Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines
|Those Magnificent Men
in their Flying Machines,
Or How I Flew from London to Paris
in 25 Hours 11 Minutes
|Directed by||Ken Annakin|
|Produced by||Stan Margulies|
|Written by||Ken Annakin
|Music by||Ron Goodwin|
|Editing by||Anne V. Coates|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||138 minutes|
Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes is a 1965 British comedy film starring Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles and James Fox, directed and co-written by Ken Annakin.
Based on a screenplay titled Flying Crazy, the fictional account is set in 1910, when Lord Rawnsley, an English press magnate, offers £10,000 to the winner of the Daily Post air race from London to Paris, to prove that Britain is "number one in the air".
In 1910, just a few years after the first heavier-than-air flight, aircraft are fragile and unreliable contraptions, piloted by "intrepid birdmen". Ardent suffragette Patricia Rawnsley (Sarah Miles), the daughter of Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), a newspaper magnate, strives to become an aviatrix. Aviator Richard Mays (James Fox), a young Army officer, and (at least in his own eyes) Patricia's fiance, conceives the idea of an air race from London to Paris, to advance the cause of aviation (and his career), and persuades Lord Rawnsley to sponsor the race.
Rawnsley complains: "The trouble with these international affairs is they attract a lot of foreigners." Most of the contestants live up to national stereotypes, including the by-the-book, monocle-wearing Prussian officer (Gert Fröbe), impetuous Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi) whose test flights wreck one aircraft after another and amorous Frenchman Pierre Dubois (Jean-Pierre Cassel). In a recurring gag (suggested by Zanuck), Irina Demick plays a series of flirts: first, Brigitte (French), Marlene (German), Ingrid (Swedish), Françoise (Belgian), Yvette (Bulgarian), and Betty (British), pursued by the French pilot. Yujiro Ishihara is the late-arriving Japanese naval officer Yamamoto, whose perfect Etonian accent makes him sound more British than the British.
Echoing the rivalries between their respective nations, the contestants are pitted in an aerial competition that deteriorates into a ridiculous balloon duel between the German and French teams, and the nefarious actions of baronet Sir Percy Ware-Armitage (Terry-Thomas), an unscrupulous rogue who "never leaves anything to chance." With his bullied servant Courtney (Eric Sykes), he sabotages other aircraft or drugs their pilots, and cheats by shipping his aeroplane across the channel by boat. More complications occur when the rugged American cowboy Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman) falls for Patricia, forming a love triangle with her and Mays.
Fourteen competitors set out, but, one by one, they drop out or (like Ware-Armitage) crash, until only a few land in Paris. Newton loses his chance to win when he pauses to rescue Ponticelli from his burning aircraft. Mays wins for Britain, but insists on a tie with Newton and shares the prize with the now-penniless American. Orvil's and Patricia's final kiss is interrupted by a strange noise. Those at the flying field look up to see a flypast by six English Electric Lightning jet fighters overhead as the time period reverts to the "present" (1965).
