Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes - Directed by Ken Annakin, released June 16, 1965.

This beautifully photographed (in 70 mm Todd AO) aeroplane comedy is in the same vein as Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) but containing less story, though the long sections of outstanding aerial photography more than make up for it. There's also plenty of 1965-era comedy.

The Comedy

An international airplane race between London and Paris brings together an assemblage of broadly caricatured stereotypes, such as:

a. The German team which are mule-headed disciplinarians who do everything by the book, literally taking their flying manuals into the sky and attempting to learn the skill by this method (because they have not actually ever flown before, but as they keep telling everyone "a German officer can do anything").

b.The French team is led by a skirt-chasing pilot who is always chasing the same woman, though she has a different name and accent each time she appears (but is played by the same actress, Irina Demick).

c. The American team is led by a cowboy who is equipped to say "aw, shucks" frequently and will win over the British lead actress Sarah Miles (as Patricia Rawnsley, daughter of Lord Rawnsley, played by Robert Morley.)

d. The British lead pilot is a ridiculously prim and proper gentleman religiously dedicated to his London clubs, his aeroplane, and most of all his schedule.

e. The Italian pilot has a huge family, a wife named Sophia, and has emotional outbursts that seem to typically be of a magnitude out of proportion to the event itself.

But there are some jibes made at this catalog of stereotypes, for example the Japanese pilot in a plane festooned with dragons and donning a banzai headband when hitting the air, but speaking in a perfectly clipped British accent because he graduated from Oxford.

Benny Hill is throughout the film as a frenetic British fireman who works from a watch tower, keeping an eye on the airfield for trouble and sending out his fire truck which will then maneuver just like a Keystone Cops vehicle.

The Aeroplanes

The tale takes place circa 1910 or so, and the technology is a mixed-group of monoplanes, biplanes, triplanes and many other variations (many planes are original). Some of these antique airplanes look like giant box-kites with engines attached, and there is a prelude section to the film in black and white which gives a funny history of all the disastrous efforts at flight by humans over the ages (generally starring Red Skelton in these sections. In fact the movie ends with Skelton popping up again, stuck at a modern airport).

The simplicity of many of the designs demonstrate that it was a combination of human willingness to risk death, broad wingspans and small engines with enough horsepower that made it possible to conquer the air. The film emphasizes the sheer love of flying as another ingredient, with particular focus on Sarah Miles as a woman who drives her own motorcycle, unusual for 1910, and is determined to get into the air, even if it means defying her would-be husband and father (she is the one who ends up with the American by the end, probably because he gave her her first plane ride).

The Photography

The Todd AO 70 mm film is sharp, clear and captures the aerial views in an outstanding way. There is a well done transfer to Bluray by Twilight Time released in 2012 in a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Now commanding high prices, it can be had at amazon: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines [Blu-ray]

Original Page Oct 2015

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