Jun 24

The filming of Boris Sagal’s “1,000 Plane Raid”

Tribune librarian Sharon Morem found a set of fascinating 35mm negatives in the bottom of a folder marked with an illegible scrawl. The first glassine sleeve appeared to read “’1,000 P+ei Raid’ Movie #1″ and the rest had less information, only numbered 2-4.
The images showed impressive B-17 bomber stunt flying below the eucalyptus treetops over a faux English airfield. The filming location was the Santa Maria airport, an actual World War II training base.
From one of the negatives the date of the filming and name of director was extracted. Boris Sagal made a career directing action television and movies, his best known film “Omega Man.”
The story written by news editor Mel Gauntz published in the Telegram-Tribune Focus section, January 20, 1968.

A Stunt pilot flies a B-17 bomber at treetop level over a faux English airfield built in Santa Maria for the movie "1,000 Plane Raid". ©The Tribune/Jim Vestal

Stunt pilot flies a B-17 bomber at treetop level over a faux English airfield built in Santa Maria for the movie “1,000 Plane Raid”. ©The Tribune/Jim Vestal

’1,000 Plane Raid’ — cinema chaos
SANTA MARIA — An outsider watching the filming of “The 1,000 Plane Raid” here, would think movie-making is mostly a crowd of people standing around shivering in the wind.
It’s not, apparently, but you couldn’t prove it by me.
There must, however, be a method to their madness — movies always seem to reach the screen with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Somewhere — maybe locked in a closet back at the studio — There is someone who knows what should be shot here, what shot there, when, and where it’s all supposed to fit.
Movies are made, like puzzles, from bits and pieces — fitted together later by someone with the over-all plan in mind.
The creativity would seem to be there — in the director’s mind and the film editor’s fantastic skill.
Here, it’s the bits and pieces.
There’s a shooting schedule about the size of the New York City telephone directory. And apparently, enough of the staff here has read it to get the job done.
The director, Boris Sagal, the assistant director, Erich von Stroheim Jr., the cameramen, sound people and the property men seem to know what they’re doing.
But they’re out numbered.
Luckily, “The 1,000 Plane Raid” is a war movie, so you can tell the players without a program — they’re the ones in the World War II Army Air Force uniforms.
And the technicians are obviously working. But who are all those others? Shivering in the wind. A lot of reporters, newspaper photographers, teen-agers eager for a look at a movie star, relatives of extras hired locally, movie buffs.
Teen-agers and moms crowding around the male lead, Christopher George, asking for autographs — they must have watched “Rat Patrol” on television.
The stars of “The 1,000 Plane Raid” aren’t big stars, so the filming at the Santa Maria Airport loses a lot for the casual fan.
And can embarrass the dickens out of a movie nut like me when he’s introduced to James Gammon. Especially if you’ve seen “Cool Hand Luke” twice — but somehow missed Gammon.
But he’s gracious, thank goodness. “I’ve got a face that’s easy to forget.”
And Noam Pitlik’s in it too. Luckily, he was atop the English airfield control tower they’ve built here, so I didn’t have to ask him which one he was in “Fortune Cookie.” (Saw that twice too.)
Not ever having seen “Rat Patrol,” the only one of the cast I recognized was J.D. Cannon, who played the educated one in “Cool Hand Luke.” But he split after lunch (so much for movie nuts.)
The female lead (a WAC lieutenant, thank you) is played by a spotlessly pretty gal named Laraine Stephens — she’s the one in the shiny green heels; the lesser WACs have to wear those brown World War II clompers.
The main thin that strikes you is the surface pandemonium (the director and assistant director once yelled “action” at the same time. It was their first day of filming here, that’ll get sorted out.)
Next is the friendliness of everyone (except the sound truck man, but he was working hard and maybe had a bad lunch). The stars chat with anyone who’s introduced to them, and some who aren’t The director stops work to be nice. Even the producer, Lewis Rachmil, a vice president at Mirisch Corp. and associate producer of “Hawaii,” has time for everyone it seems.
Is it always so much fun? Is everyone always so friendly? One of the lesser WACs says she’s only been in a couple of movies, but it was the same then, she says.
They filmed four scenes the afternoon I was there:
1. A truck driving toward an old B17.
2. Gammon driving up in a jeep, jumping out, puffing his cigarette and striding into operations.
3. Gammon striding out of operations, puffing his cigarette and exchanging a few words with “spotlessly pretty.” Before driving off — about three feet.
4. Everyone on the flight line, Noam in his control tower (and all’s right with the world) while they count the planes returning from a raid: “16…17…18…the whole group, major” (ever seen that one before?)
The bits and pieces:
“Open the window.” It won’t open; it’s nailed. “Pull out the nails.” It won’t stay open. “Wedge it.” It’s wedged open.
“Take off those sunglasses.
You had them off in the last scene.”
“Get that white rag off that pole.”
“Who were the guys on the wing last time? Get back there.
Yes, the same two; its gotta be the same two.”
“Get some smoke out of those chimneys.” Comes smoke. “Action.”
They actually say “action” — and even “cut.”
Just like in the movies.

"1,000 Plane Raid" star Christopher George (left) on location at Santa Maria Airport. ©The Tribune/Jim Vestal.

“1,000 Plane Raid” star Christopher George (left) on location at Santa Maria Airport. ©The Tribune/Jim Vestal.

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