- Stuart Whitman as Orvil Newton[N 1]
- Sarah Miles as Patricia Rawnsley
- James Fox as Richard Mays
- Alberto Sordi as Count Emilio Ponticelli
- Robert Morley as Lord Rawnsley
- Gert Fröbe as Colonel Manfred von Holstein
- Jean-Pierre Cassel as Pierre Dubois
- Irina Demick as Brigitte/Marlene/Ingrid/Françoise/Yvette/Betty[N 2]
- Red Skelton as Neanderthal Man, Roman birdman, Middle Ages inventor, Victorian-era pilot, Rocket pack inventor, Modern airline passenger
- Terry-Thomas as Sir Percy Ware-Armitage
- Eric Sykes as Courtney
- Benny Hill as Fire Chief Perkins
- Yujiro Ishihara as Yamamoto (voice dubbed by James Villiers)
- Dame Flora Robson as Mother Superior
- Karl Michael Vogler as Captain Rumpelstoss
- Sam Wanamaker as George Gruber
- Eric Barker as French postman
- Maurice Denham as Trawler skipper
- Fred Emney as Colonel
- Gordon Jackson as MacDougal
- Davy Kaye as Jean, Chief mechanic for Pierre Dubois
- John Le Mesurier as French painter
- Jeremy Lloyd as Lieutenant Parsons
- Zena Marshall as Countess Sophia Ponticelli
- Millicent Martin as Hostess
- Eric Pohlmann as Italian mayor
- Tony Hancock as Harry Popperwell (Aircraft Designer)
- Norman Rossington as Assistant Fire Chief
- Willie Rushton as Tremayne Gascoyne
- Michael Trubshawe as Niven, Lord Rawnsley's aide[N 3]
Director Ken Annakin had been interested in aviation from his early years when pioneering aviator, Sir Alan Cobham took him up in a flight in a biplane. Later in the Second World War, Annakin had served in the RAF when he had begun his career in film documentaries. In 1963, with co-writer Jack Davies, Annakin had been working on an adventure film about transatlantic flights when the producer's bankruptcy aborted the production. Fresh from his role as director of the British exterior segments in The Longest Day (1962), Annakin suggested an event from early aviation to Darryl F. Zanuck, his producer on The Longest Day.[N 4]
Zanuck financed an epic faithful to the era, with a £100,000 stake, deciding on the name, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines after Elmo Williams, managing director of 20th Century Fox in Europe, told him his wife had written an opening for a song that Annakin complained would "seal the fate of the movie":
Those magnificent men in their flying machines,
They go up up, Tiddley up, up,
They go down, Tiddley down, down.
After being put to music by Ron Goodwin, the "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" song, however, went on to a life of its own, released in singles and on the soundtrack record, and achieving a "number one" on the British hit parade.
An international cast plays the array of contestants with the film opening with a brief, comic prologue on the history of flight, narrated by James Robertson Justice and featuring American comedian Red Skelton. In a series of silent blackout vignettes that incorporate stock footage of unsuccessful attempts at early aircraft, Skelton depicted a recurring character whose adventures span the centuries. The early aviation history sequence that begins the film is followed by a whimsical animated opening credit sequence drawn by caricaturist Ronald Searle, accompanied by the title song.
Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines ... concludes as an epilogue in a fogbound 1960s London airport when cancellation of flights to Paris is announced. The narrator remarks that a jet can make the trip in minutes, with one frustrated passenger (Skelton again), starting wing-flapping motions with his arms, cutting back into the animation from the title sequence for the closing credits. This was Skelton's final feature film appearance; he was in Europe filming for the 1964–1965 season of his television series, The Red Skelton Show.
One of the strengths of the film was British and international character actors who enlivened the foibles of each contestant's nationality. The entertainment comes from the dialogue and characterisations and the aerial stunts, with heroism and gentlemanly conduct. Top British comedic actors, Benny Hill, Eric Sykes, Terry-Thomas and Tony Hancock, among others, provided madcap misadventures. While Terry-Thomas had a substantial leading role as a "bounder", Hill, Sykes and Hancock played lesser cameos. Although Hancock had broken his leg off-set, two days into filming, Annakin wrote his infirmity into the story, and his leg bound in a cast figured in a number of scenes.
A major distraction occurred when the two lead actors, Stuart Whitman and Sarah Miles, fell out early in the production. Director Ken Annakin commented that, after an ill-timed pass, "she hated his guts" and rarely deigned to speak to him if it was not part of the script. Annakin had to employ various manipulations in order to ensure the production proceeded smoothly despite his stars' animosity towards each other. By the end of filming, when additional scenes had to be redone, the two stars had reconciled and acted civilly towards each other.
Another aspect was the fluid writing and directing with Annakin and Davies feeding off each other. They had worked together on Very Important Person (1961), The Fast Lady (1962) and Crooks Anonymous (1962). Annakin and Davies continued to develop the script with zany interpretations. When the German character, Gert Fröbe, contemplates piloting his country's entry, he climbs into the cockpit and retrieves a manual. Annakin and Davies devised a quip on the spot, having him read out: "No. 1. Sit down." Although a comedy, elements of Annakin's documentary background were evident with authentic sets, props and costumes. More than 2,000 extras out in authentic costumes were in the climactic race launch which was combined with entrants in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run being invited on set as part of their 1964 annual run, an unexpected coup in gaining numerous period vehicles to dress the set.
