Alexander Korda's bit for the British war effort shows the world both at peace and on the verge of Nazi domination. Spliced together to form a documentary style film of both newsreel and ...
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Alexander Korda's bit for the British war effort shows the world both at peace and on the verge of Nazi domination. Spliced together to form a documentary style film of both newsreel and acting. This first of its kind in propaganda films of World War II, shows the might of the English Empire and its eagerness to stand up to the oppressors of morality and free will. Crude but effective propaganda cinema that sets the tone for things to come. With its stiff upper lip attitude that pays tribute to the nations prides and shows the black plague of Nationalism spreading across Europe that England shall be motivated, ready and willing to retaliate. Written by
Looking back at this movie, Michael Powell described it as "an outrageous piece of propaganda, full of half-truths and half-lies, with some stagy episodes which were rather embarrassing and with actual facts which were highly distorted..." See more »
The section of the film detailing Germany's prewar conquests contains several errors. The narrator states that Germany occupied the Rhineland in March, 1934. In fact, it was in 1936. Immediately after, a map inaccurately depicts the dismembering of Czechoslovakia in October 1938 and March 1939. The 1938 map depicts Germany annexing the Sudetenland, which is somewhat incorrectly drawn upon the map, but neither it nor the narration shows Hungary annexing the southern portion of Czechoslovakia, nor Poland taking the Teschen district in the center north of the country, both of which occurred simultaneously with Germany's occupation of the Sudetenland. (The narrator also speaks of the Sudetenland going "back" to Germany, though, in fact, it had never been part of Germany.) When the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 is depicted, Germany is shown annexing outright, not only the western Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia (which it did annex), but the center of the country as well; meanwhile, the extreme eastern end of the country is labeled "Slovakia", the nominally independent satellite state recognized by Germany. In fact, Slovakia was located in the center of the country, in areas inaccurately depicted as annexed to Germany; the eastern portion labeled "Slovakia" in the film is, in fact, an area then known as the Carpatho-Ukraine, which was annexed by Hungary the day after Germany occupied the Czech lands in the west (and is today part of Ukraine). See more »
Opening credits prologue: The producer expresses his gratitude for the co-operation which he received from the cast, production personnel, newsreel companies, the General Post Office and other documentary film units during the making of this picture. See more »
Made in the autumn of 1939, "The Lion Has Wings" was the first British propaganda film made after the outbreak of the Second World War. It was made in a documentary rather than a narrative style, and consists of three "chapters" with a linking story revolving around a senior RAF officer and his family. It opens with a section comparing the relaxed- easygoing lifestyle of the British people with the goose-stepping militarism of Nazi Germany, which gives the impression that the citizens of the Third Reich spent their entire lives taking part in one military parade or Nuremberg Rally after another. The second chapter recreates an actual bombing raid on German warships in the Kiel Canal and the third shows how an attack by Luftwaffe bombers is repelled by the RAF. There are also scenes inserted from an earlier film, "Fire Over England", about the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The implication, of course, is that the Nazis will be defeated, just as the Spaniards were.
Propaganda documentaries like this one may be of historic interest in the light they shed on social attitudes at the time. From a modern perspective we can see that some of the preoccupations of democracies in the thirties were not as different from those of the dictatorships as people liked to believe at the time. Some of the scenes in the film's opening section- idyllic countryside, healthy young men exercising or taking part in sport, happy children playing outside new social housing complexes provided by a benevolent government- would not have seemed out of place in a German propaganda film. Although presumably the Germans would have had to find local equivalents for such things as oasthouses and rugby matches, and it is difficult to imagine Hitler playing "Neath the Spreading Chestnut Tree" as King George VI does here.
Perhaps what most strikes a modern audience about the film is its tone of smug patriotic confidence, a confidence that was to be sorely tested in the next few months after it was made. The assumption that the British Army was at least the equal of the Wehrmacht was one that did not hold up well during the disasters of 1940. Rather surprisingly, the film makes absolutely no reference to our French allies. Perhaps that is just as well. If it had done so, it would no doubt have reassured viewers that the French Army was an invincible war machine and the Maginot Line an impregnable fortification. The assurance that the RAF, unlike the Nazis, would only bomb military, not civilian, targets must have looked very hollow several years on, especially after the destruction of cities like Dresden.
One thing the film did get right was the importance of air power in the coming war, and in this context at least its assurances were to be proved correct when the RAF did indeed defeat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, although preventing night-time bombing raids was to prove more difficult than is shown here. The documentary scenes of the war in the air, however, are full of errors, largely because these were put together using newsreel footage and at this stage of the war no such footage existed of German military equipment. Thus a German "bomber" is actually a civilian airliner, and the image has been reversed, which means that its tailfin bears an anti-clockwise swastika, a symbol never used by the Nazis, who always used the clockwise version. Many of the British aircraft shown are biplane fighters, which were already obsolete by 1939. If you look carefully you will notice that one of the "German" ships bombed by the RAF is actually flying the White Ensign!
My DVD of the film was one given away in a newspaper promotion as part of a series of "Great British War Films". The series did indeed include some great films, such as "Went the Day Well?", "The Dam Busters", "Forty-Ninth Parallel" and "Ice Cold in Alex", but I cannot really see that "The Lion Has Wings" merits inclusion in such distinguished company. Propaganda documentaries, especially when seen seventy years after the events they describe, are rarely as entertaining as fictional narratives. This film may have played its part in keeping up morale during the "Phoney War", but today it is of interest to historians only. 5/10
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