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The Lion Has Wings (1939)

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 ... See full summary »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Wing Commander Richardson
Queen Elizabeth I (archive footage)
Briefing Officer
Brian Worth ...
Austin Trevor ...
Schulemburg - German Air Chief of Staff
Ivan Brandt ...
Air Officer
G.H. Mulcaster ...
Herbert Lomas ...
Milton Rosmer ...
Head of Observer Corps
German Bomber Chief
Robert Rendel ...
British Chief of Air Staff
Unnamed Character


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 Cinema_Fan

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Timely - Thunderbolt adventure romance of the Royal Air Force!


Drama | War


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Release Date:

19 January 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El león tiene alas  »

Box Office


£30,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


At approximately 55 minutes into the film, segments of the film "Fire Over England" appear, together with a voice-over by the narrator reading passages from Lord Macaulay's poem "The Armada." This is a flashback to 1588 when Philip II sent his Spanish fleet against England in the reign of Elizabeth I. 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 »


Narrator, original British version: This is Britain, where we believe in freedom...
See more »

Crazy Credits

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 »


Referenced in Return to the Edge of the World (1978) See more »

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User Reviews

The Shape of Things To Come:
7 July 2008 | by (An English Shire.) – See all my reviews

War movies, and in particular, World War II propaganda war movies do not come as blatant as this piece of English cinema. Produced by London Films with Hungarian born Alexander Korda (1893 - 1956), part director, part producer and this being his bit for the British war effort shows the world both at peace and on the verge of Nazi domination. The Lion Has Wings was to become one of the most influential and pivotal war movies to date, if one can call it "war movie".

This style, this technique is more akin to the documentary and the stiff upper-lip newsreels, an extended newsreel so to speak here, seen for so long in the English cinemas around this time. This is exactly the point of this film. To show the people of Britain, who, on the verge of their second great war, that England, its principles, its freedoms and its history, when compared and conjoined with news footage of the German armies' and the oppressive might of Hitler and his black plague slowly spreading across Europe during the nineteen thirties, was the fairer, peaceful and more tolerant nation. Seeing the English perceptive can, for a short while, also be seen as a little problematic, it in itself can seem a little too narcissist, too biased and while giving the impression of a them and us scenario, to the "other side" just may be seen as too wonderful and too modest for its own good.

One only has to listen to the narrative spoken here, and it really is un-reassuring, in parts, shown are the parallels of the German war machine being nurtured during peace time in the 1930's and the film footage of the English factories hard at work in readdressing this unbalance via the making of vast amounts of bullets, bombs and long range guns. We make these weapons of our own free will to justify this strategy is because it is "they" who are armed for the "wrong reasons". Our cause is righteous and just.

Starring Ralph Richardson (1902 - 1983) as the Royal Air Force Commander willing and ready to do his duty and nurse Merle Oberon (1911

  • 1979) as his sweetheart, and both having worked with Alexander Korda

on numerous occasions before, play their parts eloquently, very eloquently, the stiff-upper-lip of the English nation stands on these two enduring shoulders. Stout and proud are these two peacetime winged angels who tread on pastures new, staged and rehearsed to the point of perfection and astonishment.

This three directional film by Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst and Michael Powell, each had their parts to play. The twelve-day shoot and two weeks of putting this work together made it impossible for one director alone. This was wartime propaganda at its zenith, the shape of things to come. Like the pulling together of these three directors, we also see the country, of all classes, pulling together to defend and defeat this plague. With its resources of weapons and modern technology fighting to withhold the might of Hitler with "good Chaps" and the brave women of England. This delivery of patronage as Merle Oberon is giving her monologue on the plight of the women and their husbands and sons of England, and don't forget, written by men, is shot up tight to her face, her spirit, her resolve and experiences shine through as the brave consciousness of a well prepared, but, only too daunting people. This is The Lion Has Wings coming into its own, pure undiluted propaganda. The Ministry of Information would be proud; this is an extremely well calculated publicity stunt for the British Colonies', her allies, her foes and beyond.

As in yesterday's methods, and looking at today's methods too, we are not too far removed from how propaganda exploits it favourite medium: from the large screen of yesteryear to the small screen in the corner of our living rooms today. The medium of cinema was a powerful tool, during The Great War of 1914 to 1918 cinemas were closed down and propaganda took other routes, but, during the 1930's and beyond and before the advent of television, the medium of cinema was to reach out to the minds of its peoples.

Soon after the release of The Lion Has Wings there were other, more successful, films of this ilk, jumping on the band-wagon with differing styles and techniques, films such as The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), 49th Parallel (1941) and the stunning Ealing Studios great Went the Day Well (1942) were to play their part for freedoms and morality. On the other hand, too, there are just as great propaganda films from the dark side of Nationalism: Joseph Goebbels's Nazi Cinema; With soundtracks of note such as Titanic (1943), S.A.-Mann Brand (1933) and also from 1933 Hitlerjunge Quex. Some to enlighten, some to dictate, some to frighten, but all to propel a message of fervour in some shape and form and depending on which side of the fence you may sit, the rest are just historical films of propaganda from "the other side".

The effect of The Lion Has Wings on the British war machine was slight, though crude but effective propaganda cinema, spliced together to form both newsreel and acting, it set the standard. With World War 2 gone, the Cold War had too come then disbanded, and then during the eighties and nineties, we had the demise of the Eastern Bloc and the division of Yugoslavia. All this had great consequence that shaped the European Union once more, these were the events and their opportunities for the propaganda machine to keep itself in perpetual motion, and having left its mark for all to see. Finally, and rightly so, leaving the last word to the now defunct Belgrade underground radio station RADIO B92, with its passing epitaph: "Trust no one - not even us - but keep the faith…"

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