The film used period accurate, life-size working aeroplane models and replicas to create an early 20th Century airfield, the Brookley Motor Racing Track (fashioned after Brooklands) where early aviators had staged test flights. All Brookley's associated trappings of structures, aircraft and vehicles (including a rare 1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, estimated to be worth 50 million dollars) were part of the exterior set at Booker Airfield, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England. The completed set featured a windmill as a lookout tower as well as serving as a restaurant (the "Old Mill Cafe"). The windmill used was at Turville, Buckinghamshire, close to Booker Airfield. In addition, the field adjacent to the windmill was used as the location for a number of aerial close-up shots of the pilots. Hangars were constructed in rows, bearing the names of real and fictional manufacturers: A.V. Roe & Co., Bristol: The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Humber, three Sopwith hangars, Vickers and Ware-Armitage Manufacturing CoY (sic) and Works. A grandstand was added for spectators.
When the production was unable to obtain rights to film main sequences over Paris, models of the aircraft and a miniature Parisian set played a prominent role in sequences depicting Paris. A mock-up of Calais was also constructed. Interior and studio sets at Pinewood Studios were used for bluescreen and special effects while exterior and interior footage of Rawnsley's Manor House were shot at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. Other principal photography used location shooting at Dover Castle, along with the cliffs and beaches in the area. The location where Sir Percy's aircraft lands on a train is the now closed line from Bedford to Hitchin. The tunnel into which they fly is the Old Warden Tunnel near the village of the same name in Bedfordshire; the tunnel had only recently been closed, and in the panning shot through the railway cutting, the cooling towers of the now demolished Bedford power station can be seen. The locomotive is former Highland Railway Jones Goods Class No 103. About 1910, French Railways built duplicates of a Highland Railway Class "The Castles" which were a passenger version of the Jones Goods.
Principal photography 
The film was photographed in 70 mm Todd-AO by Christopher Challis. Royal Air Force Air Commodore Allen H. Wheeler was head technical consultant during planning. Wheeler had previously restored a 1910-era Blériot with his son, and provided invaluable assistance in the restoration and recreation of period aircraft for the film.
The camera platforms included a modified Citroën sedan, camera trucks, helicopters and a flying rig constructed by Dick Parker. Parker had built it for model sequences in Strategic Air Command (1955). The rig consisted of two construction cranes and a hydraulically operated device to tilt and position a model, along with 200 ft (61 m) of cables. Parker's rig allowed actors to sit inside full-scale models suspended 50 ft (15 m) above the ground, yet provide safety and realism for staged flying sequences, with the sky realistically in the background. A further hydraulic platform did away with matte shots of aircraft in flight. The platform was large enough to mount an aircraft and Parker or stunt pilots could manipulate its controls for realistic bluescreen sequences. Composite photography was used when scenes called for difficult shots; these were completed at Pinewood Studios. Some shots were created with rudimentary cockpits and noses grafted to an Alouette helicopter. One scene over Paris was staged with small models when Paris refused an overflight. However, for the majority of flying scenes, full-scale flying film models were assembled.
The film is notable for reproductions of 1910-era aircraft, including a triplane, monoplanes, biplanes and also Horatio Phillips's 20-winged multiplane from 1904. Air Commodore Wheeler insisted on authentic materials but allowed the use of modern engines and modifications necessary to ensure safety. Of 20 types built in 1964 at £5,000 each, six could fly, flown by six stunt pilots and maintained by 14 mechanics. The race take-off scene where seven aircraft are in the air at once included a composite addition of one aircraft. Flying conditions were monitored carefully, with aerial scenes filmed before 10 am or in early evening when the air was least turbulent, for the replicas, true to the originals, were flimsy, and control, especially in the lateral plane, tended to be marginal. If the weather conditions were poor, interiors or other incidental sequences were substituted. Wheeler eventually served not only as the technical adviser but also as the aerial supervisor throughout the production, and, later wrote a comprehensive background account of the film and the replicas that were constructed to portray period aircraft.
The following competitors were listed:
- Number 1: Richard Mays, "Antoinette IV" (Aircraft number 8: flying replica)
- Number 2: Sir Percy Ware-Armitage, "Avro Triplane" (Aircraft number 12: flying replica)
- Number 3: Orvil Newton, "Bristol Boxkite", nicknamed "The Phoenix Flyer" and inaccurately referred to as a Curtiss (Aircraft number 7: flying replica)
- Number 4: Lieutenant Parsons, "Picaut Dubrieul" nicknamed "HMS Victory" (Aircraft number 4)
- Number 5: Harry Popperwell, "Little Fiddler" (Aircraft number 5)
- Number 6: Colonel Manfred von Holstein and Captain Rumpelstoss, "Eardley Billing Tractor Biplane" (Aircraft number 11: flying replica)
- Number 7: Mr Wallace. (Aircraft number 14)
- Number 8: Charles Wade. (Aircraft number unknown)
- Number 9: Mr Yamamoto, "Japanese Eardley Billing Tractor Biplane" (Aircraft number 1: duplicate flying replica)
- Number 10: Count Emilio Ponticelli, "Philips Multiplane", "Passat Ornithopter", "Lee Richards Annular Biplane" and "Vickers 22 Monoplane" (Aircraft number 2: flying replica)
- Number 11: Henri Monteux. (Aircraft number unknown)
- Number 12: Pierre Dubois, "Santos-Dumont Demoiselle" (Aircraft number 9: flying replica)
- Number 13: Mr Mac Dougall, "Blackburn Monoplane" nicknamed "Wake up Scotland" (Aircraft number 6: original vintage aircraft)
- Number 14: Harry Walton (no number assigned).
While each aircraft was an accurate reproduction, some "impersonated" other types. For instance, The Phoenix Flyer was a Bristol Boxkite built by F.G. Miles Engineering Co. at Ford, Sussex, representing a Curtiss biplane of 1910 vintage. Annakin had apparently expressed a desire to have a Wright Flyer in the film. The Bristol (a British derivative of the French 1909 Farman biplane) was chosen instead, because it shared a common general layout with a Wright or Curtiss pusher biplane of the era, and had an excellent reputation for tractability. For the impersonation, the replica had "The Phoenix Flyer" painted on its outer rudder surfaces and was also called a "Gruber-Newton Flyer" adding the name of its primary backer to the nomenclature; although the American pilot character, Orvil Newton inaccurately describes his aircraft to Patricia Rawnsley as a "Curtiss with an Anzani engine."
F. G. Miles, chiefly responsible for its design and manufacture, built the replica Bristol Boxkite with the original standard twin rudder installation and powered the replica with a 65 hp Rolls-Royce A65. In the course of testing, Air Commodore Wheeler had a third rudder inserted between the other two (as some original Boxkites had been modified) to improve directional control, and substituted a Rolls-Royce C90 that barely delivered the power of the original 50 hp Gnome rotary. The replica achieved a 45 mph top speed. The Boxkite was tractable, however, and the scene in the film when the aircraft loses a pair of main wheels just after take off but lands smoothly, was repeated 20 times for the cameras. In the penultimate flying scene, a stuntman was carried in the Boxkite's undercarriage and carried out a fall and roll (the stunt had to be repeated to match the principal actor's roll and revival). Slapstick stunts on the ground and in the air were a major element and often the directors requested repeated stunts; the stuntmen were more than accommodating; it meant more pay.
The Eardley Billing Tractor Biplane replica flown by David Watson appeared in two guises, in more or less authentic form, impersonating an early German tractor biplane, and also as the Japanese pilot's mount, modified with boxkite-like side curtains over the interplane struts, a covered fuselage, and colourful "oriental" decorations.
