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The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell

Title card
Directed by Otto Preminger
Produced by Milton Sperling
Written by Emmet Lavery
Milton Sperling
Starring Gary Cooper
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Sam Leavitt
Editing by Folmar Blangsted
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) December 22, 1955
Running time 100 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell is a 1955 film directed by Otto Preminger. It stars Gary Cooper as Billy Mitchell, Charles Bickford, Ralph Bellamy, Rod Steiger and Elizabeth Montgomery in her film debut.


Brigadier General William Mitchell tries to prove the worth of the Air Service as an independent service by sinking a battleship but is held back by his superiors. He disobeys their orders and proves his aircraft can sink the ex-German WWI battleship, Ostfriesland, previously considered unsinkable. Politically vocal, he is demoted to Colonel and sent to Texas. After two high-profile air disasters kill many, Mitchell calls a press conference in which he makes harsh criticisms of the army. He is court-martialed.

It goes slowly for Mitchell's attorney, who tries everything, until he subpoenas President Coolidge and the court decides to adjourn. Mitchell refuses to sign a paper his attorney has presented him in which he withdraws his criticisms. Margaret Lansdowne then tells her story to the press and appears in court. The previous barring of evidence demonstrating a justification for Mitchell's criticisms is repealed and many witnesses are then called forward to corroborate Mitchell's criticisms. Finally Mitchell testifies and is cross-examined by a prosecutor who ridicules his foresightedness. 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.


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