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During the Korean War, Air Force test pilot Maj. Pike Yarnell and navigator Donald Beasley survive a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean, but before they can be rescued, they spend twelve days floating in a raft, during which Donald dies. Upon his return to America, Pike flies recklessly, forcing his superior, Col. Bert Wayne, to ground him and question his ongoing depression. Pike responds that he need only obey orders, not reveal his troubles, and then reluctantly agrees to attend Donald's memorial in Georgia. Inside the hangar, Pike is disturbed to find Donald's widow Christina, whose letter asking for details of the accident he has ignored. Christina now asks Pike to visit her and Donald's parents, Harley and Virginie, after the memorial, but he curtly refuses. That night, Pike combs through Donald's dog tags, will and photo of Christina, which he hides in his drawer, and recalls their first days on the raft: Donald, a troublemaking soldier whom Pike had been assigned to retrieve from Japan, made a navigational error that caused their crash but now denounces Pike for their troubles. Fearing that they will never be rescued, Donald attempts to kill himself by attracting a shark, obliging Pike to save his life. In the present, Pike's tormented memories keep him from sleeping. At the Beasley estate in Georgia on the day of the memorial, Harley encourages Christina to move out instead of staying on the secluded estate to care for Virginie, but Christina demurs. Virginie, who claims to be invalid in order to keep Christina close to her, later implies that her grief is stronger than Christina's, who was married to Donald for only six weeks before his death. At the memorial, Christina spots Pike, causing her to falter in her speech. Virginie, taking note of her discomfort, takes over the sermon, and her praise of her son's bravery prompts Pike to remember Donald's cowardly despair during their days on the raft. After the service, Donald's wild younger sister Pat approaches Pike, who takes her to the local soda shop to discuss the family. Pat senses Pike's attraction to Christina but still flirts with him, hoping to appear mature. At Virginie's insistence, Christina locates Pike and invites him home, and he urges her to admit that she, as well as her in-laws, want him to come. Meanwhile, Harley appeals to Virginie to "let go of" Donald, but she vows to obtain for her son the Congressional Medal of Honor, knowing this will require that Pike vouch for Donald's extreme heroism. To that end, she calls her father-in-law, congressman Vance Beasley, to invite him to visit and bribe Pike for to testify that Donald acted heroically. Christina, Pat and Pike show up for tea, at which Pike tries to deflect the family's questions about Donald's last days. Virginie maneuvers to be alone with Pike to ask him about Donald's valor, and when Christina later interrupts, Virginie's domineering attitude causes Christina to flee outside, followed by Pike. Taking refuge under a tree, they wonder what Virginie is scheming, and despite Pike's insulting assertion that Christina did not really love Donald, she asks him to stay in Georgia. Drawn to her, he consents, and the next day kisses her after a horseback ride. At dinner that night, Vance questions Pike about Donald. Pike once again recalls the days on the raft: Donald, half mad with thirst and fear, declares he married Christina only to defy his controlling mother, who despised Christina's lower social standing. Drawn out of his reverie by Vance's assertion that Donald should receive the Medal of Honor, Pike angrily responds that the award is given only to the most outstanding soldiers. Vance offers Pike money to testify, causing the major to leave in anger. Christina follows and pleads for him to forgive them, but Pike believes that she was complicit in Virginie's plan. In response, Christina wonders why Donald, a champion swimmer, drowned on the raft while Pike survived. Pike explodes in anger, stating that Donald did not deserve a Medal of Honor, Christina is letting Virginie make her "a living monument" to her son, and Donald married her only to spite his mother. When Christina runs to Virginie demanding the truth, the dowager proclaims that she was against the marriage because it took Donald away from her. Christina subsequently moves into Pike's hotel, where they apologize to each other. Over coffee, Christina reveals that though she loved Donald, he could never return her passion, and her guilt over "failing him" has caused her to remain ensconced with his family. Pike tries to hold back his feelings for Christina but, overwhelmed, kisses her. At the hotel entrance Pat informs them that the Beasleys await them inside, and they agree to confront them. When Christine lashes out at Virginie for destroying Donald, Virginie collapses and Christina rushes to her aid. Pike accuses her of feigning the collapse, and in response to Virginie's assertion that Donald loved only her, reveals that Donald did not drown. Although Pike then regrets his honesty and lies that he killed Donald, Christina urges him to tell the truth, and Pike recalls Donald's death: After eight days without water, Donald writes a will and, crazed, accuses Pike of having power over him because of the gun he carries. Disgusted, Pike hands Donald the gun, and although Donald considers shooting Pike, instead he kills himself. Pike now hands the will to Harley, admitting that since that day he has regretted giving Donald his gun. Christina embraces him but, when Virginie declares her intent to accuse Pike of murder if Christina leaves, Christina considers staying to save Pike from Virginie's vengeance. In response, Harley tells Virginie that he will leave her, taking Pat, if she persists, and shows her Donald's will, which proclaims his hatred for his mother. When Virginie breaks down in tears, finally vulnerable, Harley promises to help her move on. As Virignie returns his embrace, Christina turns to Pike.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||World premiere in Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL: 4 Feb 1959|
|Release Date:||1959||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Distributions Co:||Universal Pictures Co., Inc.|
|Sound:||Production Co:||Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.|
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