Friday, November 30, 2012


This wartime propaganda film and fictionalized biopic of British aircraft designer R.J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard) begins in 1940 with pilots discussing the legendary Mitchell, designer of the famous fighter plane the Spitfire, and wondering whether he's living in Inverness or Canada, or even still alive. Flight commander Crisp (David Niven), a good friend of Mitchell's, tells his men Mitchell's story beginning in 1922 when he was inspired by the flight of birds to build better planes, making the wings fully part of the body and not just attached. Mitchell and Crisp, a test pilot, work together to build and race planes; in 1925, a plane that Crisp flies crashes in the ocean but in 1927, they win a race in Venice despite Mussolini's prediction of Italian victory. In the early 30s, two events affect the course of Mitchell's life: a friendship with Lady Houston, who, in trying to strengthen the British military, puts up a sign that says, "Down with the government! Wake up England!" in flashing lights on her yacht, and a trip to Germany which convinces Mitchell of the need for vigilance. He begins work on the Spitfire, a streamlined fighter plane (to "spit fire and destruction"), working himself into a state of exhaustion.  Despite initial indifference, the government comes around and commissions a fleet of Spitfires to be built. The sickly Mitchell hears the news from Crisp, then dies in his wheelchair while watching one of his planes fly past overhead. Howard and Niven work well together, and despite a full supporting cast, much of the film comes off as a 2-man show. The propaganda elements don't feel overdone, though apparently in real life, Mitchell never went to Germany. Howard (pictured, to the right of Niven) also directed the film—it slows down a bit in the middle but moves along fairly well—but didn't live to see its release; a plane he was in was shot down by German fighters. In America, this was titled SPITFIRE. [TCM]

No comments: