One of Our Aircraft Is Missing

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One of Our Aircraft is Missing
One of Our Aircraft poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Starring Godfrey Tearle
Eric Portman
Hugh Williams
Bernard Miles
Hugh Burden
Emrys Jones
Googie Withers
Pamela Brown
Cinematography Ronald Neame
Edited by David Lean
Distributed by Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors
Release dates
  • 27 June 1942 (1942-06-27)
Running time
UK: 102 minutes
US: 82 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £70,000 (est.)
Box office $478,939 (US rentals)[1]

One of Our Aircraft is Missing is a 1942 British war film, the fourth collaboration between the British writer-director-producer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the first film they made under the banner of The Archers. Although considered a wartime propaganda film, and made under the authority of the Ministry of Information as part of a series of film productions specifically aimed at morale in the United Kingdom, the story and production values elevated it from the usual jingoistic fare.[2] Today, One of Our Aircraft is Missing is considered[by whom?] one of the "best of British films of the era."[3]

A reversal of the plot of Powell and Pressburger's previous film, 49th Parallel (1941), One of Our Aircraft is Missing has the British trying to escape with the help of various local people. In the 49th Parallel, the Germans stranded in Canada argued and fought amongst themselves, while the British fliers in this film work well together as a team.

Plot[edit]

"B for Bertie" is an RAF Vickers Wellington bomber whose crew was forced to bail out over the Netherlands near the Zuider Zee after one of their engines was damaged during a nighttime raid on Stuttgart. Five of the six airmen find each other; the sixth goes missing. The first Dutch citizens they encounter, led by English-speaking schoolteacher Else Meertens (Pamela Brown), are suspicious at first as no aircraft is reported to have crashed in the Netherlands (the abandoned bomber actually reaches England before hitting a pylon). After much debate and some questioning, the Dutch agree to help, despite their fear of German reprisals.

Accompanied by many of the Dutch, the disguised airmen, led by the pilots (Hugh Burden and Eric Portman), bicycle through the countryside to a football match where they are passed along to the local burgomeister (Hay Petrie). To their bemusement, they discover their missing crewman playing on one of the teams. Reunited, they hide in a truck carrying supplies to Jo de Vries (Googie Withers).

De Vries pretends to be pro-German, blaming the British for killing her husband in a bombing raid (whereas he is actually in England working as a radio announcer). She hides them in her mansion, despite the Germans being garrisoned there. Under cover of an air raid, she leads them to a rowing boat. The men row undetected to the sea, but a bridge sentry finally spots them and a shot seriously wounds the oldest man, Sir George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle). Nevertheless, they reach the North Sea. They take shelter in a German rescue buoy, where they take two shot-down enemy aviators prisoner, but not before one sends a radio message. By chance, two British boats arrive first. Because Corbett cannot be moved, they simply tow the buoy back to England. Three months later, he is fully recovered, and the crew board their new four-engine heavy bomber.

The attitude of the Dutch people towards the Nazi occupation is exemplified by two Dutch women who help the airmen at great personal risk to themselves and these explain why the Dutch were willing to help Allied airmen even though those same airmen were sometimes dropping bombs on the Netherlands and killing Dutch people:

Else Meertens: Do you think that we Hollanders who threw the sea out of our country will let the Germans have it? Better the sea.


Jo de Vries: [Speaking to the downed aircrew as RAF bombers approach]
You see. That's what you're doing for us. Can you hear them running for shelter? Can you understand what that means to all the occupied countries? To enslaved people, having it drummed into their ears that the Germans are masters of the Earth. Seeing those masters running for shelter. Seeing them crouching under tables. And hearing that steady hum night after night. That noise which is oil for the burning fire in our hearts.[4]

Cast[edit]

As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):[5]

Actor Role
Hugh Burden John Glyn Haggard, pilot of B for Bertie
Eric Portman Tom Earnshaw, second pilot
Hugh Williams Frank Shelley, observer/navigator
Emrys Jones Bob Ashley, wireless operator
Bernard Miles Geoff Hickman, front gunner
Godfrey Tearle Sir George Corbett, rear gunner
Googie Withers Jo de Vries
Joyce Redman Jet van Dieren
Pamela Brown Else Meertens
Peter Ustinov Priest
Alec Clunes Organist
Hay Petrie Burgomaster
Roland Culver Naval Officer
David Ward First German Airman
Robert Duncan Second German Airman
Selma Vaz Dias Burgomaster's wife (as Selma Van Dias)
Arnold Marlé Pieter Sluys
Robert Helpmann De Jong
Hector Abbas Driver
James B. Carson Louis
Willem Akkerman Willem
Joan Akkerman Maartje
Peter Schenke Hendrik
Valerie Moon Jannie
John Salew German Sentry
William D'Arcy German Officer
Robert Beatty Sgt. Hopkins
Michael Powell
(taking a turn as an actor)
Despatching Officer
Stewart Rome Cmdr. Reynold

Production[edit]

The title "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" is taken from a phrase that was often heard in contemporary news reports in the UK after a bombing raid, "one [or often more] of our aircraft failed to return", which originally served as the working title of the screenplay but was then altered to a less-downbeat form.[2] Although the screenplay was not completely developed by the time of production, Powell considered it "half-finished ... it remained (that way) for most of the production."[2] One of the reasons for continual revisions to the screenplay were the constant advances in wartime technology that were occurring. The Admiralty informed the producers and directors of the use of "lobster pots," floating steel platforms, hitherto unknown to the public, that had been anchored in the North Sea to facilitate rescue of downed airmen. When Powell learned of this innovation, he pointedly rewrote the screenplay to include this refuge as the means to deliver the crew to safety. With help from the Ministry of Information, permission to use these platforms was obtained.[6]

