This page contains short reviews of aviation films and movies. All reviews so far were contributed by Rambo, who prefers to remain anonymous. However, I'll be happy to forward to him any comments you may have.
|Comments||Aviation Books||Richie's Home Page||Visted times since 3/97|
|Breaking the Sound Barrier||(1952- British)|
|The Battle of Britain||(1969)|
|The Dam Busters||(1954 - British)|
|The Flight of the Phoenix||(1966)|
|Fly Away Home||(1996)|
|The Great Santini||(1985)|
|Little Dieter Needs to Fly||(1997)|
|One of Our Aircraft is Missing||(1942 - British)|
|No Highway in the Sky||(1951)|
|The Right Stuff||(1983)|
|Spitfire||(British - 1942)|
|Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines||(1965 - British)|
|Things to Come||(1936 - British)|
|Thirty Seconds over Tokyo||(1944)|
|Twelve O'clock High||(1949)|
|Directed by:||David Lean|
|Starring:||Nigel Patrick, Ralph Richardson, Ann Todd|
A fictionalized account of the race to break the sound barrier in a manned aircraft. The sexism of an earlier age stands out as unintentionally funny in this quintessential 'right-stuff' film where devil-may-care, ex-RAF test pilots do what they must while their wives and sweethearts struggle to understand the meaning of it all. Nevertheless, the romance of aviation is as well represented here as in any other work. In a nice touch, Director Lean (best known for his epics 'the Bridge over the River Kwai' and 'Lawrence of Arabia') gives the vintage jet aircraft used in the production credits as if they had been part of the crew.
For an interesting and humorous aside, see 'The Right Stuff' by Tom Wolfe for the story of how 'Chuck' Yeager, the pilot who actually broke the sound barrier, had to contend with the legends established by this film.
|Directed by:||Michael Anderson|
|Starring:||Michael Redgrave, Richard Todd|
A fine drama that recounts the true story of how, during WWII, the RAF destroyed the major dams of the Ruhr valley in Germany using unique 'mines' that were 'skipped' across the waters of their reservoirs. Redgrave's portrayal of Barnes Wallis, the scientist who conceived the plan, is quite reminiscent of his characterization of the aging schoolmaster in 'The Browning Version' released three years earlier.
Be sure to view an uncut release. Shortened examples may delete some of the scenes where characters are developed, leaving a dry, semi-documentary in place of the drama that was meant to be. Obviously, Director Anderson sought, in an understated and very British manner, to celebrate the courage of those involved. Particularly moving is an interlude where pilots spend the last hours before the actual mission engaged in mundane pursuits that emphasize their humanity.
By the way, if you are especially 'politically correct', be forewarned, Guy Gibson, the pilot who led the mission, had, in real life, a black Labrador Retriever whose name was what has recently come to be known as the 'N-word'. Unfortunately, in an oversight that would not be possible in our era, no one thought to rename the animal in the film (although references to him have been over-dubbed in some versions intended for distribution in the United States).
|Directed by:||Robert Aldrich|
|Starring:||Richard Attenborough, Hardey Kruger, James Stewart|
The Phoenix, you will remember, is a mythical bird that was reborn from its own ashes. In this story, an oil-company cargo plane crashes in the desert. The survivors, desperate and grasping at straws, struggle to build a smaller plane from the wreckage, hoping that they can use it to fly to safety. Dramatic tension develops from the conflict between the pilot, played by Stewart, a broken-down old warhorse who flys by the seat of his pants, and an insufferably self-assured, Teutonic engineer, played by Kruger, who leads the salvage effort. Attenborough plays the navigator, a vulnerable and sensitive man who must assert himself to make peace between these two. Excellent supporting roles are created by a fine cast, including:
This is a real 'real-man' movie that has an extremely gritty, sweaty, unrelenting quality.
|Directed by:||Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger|
|Starring:||Eric Portman, Godfrey Tearle, Peter Ustinov and Googie Withers|
This is an account of the escapades of the members of a British bomber crew as they make there way back to England after being forced to bail out over Holland during a WW-II raid. Since their plane (known by its call-sign 'B for Bertie') is lost early in the action, there is not really too much aviation material. Nevertheless, you may wish to see it just to savor the thoroughly engaging style of its directors, the team of Powell and Pressburger. These guys have a way of making things that would seem stereotypical, outlandish or even bizarre, if done by someone else, work and work well. If you like this film, you might want to try their other works, particularly 'The Forty-Ninth Parallel', which is another fine wartime adventure story.
