Q Planes

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Q Planes
Q Planes poster.jpg
U.S. theatrical poster with title Clouds Over Europe
Directed by Tim Whelan
Arthur B. Woods
Produced by Irving Asher (producer)
Alexander Korda (executive producer)
Written by Brock Williams
Jack Whittingham
Ian Dalrymple
Starring Ralph Richardson
Laurence Olivier
Valerie Hobson
Irving Asher Productions
Denham Studios
Distributed by Columbia Pictures (UK/US)
Release dates 2 March 1939 (UK)
20 June 1939 (U.S.) as Clouds Over Europe
Running time 82 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Q Planes (1939), released in the United States by Columbia Pictures as Clouds Over Europe, is a British spy film directed by Tim Whelan and Arthur B. Woods starring Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and Valerie Hobson. The film was produced by Irving Asher with Alexander Korda as executive producer.[1] The name Q Planes may have been derived from the British "Q-ships" that were used as spy and armed merchant vessels in the First World War. The film was helmed by American director Tim Whelan (Sidewalks of London, and later, in 1940, co-director of The Thief of Bagdad) who was then in Britain working for Korda at Denham Studios.

Q Planes (or in its American guise, Clouds Over Europe) mixes the genres of spy thriller and comedy romance and was intended to be a star vehicle for Olivier, but Richardson dominates much of the screen with a sardonic take on a spy, either working for Scotland Yard or British Military Intelligence.[2] Released just months before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany in 1939, the film is a precursor to the "strongly nationalistic, anti-German films that would reach their zenith in Britain during the war years".[3]


Before the Second World War, advanced British aircraft prototypes carrying experimental and highly secret equipment being developed under government contract are regularly vanishing with their crews on their test flights. No one can deduce the problem, not even spymaster Major Hammond (Ralph Richardson) or his sister Kay (Valerie Hobson), a newspaper reporter who is working undercover in the works canteen used by the crews at the Barrett & Ward Aircraft Company.

At first Major Hammond is seen as an outsider at the aircraft factory, even by Mr. Barrett, the owner (George Merritt), but he soon finds a friend in a star pilot, Tony McVane (Laurence Olivier) who helps him try to unravel the case. Hammond becomes convinced that the company secretary at the factory, Jenkins (George Curzon), is a foreign agent and "mole", but Jenkins is killed by unseen gunmen before he can give up the names of his contacts.

The mystery remains unsolved when McVane returns to the aircraft factory, determined to make the next test flight. His aircraft, like the others, is brought down by a powerful ray beamed from the S.S. Viking, a mysterious salvage ship manned by a foreign crew. [N 1] Along with his aircraft, McVane and his flight crew are taken hostage on the ship, where he discovers many other missing airmen have suffered the same fate. Gathering up weapons, McVane leads the British survivors in an attempt to take control of the ship. Major Hammond learns the truth and directs a Royal Navy ship (HMS Echo) to come to their rescue.

In a short coda, Kay and McVane get together and Hammond learns, to his chagrin, that his longtime lady friend has married.


Airspeed Envoy


Period airports and aircraft including the Airspeed Envoy and de Havilland Tiger Moth are featured in the aerial scenes. The Brooklands racetrack, which also was an important aeronautical centre, was used as a backdrop for the aerial sequences on the ground.[4]


Considered a pre-war harbinger of a conflict with Germany and the role of spies in combating foreign agents, when screened in the United States, under the intriguing title of Clouds Over Europe, the film received a very positive review by Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times. Initially thinking the film may be a documentary, with newsreel footage of London starting the film, the scenes soon turn into "... one of the wittiest and pleasantest comedies that have come a capering to the American screen this season..."[5]Variety reviewers also considered it had a "...refreshing tongue-in-cheek attitude; whole thing is bright, breezy and flavorsome." [6]

The dapper character played by Richardson was reputedly the model for the character of John Steed in the 1960s television series The Avengers, according to Brian Clemens, one of its creators.[7]

Screenwriter Jack Whittingham later collaborated with Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory for a James Bond film screenplay about a hijacked aircraft that was used for the novel Thunderball and the film version.

Home release[edit]

The film was released on video by Carlton Home Entertainment in 1991, and on DVD in April 2007.



  1. ^ The nationality of the crew and agents aboard the S.S. Viking is unspecified, but can be presumed to be German.


  1. ^ Aldgate and Richards 1994, p. 79.
  2. ^ Spoto 1992, p. 207.
  3. ^ Bean, Kendra. "CMBA Movies of 1939 Blogathon: Q Planes." vivandlarry.com, 17 May 2011. Retrieved: 13 July 2011.
  4. ^ Albert, Walter. "A Movie Review by Walter Albert: Q Planes (1939)." Mystery File, 28 July 2009. Retrieved: 13 July 2011.
  5. ^ Nugent, Frank S. "Clouds over Europe (1939); The Screen in Review: Comedy Lifts Its Head Again in 'Clouds Over Europe' at the Music Hall." The New York Times, 16 June 1939.
  6. ^ "Q Planes (UK)." Variety, 1939.
  7. ^ Chapman 2002, p. 61.


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