Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines; or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes


2h 32m 1965

Brief Synopsis

An international air race is threatened by sabotage.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Adventure
Release Date
1965
Production Company
Ken Annakin
Location
England, United Kingdom; France

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 32m
Sound
4-Track Stereo (35 mm prints), 70 mm 6-Track (Westrex Recording System) (70 mm prints)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1

Synopsis

In 1910, Lord Rawnsley, a wealthy and influential newspaper publisher, sets out to prove that Britannia rules the air as well as the sea by sponsoring the first International Air Race from London to Paris. Although he invites flyers from all over the world to compete for the prize of £10,000, Lord Rawnsley clearly expects the winner to be Richard Mays, his daughter Patricia's intended bridegroom and a young Royal Navy lieutenant. Among the other entrants who converge at Brookley Airdrome with their fragile flying machines are Orvil Newton, an American barnstormer who almost immediately begins competing with Mays for Patricia's affections; Count Emilio Ponticelli, a fearless Italian who brings along his large family; Colonel Manfred von Holstein, a German cavalry officer intent upon bringing glory to the fatherland; Pierre Dubois, an amorous Frenchman bedeviled by six beautiful look-alike girls; Yamamoto, an "inscrutable" Japanese; and Sir Percy Ware-Armitage, a villainous Englishman who proves to be remarkably adept at sabotaging his rivals' aircraft. Once the race across the English Channel begins, mishaps occur with startling regularity. Inventor Harry Popperwell discovers that his plane only works in reverse, and he vanishes in a backward direction towards Scotland; Sir Percy's skulduggery causes Yamamoto's plane to crash-land upon takeoff; von Holstein plunges headlong into a drainage pond; and Sir Percy himself, after sneaking his plane across the Channel at night, lands on top of a train just as it is heading into a tunnel. Eventually the contest narrows down to three possible winners: Ponticelli, Mays, and Newton. But Ponticelli's plane catches fire (more of Sir Percy's sabotage) and Newton delays to effect a midair rescue, thereby permitting Mays to win the race. Lord Rawnsley's glee quickly turns to dismay when the ethical Mays insists upon sharing his prize with his American rival. Newton, however, has no intention of sharing his prize--the fair Patricia--with his British rival.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Adventure
Release Date
1965
Production Company
Ken Annakin
Location
England, United Kingdom; France

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 32m
Sound
4-Track Stereo (35 mm prints), 70 mm 6-Track (Westrex Recording System) (70 mm prints)
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Writing, Screenplay

1966
Ken Annakin

Articles

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) - Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines


The stars of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) are the flying machines. The spidery, spindly line drawings of Ronald Searle lose no time casting their aptly precarious-looking spell over the opening credits of this saga about a 1910 London-to-Paris air race. Even though liftoff isn't literally achieved until the film is far past the halfway point, the film ends up exerting an improbable appeal that stems directly from its fleet of restored and replicated single, double and triple-winged aircraft with names like Deperdussin, Blackburn, Ornithopter, Demoiselle and the like. It's the Boxkite that is perhaps most evocatively named. Although the planes have engines, they indeed suggest glorified kites, held together with paper, cloth and thin wooden struts. We suspend our breath at the sight of their fragility. Beautiful in their evanescence, they are man-made mayflies of the sky.

Like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965) and Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), it's very much of a time when movies were trying to fight back against television with bigness and wideness, and in the case of Magnificent Men, lots of sky. Fox's sense of bigness included a determination to not take a back seat to competing studios when it came to padding the cast with international stars, too, the better to sell the film globally. The men are not exactly magnificent. They're not exactly men, either. They're unmitigated stereotypes, although for a film as poky as it sometimes is, their enthusiasm and professionalism is jaunty enough to help entice us when the planes (and a stunning array of vintage cars!) are off camera.

That the film should tack on a subtitle: How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes, is indicative of its essential overload (its 140 minute running time included an intermission break). Its mission is to divert us during the times when not much is happening. This it does starting with the character of a well-heeled press lord played by Robert Morley in a way that lightly caricatures all those roles that made him synonymous with harrumphing pomposity, quivering like a jelly with self-righteous indignation. He readily enough comes up with the 10,000-pound purse for the winner, and is quite prepared to give his daughter away to a stuffy Coldstream Guards suitor (James Fox) seemingly more interested in wooing him than her. As embodied by Sarah Miles, she's something of a Shavian New Woman, an ardent suffragette who rides a motorcycle and wants nothing more than to fly, but is forbidden by her father and her military fiancé who shrinks from kissing her, saying, "I'm in uniform."