|Directed by:||Tony Scott|
|Starring:||Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, Meg Ryan and Tom Skerritt|
This film probably holds the record for the greatest number of derivative aviation-film cliches per minute of screen time. Cruise plays an archetypically aggressive young pilot who is sent by the Navy to its legendary 'Top Gun' fighter warfare school. There he lives up to his 'call-sign' (the nickname a pilot uses to identify himself over the radio), 'Maverick', by getting himself into endless trouble. Maverick, it seems, is tortured by self-doubt resulting from unfounded rumors that his old-man, a Navy pilot who died under mysterious circumstances during the war in Vietnam, did not have the 'right-stuff'. This angst is translated into all sorts of rebellious behavior (including the chronic 'buzzing' of airfield towers) which threatens to end his career. Nevertheless, his innate courage and skill make him a contender for first place in his class while his good looks and charm win him the affections of the stunningly beautiful Kelly McGillis, a civilian consultant with a PhD in astrophysics (I kid you not!). Then, tragedy strikes. 'Goose', the Radar-Interception-Officer (RIO) who flies with Maverick in his F-14 Tomcat (played by a pre-'ER' Anthony Edwards), is killed in a freak accident. Maverick is cleared of responsibility by a review-board and is forgiven by his partner's widow (Meg Ryan), but his vulnerable ego is wounded and he becomes pray to even greater concerns about his worth. Not to worry though, with the help of his friends and cohorts he survives and goes on to win glory in a climatic engagement with the aircraft of an unnamed Persian Gulf nation.
All this is presented without the leavening of any self-mocking humor. But, if taken with the proverbial 'grain of salt', it becomes good, clean escapist fun. The flying sequences, some of them filmed at the real Top-Gun school, are truly exciting. Also, special credit should be given to Edwards and Ryan who turn their supporting roles into an unexpectedly affecting portrait of a young couple in love.
|Directed by:||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Cast includes:||Van Johnson, Robert Mitchem, Phyllis Thaxter and Spencer Tracy|
In 1942, B-25 bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet attacked Tokyo. Although it did little damage, the raid, which was the brainchild of the legendary Lieutenant-Colonel 'Jimmy' Doolittle, had great propaganda value, for it showed the Japanese that their nation was not, as they had imagined, safe from aerial bombardment. This film is a fictionalized account of the mission as seen through the eyes of a young pilot played by Van Johnson.
While the story covers the preparation and execution of the raid and the subsequent heroic rescue of stranded aircrews by Chinese nationals, the focus is more on the main characters than the events, with much emphasis being given to their uniquely American values. However, to its credit, the film is less jingoistic in its presentation than many other wartime pieces. The men are allowed to express concern about the violent acts they will be called upon to perform and, when they are wounded, the camera does not shy away from recording their pain and fear.
|Directed by:||Henry King|
|Cast includes:||Dean Jagger, Gregory Peck|
At the start of the daylight-bombing campaign during WWII, an Army Air Force general, played by Peck, takes command of a squardron where there are severe morale problems. His uncompromising style provokes a conflict that jeopardizes his mission. However, due to the response of his adjutant and some key pilots, the situation is corrected. As the story progresses, each of the general's subordinates shows his true quality while he himself begins to exibit vulnerability. Finally, in an unexpected climax, their roles become reversed. Thus, in this very 'American' film, the democratic viewpoint on leadership is forcefully expressed.
While there is some 'Hoo-Rah' stuff here, with everyone being a really great guy once you get to know him and even the 'Padre' becoming infected with enough blood-lust to sneak a mission as a waist-gunner, there is also some real insight into the stresses that war produces. Particularly effective is an early scene where a young flyer is recommended for the highest of honors after his efforts result the safe return of an aircraft on which some truly horrific events have taken place. It is unlikely that the viewer will be able to avoid wondering how any human being could survive such an experience with his mind and soul intact.
|Directed by:||Philip Kaufman|
|Cast includes:||Mary Jo Deschanel, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard|
In the book of the same name, author Tom Wolfe examined the mythic image of the pilot with brilliant insight and sly humor. Unfortunately, the attempt to translate his fascinating effort to film was not altogether successful. The subtlety of the written work is gone, replaced by broad humor that is far less thought provoking and, therefore, far less effective. Nevertheless, many will find this treatment of the background and history of the early phases of the space exploration program conducted by NASA to be of interest. Perhaps the best work is done by Harris and Deschanel who create excellent, sympathetic characterizations of astronaunt John Glenn and his wife Annie, portraying them as strong, decent people who cannot be corrupted by the politics, hype and materialism that surrounds them.
|Directed by:||Henry Koster|
|Cast includes:||Marlene Dietrich, Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns,|
|Naill MacGinnis, Kenneth More, Janette Scott, James Stewart|
In this film, Stewart plays a brilliant but eccentric British 'boffin' (technical wizard) who is sent by the aircraft company he works for to determine if the crash of a passenger aircraft was due to an arcane type of metal fatigue that he believes exists. On his way to the site of the disaster, in Canada, he discovers, to his horror, that the plane he is flying in is of the same type as the one that went down and that it has logged enough airtime to be at risk. He tries to warn the crew, but they cannot comprehend the reasons for his fears and insist on pressing forward. Finally, during a stopover at Gander he risks his reputation by disabling the aircraft. The remainder of the story concerns his efforts to justify his actions.