The actors that were gathered for the film included recognised stage and screen talents as well as newcomers such as Peter Ustinov making his film debut. Although mainly centred on male roles, Powell encouraged Pressburger to create a number of significant female characters. The result were strong, credible roles for both Pamela Brown and Googie Withers as female Dutch Resistance leaders.[7] The main leads, Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Emry Jones, Bernard Miles, and Godfrey Tearle, formed the crew of "B for Bertie" and introduced themselves and their characters' positions on board the bomber in a progressive sequence that was filmed, like most of the aircraft interiors, in a Vickers Wellington "shell" supplied by the RAF, that nonetheless had working features such as lighting and electrically powered turrets.[6]

A Vickers Wellington bomber, a type featured in the film

To maintain an aura of authenticity, actual RAF bombers on "ops" (operations) were filmed but the key aerial scenes of the bombing of Stuttgart, Germany was created using a large-scale model at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. The giant Wellington replica actually covered the entire studio floor and was rigged with lights and fitted for effects shots including explosions. On screen, the effect was striking and realistically duplicated the flight and bombing raid carried out at the start of the film.[8]

Much of the outdoor sequences set in the Netherlands were shot at Boston in Lincolnshire, with many of the town's landmarks visible, for example, Shodfriars Quay and the railway Swing Bridge. Their route of escape (SpakenburgOud LoosdrechtVinkeveenLeimuidenKatwijk), however, consisted of actual locales in the occupied country.

Notably, there is no scored music, Powell deliberately strove for "naturalism" relying on natural sounds that would be heard by the characters.[9]

The film was cut by 20 minutes for its original American release.[10]

Reception[edit]

The film received two Academy Award nominations, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, and Ronald Neame (photography) and C. C. Stevens (sound) for Best Effects, Special Effects.[11] Powell's nomination was the only Academy Award nomination he ever received in his career – Pressburger won an Academy Award for 49th Parallel and was nominated for The Red Shoes as well.[10]

One of Our Aircraft Is Missing joins other British war films as one of the most "well-remembered, accomplished and enjoyed" realist films of the period.[12]

In 2014 the film was included in a set of war film packaged together and sold to raise funds for The Royal British Legion veterans organization.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

The film is mentioned in the Dad's Army episode "The Lion Has Phones." When Lance-Corporal Jones tries to ring up GHQ, he mistakenly gets the cinema, whose operator tells him the film is on. There is a mention of Eric Portman and Googie Withers. A poster for the film is on display at the cinema.[14] Correspondingly, in the episode of Dad's Army, "Time on My Hands," Pike knows how to open a parachute because, he says, he's seen it done in One of Our Aircraft is Missing.[15]

A title in the form of "One of Our X Is Missing" has been used in film and other media as homage, parody, or to invoke a mood. Many of the times it is used, it isn't clear if it's a reference to the film or to the well known wartime phrase. Examples include: Jasper Fforde's 2011 novel One of our Thursdays is Missing; a Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "One of Our Planets Is Missing"; the final episode of the US television series Maverick, titled "One of Our Trains Is Missing"; the episode "One of Our Assemblymen is Missing" from the US sitcom Green Acres; the episode "Two of Our Weirdos Are Missing" from the US sitcom Laverne & Shirley; a 1991 text adventure game by Zenobi called One of Our Wombats is Missing; Hogan's Heroes episode "Some of Their Planes Are Missing" (and the phrase was often used in some form as a joke on the show); and a 1975 British comedy film titled One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, which included Peter Ustinov and Hugh Burden in the cast. They were also both in One of Our Aircraft Is Missing.

Cover of the DVD which shows one of the original pieces of artwork used in posters to promote the movie.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Macnab 1993, p. 163.
  2. ^ a b c Powell 1986, p. 388.
  3. ^ Dolan 1985, p. 63.
  4. ^ "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Memorable quotes." IMDb. Retrieved: 10 January 2010.
  5. ^ "One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) Full credits." IMDb. Retrieved: 18 May 2012.
  6. ^ a b Powell 1986, p. 390.
  7. ^ Arthur, Nigel. "...One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)." BFI Screenonline, 13 February 2012. Retrieved: 18 May 2012.
  8. ^ Powell 1986, p. 391.
  9. ^ Powell 1986, p. 389.
  10. ^ a b "'One of Our Aircraft is Missing'." britmovie.co.uk. Retrieved: 10 January 2010.
  11. ^ "The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners." oscars.org. Retrieved: 22 June 2013.
  12. ^ Clarke 2006, p. 78.
  13. ^ Robson, Leo (May 9, 2014). "Thelma Schoonmaker: the queen of the cutting room". FT Magazine. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  14. ^ Dad's Army Episode "The Lion Has Phones," 25 September 1969
  15. ^ Dad's Army Episode "Time on My Hands," 29 December 1972.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Aldgate, Anthony and Jeffrey Richards. Britain Can Take it: British Cinema in the Second World War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd Edition, 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0508-8.
  • Barr, Charles, ed. All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1986. ISBN 0-85170-179-5.
  • Clarke, James. War Films (Virgin Film Series). London: Virgin Books Ltd., 2006. ISBN 978-0-753510-940.
  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Macnab, Geoffrey. J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry. London: Routledge, 1993. ISBN 978-0-41507-272-4.
  • Murphy, Robert. British Cinema and the Second World War. London: Continuum, 2000. ISBN 0-8264-5139-X.
  • Powell, Michael. A Life in Movies: An Autobiography. London: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.

External links[edit]