, just as a group of enemy soldiers head toward them, and despite loud protests from the engine, reach K83 safely. After landing, Stacy is castigated both by Edwards, who tells him that a Dumbo rescue plane was only five minutes away from reaching Lazy Joker Two, and mechanic Lt. Joe Kirk, who states that the chopper's engine may have suffered permanent damage from the gasoline. Realizing that he risked his crew's lives, Stacy states that he will be the first one to take up the repaired chopper and will do so solo, but the next day, when another mayday comes in, Vernon and their radioman, S/Sgt. Slats Klein, join Stacy on the run. The downed man, Lt. Smiley Jackson, is from Stacy's old unit, as is Danny, the jet pilot circling over Smiley's location. Stacy and Vernon are both worried, as the valley in which Smiley has landed is unusually quiet, and they fear that the enemy is using Smiley as an inadvertent decoy to snare the helicopter. Danny yells at Stacy to land and pick up Smiley, but Stacy continues to canvas the area, until finally he and Vernon agree that they must take the risk. When Slats lowers the sling for Smiley, however, Smiley is killed by enemy fire, and Stacy is shot in the chest. Stacy is forced to crash-land the helicopter, and while Edwards and his co-pilot, Harry, begin the emergency run to pick them up, Medic Capt. Larsen tends to Stacy as Vernon and Slats camoflague their helicopter. Realizing that the enemy will be looking for a downed copter, Edwards uses smoke flares to divert the enemy into believing that his is the damaged vehicle. Desperate to locate the enemy's exact location so that the jets can strike them, Edwards continues to expose himself to their fire. More machine-gun fire and mortars attack both Edwards' helicopter and Stacy's position, but finally, Edwards relays the enemy's position and jet pilot Sam bombs them. Edwards lands and rescues Stacy and his crew, and later, after he has recuperated, Stacy proudly delivers Edwards' speech about the ARS to a new group of jet pilots.
Herbert L. Strock
Capt. Vincent H. Mcgovern
Captain Ralph N. Dove
Frank T. Dyke
Charles L. Freeman
Jack A. Goodrich
Captain Vincent H. Mcgovern
Harry Redmond Jr.
Lothrop B. Worth
The Air Force's rescue squadrons were founded in 1946 with the primary mission of search and rescue within the United States; one early mission used helicopters to bring food, coal, and cattle feed to rural residents and cattle isolated in a severe blizzard in the central and western parts of the country. It wasn't long before operations expanded to such places as Nicaragua and the Greenland ice cap to rescue the crews of downed military planes and Bolivia to aid in flood relief. The greatest test of the young unit's mettle came with the Korean War; from June 1950 to July 1953, an estimated 9,898 personnel were rescued, including 996 combat saves.
With such a record of service under the most perilous conditions, it was only a matter of time before the brave men who piloted these missions were given their own tribute on film, and producer Ivan Tors believed he was just the guy to do it. The Hungarian-born Tors broke into the movies in the mid-1940s as a writer, working on the scripts for the Katharine Hepburn period romance Song of Love (1947) and the Judy Garland musical In the Good Old Summertime (1949). He found his niche in adventure stories with his first producing job on Storm Over Tibet (1952), about a pilot who runs supplies between India and China over the Himalayas in World War II. His most famous work was for television as the creator of the adventure series Sea Hunt, Flipper, and Daktari.
Tors also figured he had the right actor to play the squadron commander. Sterling Hayden had established his credentials as a rugged leading man in such film noir thrillers as Manhandled (1949) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950), the Korean War action flick Flat Top (1952)--referring to the aircraft carrier under Hayden's command and not his haircut--and a series of Westerns in the early 1950s, most of them fairly minor, although one, Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954), has become a classic much analyzed and written about by film critics and theorists.
What Battle Taxi movie could have used, perhaps, was a less clichéd script. It's the old saw about a battle-hardened commander in Korea who must contend with a hot shot pilot's bad attitude and tendency to take foolish risks. ("Remember you're flying a helicopter, not a jet," Hayden says at one point.) The misfit who is eventually brought in line and learns the value of teamwork is played by Arthur Franz, a stalwart supporting player in a handful of major productions (Sands of Iwo Jima, 1949; The Member of the Wedding, 1952; The Caine Mutiny, 1954) and lead in such B pictures as Invaders from Mars (1953) and The Atomic Submarine (1959).
Considering the familiarity of the story, audiences were naturally more drawn to the action sequences, beefed up by substantial footage of real combat situations and rescue operations and a lot of "stirring" music by Harry Sukman, who worked previously with Tors and director Herbert L. Strock on the 3-D robot thriller Gog (1954). Strock and Sukman were regulars on Tors productions through the years, on both feature films and TV.
Perhaps the moist historically significant aspect of this film is its presence in a famous photograph, "Hot Shot, Eastbound." O. Winston Link (1914-2001) was an American photographer known for black-and-white photography and sound recordings of the final days of steam railroading on the Norfolk and Western lines in the Eastern U.S. in the 1950s. His preference was for night shots that employed meticulous composition and lighting, requiring him to develop new flash photo techniques. On August 2, 1956, he shot a train on the N&W line passing a drive-in theater in West Virginia, an iconic image that perfectly captures the train, its plume of steam, cars at the drive-in, and a romantic young couple in a convertible in the foreground who were paid $10 as models. The explosion of elaborate flashes Link set up to capture the speeding train and the foreground couple washed out the movie screen, so he added in the image of an airplane from a negative he'd made separately of that night's showing. "The film, Battle Taxi, has been forgotten," says the article about the photo's creation at Smithsonian.com "But Link's picture holds up as a one-frame narrative of 20th-century transportation."
Director: Herbert L. Strock
Producers: Ivan Tors, Art Arthur
Screenplay: Malvin Wald, story by Wald and Art Arthur
Cinematography: Lothrop B. Worth
Editing: Jodie Copelan
Art Direction: William Ferrari
Music: Harry Sukman
Cast: Sterling Hayden (Capt. Russ Edwards), Arthur Franz (Lt. Pete Stacy), Marshall Thompson (2nd Lt. Tim Vernon), Leo Needham (SSgt. "Slats" Klein), Vincent H. McGovern (Co-Pilot Harry)
By Rob Nixon
The working titles of this film were Operation Air Rescue and Air Rescue. The opening credits include the following written acknowledgment: "The producers desire to acknowledge their deep appreciation of the assistance rendered in the making of this motion picture by the Department of Defense, United States Air Force, Headquarters, Air Rescue Service and the 42nd Air Rescue Squadron." According to the film's pressbook, the ARS was organized in 1946, and technical advisor Capt. Vincent H. McGovern flew ninety-six helicopter missions during the Korean War. As noted by several reviews, the film contained a large amount of footage of real combat situations and ARS operations. According to a July 15, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Charles Victor was cast in the picture, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Other Hollywood Reporter news items note that some sequences were filmed on location at March Field in Riverside, CA. Although a June 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item listed San Clemente Island as a potential location site, it has not been determined if shooting did take place there.
Released in United States Winter January 1955
Released in United States Winter January 1955