So, not so much a plot as merely a pretty thin pretext here, with a sexual subtext that includes Miles falling for Stuart Whitman's aw-shucks American cowpoke and barnstorming aviator who's all too willing to whisk her and her fearlessness of flying up into the wild blue yonder. Miles and Whitman also take turns becoming accidentally separated from skirt and trousers, respectively, allowing them to go through the motions of acting mortified as the attraction deepens. Clearly the main event is going to come down to Whitman's cowboy versus Fox's redcoat. Another Brit (Terry-Thomas, that gap-toothed farceur and mainstay of mid-century British comedy) adds to the mix as he tries to cheat and sabotage his way to victory. The other contestants represent the global spectrum (or at least that part of it that bought film tickets in sizable numbers), but are clearly just along for the ride, dragging their various national stereotypes behind them. Yujiro Ishihara flies the prettiest plane, festooned with Japanese prints, and speaks with an impeccable (if dubbed) English accent, but is one of the first to drop out. Jean-Pierre Cassel brings insouciant charm to the French entrant who's never so bent on breaking speed records that he can't stop for a figurative (or on two occasions literal) roll in the hay with a succession of women (all played by Irina Demick) as its way of kidding its kidding of the amorous Frenchman cliché. Gert Frobe, Goldfinger himself, turns up as a Prussian colonel oom-pah-pahing his way into a plane he never has flown. His unswerving belief that all he needs to do is follow the Kaiser's book of instructions works well enough, until a gull knocks it off his windshield. Earlier, in a tangential episode, his pickelhaube (the spike on his iron helmet) punctures a balloon he's piloting, reminding us, as he and this film so often do, that getting aloft is one thing, and staying aloft is quite another.

Danger never enters the minds of these pilots who, when forced to land, are seldom faced with any difficulty a refueling, a monkey wrench and a push can't put right. Alberto Sordi, as a rich Italian count whose dashing panache is damped by his wife and brood of bambini, enjoys the most inventive recovery, thanks to a mother superior played in a cameo by Flora Robson. Part of the fun here is watching this or that mainstay in small roles - Eric Sykes as the cheating aristo's henchman, Benny Hill as the head of a Keystone Kops-like fire brigade that never puts out any fires, chiefly because so many flight trajectories gone wrong end up plunging into a nearby swamp filled with sewage. Still, the pilots' blithe daring helps the film put a bright sheen on the newness, excitement and novelty of manned flight.

Its sunny disposition gets the film past its clumsiness and intermittent lack of propulsion. The airborne race segment - in which the skies are thick with the authenticity and poetry of restored and replicated period planes - more than compensates for most of the labored gyrations that precede it, especially the obligatory, but in this case more perfunctory than usual love story. Listening to the frequently enlightening commentary by director Ken Annakin on the DVD somehow makes the usual blue-screen shots during the episodes of cockpit crises more savory, and it supersedes what was going to be this commentator's observation that the Miles-Whitman pairing lacked chemistry. This, Annakin makes clear, would have been a grievous understatement. They had chemistry, but the wrong kind. By the end of shooting their on-set blowups and mutual antipathy resulted in neither looking at the other off-camera, much less conversing.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines also marks the last film appearances of Red Skelton. He appears in a prologue as a Neanderthal man and a string of descendants in various unsuccessful attempts at flight and again in an epilogue as a modern traveler stuck in an airport waiting room during a flight delay from London to Paris. It's unnecessary, but you're glad it's there. The same can often be said of the main event. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines should have crash-landed. But somehow it doesn't, even today. And it's vintage plane and car nirvana.

by Jay Carr

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965) - Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) - Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

