“Screaming Eagles” is an homage to the American paratroopers who dropped the night before D-Day. It was a black and white drive-in movie. Director Charles Haas made a living making B-rated movies. This was his only war movie. He was allowed to film at Fort Benning, Ga. Richard Case, a veteran of D-Day with the 101st Airborne, acted as a technical adviser. Also on set was Werner Klingler, a German director who had a role in the film.
“This is the story of 15 paratroopers of Company D, 502nd Paratrooper Regiment, 101st Airborne”. (For you Band of Brothers fans, their unit was the 505th.) Right before D-Day, a platoon receives replacements that includes Pvt. Mason (Tom Tryon). He’s a jerk with a chip on his shoulder. Everyone in the barracks, except Corliss (Martin Milner), takes an instant dislike to him. He does not ingratiate himself when he trashes the barracks after getting a Dear John letter. Lt. Pauling (Jan Merlin) convinces the men to give him another chance. Before he can earn redemption, they get the word to go. Their mission is capture and hold a bridge. Footage of paratroopers boarding a plane. Typical banter on board. Practicing with those clicker thingies. No one yells “Geronimo!” They land 20 miles from the bridge. SNAFU. Mason is blamed for starting a firefight that gets the popular Cpl. Dreef killed. This guy just keeps digging his hole deeper. As penance, he is put in charge of the blinded Lt. Pauling. They attack a house where they find a comely French lass named Marianne (Jacqueline Beer – 1954’s Miss Universe runner-up). They decide to Trojan Horse a German truck to get to the bridge.
“Screaming Eagles” seems awfully quaint compared to Band of Brothers. It is closer to an episode of Combat!, but worse. It does have a decent cast going for it. Tryon has ben largely forgotten, but he was a second tier star in the 1960s. This was his second movie. He went on to co-star in “The Longest Day” and “In Harm’s Way”. He was a good actor, but he has little to work for here. Mason is your classic a**hole who no one wants in his fox hole. Weirdly, he is set up for redemption that doesn’t come because he is not allowed to do anything heroic. The cast is decent for a low budget film. I mentioned a young Martin Milner, but Robert Blake is also in it. Jacqueline Beer’s role smacks of stunt casting, but she is not an anchor. (She reminds of Denise Darcel in “Battleground”.) Ms. Beer only made three movies and is probably most famous for being Thor Heyerdahl’s (of Kon Tiki fame) second wife. Her Marianne earns her place on the poster with a feisty attitude and genuine support for the boys. Surprisingly, there is no time for romance, or even a kiss.
The biggest problem with the movie is it is just not that entertaining. The mission is unrealistic and the way they carry it out defies credulity. I know it’s not a documentary, but we can expect some effort if you are honoring real heroes. The combat is poorly staged. It looks like some boys playing soldier on a sound stage. All the vehicles are obviously American with German markings. There is too much reliance on footage. The film even uses footage of Germans moving, as though they couldn’t get enough uniforms and extras to shoot that. The best I can say for it is it lasts only 79 minutes. Band of Brothers “Day of Days” only lasts 49. That is a much better investment of your time.
GRADE = D