The Sound Barrier
|The Sound Barrier|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Lean|
|Produced by||David Lean|
|Written by||Terence Rattigan|
|Music by||Malcolm Arnold|
|Editing by||Geoffrey Foot|
|Distributed by||London Films
British Lion Films
|Running time||118 minutes|
|Box office||£227,978 (UK)|
The Sound Barrier is a British 1952 film directed by David Lean. It is a fictional story about attempts by aircraft designers and test pilots to break the sound barrier. In the U.S. it was retitled Breaking the Sound Barrier. David Lean's third and final film with his wife Ann Todd was also his first for Alexander Korda's London Films, following the break-up of Cineguild. The Sound Barrier was a great box-office success, but it is now rarely seen (recently it has been released in both VHS and DVD home versions) and has become one of the least-known of Lean's films. It is also Lean's only venture into this type of genre.
The plot involves John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson), a wealthy owner of an aircraft company. Nigel Patrick plays test pilot Tony Garthwaite, a successful fighter pilot during the Second World War who is employed by Ridgefield after marrying Susan (Ann Todd), Ridgefield's daughter. Tensions between father and daughter are accentuated by Garthwaite's dangerous job of test flying.
The film explores the company's hopes for a new jet fighter, the "Prometheus", and the problems faced by the then-new jet aircraft in encountering the speed of sound, the so-called "sound barrier". In an attempt to break the sound barrier, Garthwaite crashes and is killed. Shocked at the death of her husband and her father's single-minded and heartless approach to the dangers his test pilots face, Susan walks out on her father and goes to live with Jess (Dinah Sheridan), the wife of Philip Peel (John Justin), another company test pilot. Ridgefield approaches Peel with the challenge of piloting his test aircraft. At the critical moment, Peel reverses his flight controls, allowing his plane to break the sound barrier.
Accepting that her father cared about those whose lives were lost in tests, Susan changes her plan of moving to London and takes her young son with her back to home and Sir John.
As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):
|Ralph Richardson||John Ridgefield|
|Ann Todd||Susan Garthwaite|
|Nigel Patrick||Tony Garthwaite|
|John Justin||Philip Peel|
|Denholm Elliott||Christopher Ridgefield|
|Joseph Tomelty||Will Sparks|
|Dinah Sheridan||Jess Peel|
|Jack Allen||Windy Williams|
|Anthony Snell||Peter Makepeace|
|Donald Harron||ATA officer|
The strong relationship to aviation history in The Sound Barrier has led to its being characterised as a "semi-documentary". The screenplay by playwright Terence Rattigan was loosely based on newspaper articles of the time, and bases some of its plotline on the real-life story of aircraft designer Geoffrey de Havilland and the loss of his son (Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr.), the de Havilland company's test pilot who died attempting to fly faster than sound in the DH 108.
Contrary to what is depicted in the film, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier was the Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager of the United States Air Force in 1947. However, the Bell X-1 was only able to achieve this thanks to an essential British contribution when the Air Ministry signed an agreement with the United States to exchange high-speed research and data. Miles M.52 Chief Aerodynamicist Dennis Bancroft stated that the Bell Aircraft company was given access to the drawings and research on the M.52, but the U.S. reneged on the agreement and no data was forthcoming in return. As described in his first biography, the film was entertaining, but not that realistic – and any pilot who attempted to break the sound barrier in the manner portrayed in the movie would have been killed. Control reversal, though accurate enough in this context, is not a legitimate aerodynamic technique: it is actually the result of insufficient tailplane stiffness, the elevators acting as though they were trim tabs twisting the tailplane to produce an aerodynamic effect opposite to that intended. Nevertheless, because the 1947 flight had not been widely publicized, many who had seen the film thought it a true story in which the first supersonic flight is made by British pilots. Subsequently although it was not British pilots that first broke the barrier it was British technology that allowed Yeager and the Bell X-1 to pass safely through the sound barrier.
Footage of early 1950s jet technology in Great Britain includes scenes of the de Havilland Comet airliner, the world's first jet passenger airliner. At the time the film was made, jet travel was being made available to the public for the first time in the form of the de Havilland Comet. In the film Tony Garthwaite (Patrick) flies Susan (Todd) from England to Egypt in a two-seater de Havilland Vampire, returning later the same day, a graphic illustration of the possibilities of the new jet technology.
- Winner Best Sound Recording – London Films
- Nominee Best story written directly for the screen (Terence Rattigan)
With this film, Ralph Richardson became the first actor to win the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor who did not also go on to win an Oscar nomination.
- Winner Best Film from any Source
- Winner Best British Film
- Winner Best British Actor (Ralph Richardson)
- Nominee Best British Actor (Nigel Patrick)
- Nominee Best British Actress (Ann Todd)
US National Board of Review
- Winner Best Actor (Ralph Richardson), Best Director, Best Foreign Film
New York Critics Circle
- Winner Best Actor (Ralph Richardson)
||This article uses bare URLs for citations, which may be threatened by link rot. (December 2013)|
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- Porter 2000, p. 498.
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