The stars of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) are the flying machines. The spidery, spindly line drawings of Ronald Searle lose no time casting their aptly precarious-looking spell over the opening credits of this saga about a 1910 London-to-Paris air race. Even though liftoff isn't literally achieved until the film is far past the halfway point, the film ends up exerting an improbable appeal that stems directly from its fleet of restored and replicated single, double and triple-winged aircraft with names like Deperdussin, Blackburn, Ornithopter, Demoiselle and the like. It's the Boxkite that is perhaps most evocatively named. Although the planes have engines, they indeed suggest glorified kites, held together with paper, cloth and thin wooden struts. We suspend our breath at the sight of their fragility. Beautiful in their evanescence, they are man-made mayflies of the sky. Like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965) and Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), it's very much of a time when movies were trying to fight back against television with bigness and wideness, and in the case of Magnificent Men, lots of sky. Fox's sense of bigness included a determination to not take a back seat to competing studios when it came to padding the cast with international stars, too, the better to sell the film globally. The men are not exactly magnificent. They're not exactly men, either. They're unmitigated stereotypes, although for a film as poky as it sometimes is, their enthusiasm and professionalism is jaunty enough to help entice us when the planes (and a stunning array of vintage cars!) are off camera. That the film should tack on a subtitle: How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes, is indicative of its essential overload (its 140 minute running time included an intermission break). Its mission is to divert us during the times when not much is happening. This it does starting with the character of a well-heeled press lord played by Robert Morley in a way that lightly caricatures all those roles that made him synonymous with harrumphing pomposity, quivering like a jelly with self-righteous indignation. He readily enough comes up with the 10,000-pound purse for the winner, and is quite prepared to give his daughter away to a stuffy Coldstream Guards suitor (James Fox) seemingly more interested in wooing him than her. As embodied by Sarah Miles, she's something of a Shavian New Woman, an ardent suffragette who rides a motorcycle and wants nothing more than to fly, but is forbidden by her father and her military fiancé who shrinks from kissing her, saying, "I'm in uniform." So, not so much a plot as merely a pretty thin pretext here, with a sexual subtext that includes Miles falling for Stuart Whitman's aw-shucks American cowpoke and barnstorming aviator who's all too willing to whisk her and her fearlessness of flying up into the wild blue yonder. Miles and Whitman also take turns becoming accidentally separated from skirt and trousers, respectively, allowing them to go through the motions of acting mortified as the attraction deepens. Clearly the main event is going to come down to Whitman's cowboy versus Fox's redcoat. Another Brit (Terry-Thomas, that gap-toothed farceur and mainstay of mid-century British comedy) adds to the mix as he tries to cheat and sabotage his way to victory. The other contestants represent the global spectrum (or at least that part of it that bought film tickets in sizable numbers), but are clearly just along for the ride, dragging their various national stereotypes behind them. Yujiro Ishihara flies the prettiest plane, festooned with Japanese prints, and speaks with an impeccable (if dubbed) English accent, but is one of the first to drop out. Jean-Pierre Cassel brings insouciant charm to the French entrant who's never so bent on breaking speed records that he can't stop for a figurative (or on two occasions literal) roll in the hay with a succession of women (all played by Irina Demick) as its way of kidding its kidding of the amorous Frenchman cliché. Gert Frobe, Goldfinger himself, turns up as a Prussian colonel oom-pah-pahing his way into a plane he never has flown. His unswerving belief that all he needs to do is follow the Kaiser's book of instructions works well enough, until a gull knocks it off his windshield. Earlier, in a tangential episode, his pickelhaube (the spike on his iron helmet) punctures a balloon he's piloting, reminding us, as he and this film so often do, that getting aloft is one thing, and staying aloft is quite another. Danger never enters the minds of these pilots who, when forced to land, are seldom faced with any difficulty a refueling, a monkey wrench and a push can't put right. Alberto Sordi, as a rich Italian count whose dashing panache is damped by his wife and brood of bambini, enjoys the most inventive recovery, thanks to a mother superior played in a cameo by Flora Robson. Part of the fun here is watching this or that mainstay in small roles - Eric Sykes as the cheating aristo's henchman, Benny Hill as the head of a Keystone Kops-like fire brigade that never puts out any fires, chiefly because so many flight trajectories gone wrong end up plunging into a nearby swamp filled with sewage. Still, the pilots' blithe daring helps the film put a bright sheen on the newness, excitement and novelty of manned flight. Its sunny disposition gets the film past its clumsiness and intermittent lack of propulsion. The airborne race segment - in which the skies are thick with the authenticity and poetry of restored and replicated period planes - more than compensates for most of the labored gyrations that precede it, especially the obligatory, but in this case more perfunctory than usual love story. Listening to the frequently enlightening commentary by director Ken Annakin on the DVD somehow makes the usual blue-screen shots during the episodes of cockpit crises more savory, and it supersedes what was going to be this commentator's observation that the Miles-Whitman pairing lacked chemistry. This, Annakin makes clear, would have been a grievous understatement. They had chemistry, but the wrong kind. By the end of shooting their on-set blowups and mutual antipathy resulted in neither looking at the other off-camera, much less conversing. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines also marks the last film appearances of Red Skelton. He appears in a prologue as a Neanderthal man and a string of descendants in various unsuccessful attempts at flight and again in an epilogue as a modern traveler stuck in an airport waiting room during a flight delay from London to Paris. It's unnecessary, but you're glad it's there. The same can often be said of the main event. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines should have crash-landed. But somehow it doesn't, even today. And it's vintage plane and car nirvana. by Jay Carr

Quotes

Step one: sit down.
- Colonel Manfred von Holstein
There is nothing a German officer cannot do.
- Colonel Manfred von Holstein
It is a pity that the race will now be won by a Protestant.
- Count Emilio Ponticelli
A Protestant? Sisters, don't stand there gazing. This good Catholic needs our help!
- Mother Superior

Trivia

Director and co-writer Ken Annakin had been working on an adventure film about transatlantic flight, when the producer's bankrutpcy aborted the production. He then made this film.

The 1910-era airplanes used in the film were replicas built using the authentic materials of the originals, but with slightly more powerful engines. About 20 planes were built at a cost of about 5,000 pounds each.

Most of the aerial scenes were filmed before 10 am each day when the air was least turbulent.

Yujiro Ishihara's voice is dubbed by James Villiers.

Michael Trubshawe's character is addressed by Robert Morley as "Niven". Michael Trubshawe and David Niven were very close friends from when they were at Sandhurst together and David Niven would call uncredited characters in his films "Trubshawe". In "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines" this was Michael Trubshawe's way of returning the compliment.

Notes

Copyright length: 152 min. Filmed in Great Britain and France. London opening; June 3, 1965; running time: 132 min.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 16, 1965

Released in 35mm and 70mm prints.

Todd-AO

Released in United States Summer June 16, 1965