In addition to the flying aircraft, several unsuccessful aircraft of the period were represented by non-flying replicas – including contraptions such as an ornithopter (the Passat Ornithopter) flown by the Italian contender, the Walton Edwards Rhomboidal, Picaut Dubrieul, Philips Multiplane and the Little Fiddler (a canard, or tail-first design). Several of the "non-flying" types flew with the help of "movie magic". The Lee Richards Annular Biplane with circular wings (built by Denton Partners on Woodley Aerodrome, near Reading) "flew" better than its 1910 namesake, although the model was towed into the air.
The flying replicas were specifically chosen to be different enough that an ordinary audience member could distinguish them. They were all types reputed to have flown well, in or about 1910. In most cases this worked well, but there were a few surprises, adding to an accurate historical reassessment of the aircraft concerned. For example, in its early form, the replica of the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, a forerunners of today's ultralight aircraft, was unable to leave the ground except in short hops. Extending the wingspan and fitting a more powerful Ardem 50 hp engine produced only marginal improvement. When Doug Bianchi and the Personal Planes production staff who constructed the replica consulted with Alan Wheeler, he recalled that the Demoiselle's designer and first pilot, Alberto Santos-Dumont was a very short, slightly built man. A suitably small pilot, Joan Hughes, a wartime member of the Air Transport Auxiliary who was the Airways Flying Club chief instructor, was hired. With the reduced payload, the diminutive Demoiselle flew very well, and Hughes proved a consummate stunt flyer, able to undertake exacting manoeuvres.
In 1960, Bianchi had created a one-off Vickers 22 (Blériot type) Monoplane, using Vickers Company drawings intended for the Vickers Flying Club in 1910. 20th Century Fox purchased the completed replica although it required a new engine and modifications including replacing the wooden fuselage structure with welded steel tubing as well as incorporating ailerons instead of wing-warping. The Vickers 22 became the final type used by the Italian contestant. Sometime after the film wrapped, the Vickers was sold to a buyer in New Zealand. It is believed to have flown once, at Wellington Airport in the hands of Keith Trillo, a test pilot involved in a number of aircraft certification programmes, and is now at the Southward Car Museum, Otaihanga, New Zealand.
Peter Hillwood of Hampshire Aero Club constructed an Avro Triplane Mk IV, using drawings provided by Geoffrey Verdon Roe, son of A.V. Roe, the designer. The construction of the triplane followed A.V. Roe's specifications and was the only replica that utilised wing-warping successfully. With a more powerful 90 hp Cirrus II replacing the 35 hp Green engine that was in the original design, the Avro Triplane proved to be a lively performer even with a stuntman dangling from the fuselage.
The Antoinette IV film model closely replicated the slim, graceful monoplane that was very nearly the first aircraft to fly the English Channel, in the hands of Hubert Latham, and won several prizes in early competitions. When the Hants and Sussex Aviation Company from Portsmouth Aerodrome undertook its construction, the company followed the original structural specifications carefully, although an out-of-period de Havilland Gypsy I engine was used. The Antoinette's wing structure proved, however, to be dangerously flexible, and lateral control was very poor, even after the wing bracing was reinforced with extra wires, and the original wing-warping was replaced with ailerons (hinged on the rear spar rather than from the trailing edge, as in the original Antoinette). Nonetheless, even in its final configuration the Antoinette was marginal in terms of stability and lateral control and great care had to be taken during its flying sequences, most flights being, in fact, straight "hops".
The realism and the attention to detail in the replicas of vintage machines are a major contributor to the enjoyment of the film, and although a few of the "flying" stunts were achieved through the use of models and cleverly disguised wires, most aerial scenes featured actual flying aircraft. The few genuine vintage aircraft used included a Deperdussin used as set dressing, and the flyable 1912 Blackburn Monoplane "D" (the oldest genuine British aircraft still flying), belonged to the Shuttleworth Trust based at Old Warden, Bedfordshire. When the filming was completed, the "1910 Bristol Boxkite" and the "1911 Roe IV Triplane" were retained in the Shuttleworth Collection, Both replicas are still in flyable condition, albeit flying with different engines. For his role in promoting the film, the non-flying "Passat Ornithopter" was given to aircraft restorer and preservationist, Cole Palen who displayed it at his Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, New York, where it still exists and is on display in the 21st century.
Despite the reliance on flying stunts and their inherent danger, the one near-tragedy occurred on the ground when a stunt went wrong. Stuntman Ken Buckle inadvertently turned the throttle to full on a runaway motorcycle and sidecar, launching himself through the retaining wall on the sloped Brookley racing track and crashing into the adjoining cesspool, off-camera. Thinking quickly, the special effects man on the other side of the wall saw the motorbike hurtling towards him and set off the accompanying explosion, creating a realistic waterspout. Lucky to escape with only facial bruises and a dislocated collarbone, as he struggled to his feet, Buckle apologized for having messed up, but the shot "was in the can".
During the promotional junkets accompanying the film in 1965, a number of the vintage aircraft and film replicas used in the production were flown in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The pilots who had been part of the aerial team readily agreed to accompany the promotional tour in order to have a chance to fly these aircraft again.
Contemporary reviews judged Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines ... as "good fun", and even the usually hyper-critical The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther was effusive in that the film was a good-natured "large-canvas" comedy with costumes, authentic-looking props and good character acting. Variety had a similar reaction: "As fanciful and nostalgic a piece of clever picture-making as has hit the screen in recent years, this backward look into the pioneer days of aviation, when most planes were built with spit and bailing wire, is a warming entertainment experience." When the film turned up on television for the first time in 1969, TV Guide summed up most critical reviews: "Good, clean fun, with fast and furious action, good cinematography, crisp dialogue, wonderful planes, and a host of some of the funniest people in movies in the cast."
Running at over two hours' length, Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines ... (most cinemas abbreviated the full title and it was eventually re-released with the shorter title) was treated as a major production, one of only three full-length 70 mm Todd-AO Fox releases in 1965 with an intermission and musical interlude spliced into the original screenings. Due to the Todd-AO process, Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines was considered an exclusive feature shown in deluxe Cinerama venues where customers needed reserved seats purchased ahead of time. Considered one of the most popular exemplars of the '60s "epic comedy" genre, it was an immediate box-office success, far out-grossing the similar car race comedy, The Great Race (1965) and even eclipsing the perennial favourite, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Audience reaction both in first release and even today, is nearly universal in assessing the film as one of the "classic" aviation films.
Awards and honours 
Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines was nominated and received awards in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The original screenplay written by Ken Annakin and Jack Davies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing Directly for the Screen (1966). The film was also nominated in the category of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written. At the 1966 Golden Globes, the film won Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy for Alberto Sordi, as well as being nominated in Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy and Most Promising Newcomer – Male for James Fox. Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines went on to win 1966 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTA) for Best British Costume (Colour), winners: Osbert Lancaster and Dinah Greet, Best British Art Direction (Colour), winner: Thomas N. Morahan and Best British Cinematography (Colour), winner: Christopher Challis. The film also was nominated for Best Comedy in the 1966 Laurel Awards where it was awarded a fourth place finish.
The success of the film prompted Annakin to write (again with Jack Davies) and direct another race film, Monte Carlo or Bust! (1969), this time involving vintage cars, with the story set around the Monte Carlo Rally.[N 5] Ron Goodwin composed the music for both films.
- Whitman, the American lead, was selected over the first choice, Dick Van Dyke, whose agents never contacted him about the offer.
- Irina Demick was rumoured to be romantically involved with Zanuck, who had campaigned for her casting.
- Character actor Michael Trubshawe and David Niven served together in the Highland Light Infantry in the 1930s; they made it a point to refer to uncredited characters in their films as "Trubshawe" or "Niven" as an inside joke.
- Annakin was born in 1914, just as the era of aviation depicted in this film was ending, and although the film is a farce, the behaviour of the various aviators depicts the tensions between the European countries prior to the First World War. This sense of civility between European nationalities is remembered as the Entente cordiale.
- Monte Carlo or Bust was released in the U.S. as Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies to capitalise on the popularity of Annakin's earlier film.
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