This is a strange work, somewhere between a fairy tale and a novel by Ayn Rand. Stewart's scientist is an other-worldly character (with an even more other-worldly daughter played by Janette Scott) whose combination of complete intellectual integrity and total social innocence inspires trust and loyalty in even the most worldly types including his manager at work (Hawkins), a famous actress (Dietrich) and an experienced stewardess (Johns). Yet, behind this child-like, distracted exterior there are obviously some reserves of the 'Right-Stuff'.
|Directed by:||Guy Hamilton|
|Cast includes:||Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Robert Shaw, Susannah York|
This is one of those elaborately produced war films, similar to such works as 'The Longest Day', 'Battle of the Bulge' and 'A Bridge Too Far', in which well-known actors and actresses play cameo roles as semi-fictionalized historical figures. Unfortunately, like so many of these 'docu-dramas', this one succeeds neither as a documentary nor as a drama. Both the history and the characterizations are so broadly done that they become hopelessly muddled. Nevertheless, the opus does have something to offer the pure aviation enthusiast: scene after scene in which the aerial combat of the era is reproduced with great authenticity (right down to the suicidaly cumbersome 'Vic' formations used by the RAF at the start of the war).
In one of the better moments, a group of Free Polish Air Force pilots slip the leash held by their British squardron leader and go 'neck or nothing' after a formation of German bombers. And you should know that this tradition of daring and courage, is, today, carried on by another heroic Polish aviator, none other than our host, the famous Richie Bielak. (Forgive me folks, but he wouldn't publish the review unless I put that in.)
(Hey, I never said that I wouldn't publish the review, I just wanted Rambo to mention the scene with the Polish pilots! Richie)
|Directed by:||Carroll Ballard|
|Cast includes:||Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin|
While many of its aerial sequences have an enchanting quality that makes human powered flight seem wonderfully natural and pleasant, some may find the film to be far too cute for its own good. Also, even accounting for 'willing suspension of disbelief', there is something disturbing about the suggestion that a parent would allow a child to pilot an Ultra-Light solo over such immense distances. Please kids, don't try this at home!
|Directed by:||John Carpenter|
|Directed by:||Werner Herzog|
|Cast includes:||Diter Dengler|
|Directed by:||Ken Annakin|
|Cast includes:||Jean-Pierre Cassel, James Fox, Gert Frobe, Sara Miles, Robert Morley, Terry Thomas, Alberto Sordi and Stuart Whitman|
The earliest days of aviation, when it was a sport for enthusiastic amateurs as yet unspoiled by association with war, are invoked in this burlesque account of the first London-to-Paris air race that took place in 1910. Those interested in aircraft of the period will undoubtedly find the recreations used in the film fascinating. Unfortunately, the rest of its contents does not soar along with them. In fact, despite the efforts of an huge cast of internationally known funny-men, it labors along rather ponderously, weighed down, as it were, by a predictable story line and characterizations that consist largely of unimaginative national stereotypes (the diffident English diletante, the feisty little Frenchman, the pompous German automaton, the extravagant Italian with a huge family, etc., etc., etc.).
A point of interest: at the end of the film the narrator notes that the flight that took 25 hours and 11 minutes in 1910 can now be made in about 7 minutes. To emphasize this, jets are seen roaring overhead. They are visible, in silhouette, for just a few seconds, but, judging from the shape of their wings, they appear to be British-Electric Lightenings (affectionately known as 'flying file-cabinets').
|Directed by:||Lewis Carlino|
|Cast includes:||Blythe Danner, Robert Duvall, Theresa Merritt, Michael O'Keefe, Lisa Persky, Stan Shaw|
|Directed by:||Leslie Howard|
|Cast includes:||Leslie Howard, David Niven|
|Directed by:||William Menzies|
|Cast includes:||Edward Chapman, Cedric Hardwicke, Raymond Massey,|
|Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Ann Todd|
At the start of the work, aviation is shown as a horrific instrument of wartime aggression. A nightmare sequence in which a city is bombed by by an all but unseen enemy, reflected the fear of air warfare prevalent at the time the film was made. This fear was so strong that some scholars believe it contributed to the rise of Hitler by fostering, on the part of the allies, the policy of appeasement.
Later, in an England where culture has been set back to a medieval level by decades of warfare, aviation is presented quite differently when an emissary from a part of the world where technology has been preserved arrives in an airplane (wearing a futuristic costume with an immense helmet that is clearly meant to emphasize the importance of intellect in the role he plays). When asked, by a local warlord, who he is, he answers cryptically 'Wings Over the World' and then sets about the work of restoring civilization. Here then, aviation has become the symbol of the constructive power of science.
Finally, in a world made wonderful by advanced technology, aviation takes on another role when a dangerous mission to orbit the moon is used to frame the argument that knowledge is, quite literally, worth dying for. Now, flight represents the inspirational, as opposed to the practical, role of science.
Viewed from our perspective in an age of 'techno-stress', Well's faith in the ultimate benefits of science and technology may seem naive. Certainly his ideas are set forth in a manner that seems, at times, simplistic and pontificating. Nevertheless, the film is absolutely worth seeing. The ensemble cast of first-rate British actors turn in solid (though occasionally 'hammy') performances. Also, the production values and special effects are so beautifully integrated with the themes being presented that, though archaic by the standards of the post 'Star-Wars' cinema, they have far more impact than much of the meaningless glitz we are exposed to today.