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The Korda brothers,although expatriate Hungarians, made some of the
finest British films in the thirties and forties. They managed to create
films that reflected the contemporary cultural ethos (including the
imperialist ethos) that the country's political establishment wanted, and
comes as no surprise that their first film after the outbreak of the Second
World War should be a patriotic morale booster. Indeed, this was the first
film made in Britain about the conflict that had just started.
This film was made in a great hurry, and it shows. A large part of it consists of re-used peacetime newsreel film with a special commentary. This sounds pretty dire, but some of the cutting is interesting - contrasting a Nuremburg Rally with a race meeting, and Nazi speakers with Prince Monolulu (a well known tipster)yelling "I've got a horse."
Other parts are sections from different films. Scenes from 'Fire Over England' (with Flora Robson) compares the Nazi threat with the Spanish Armada. Other footage is from a pre-war instructional film about air raid precautions, in which a mock air raid takes place.
The actors are almost superfluous, and you wonder what they are doing there. One assumes that they were thrown in as a way of appealing to the ordinary cinema audience, who might otherwise have stayed away from a totally non-fiction film.
However, it is the aviation scenes that are the main attraction. Some of them are bizarre. At this stage, there was no footage of German aircraft available, so dog fights were recreated using shots of British aircraft (including some obsolete types), and a repeated shot of a Focke Wolf airliner (!) taking off. (At least it had German markings and looked like a bomber!).
The best shots were taken at an airfield housing a Spitfire squadron. Whilst there, the film crew accidently recorded the return of a group of bombers from a raid on warships near the Kiel Canal (the first R.A.F. raid of the war, and a major headline event at the time).
Two points. Although radar had already come into use, this could not be shown. Thus, the Spitfires are scrambled on the basis of information from a spy, corroborated by sound detectors and the naked eye. And, at one point, the German bombing force are foiled by a balloon barrage!
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
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
This is by no means a good movie but it does have substantial curiosity
value being the first British movie to be wholly completed after the
start of the Second World War .It was completed in 5 weeks and released
to cinemas in November 1939 . Costing just £ 30,000 it was financed by
its producer ,the renowned Alexander Korda , cashing in his life
insurance policy and is a flag waving slice of patriotism aimed at
stiffening British resolve in the early days of the war .It was shot in
12 days and is a curious hybrid of a picture .
It opens with an illustrated lecture ,delivered by the newsreel commentator ,E V H Emmett charting the rise of Nazism and contrasting the militaristic stance of Germany with the more sporting and pacifist pursuits of the British .This is simple stuff but true -and those morons carping at action in Iraq would be well advised to study this period of history to learn (always assuming their blinkered minds are capable of learning ) what appeasement leads to .
It makes copious use of footage from the Elizabethan themed Fire Over England ,with Flora Robson as Queen Bess rallying the troops before they sailed out to deal with the Spanish Armada . Its main theme is the contrast between militarism and the virtues it deems England stands for -virtues articulated by Merle Oberon in a scene with Ralph Richardson " We must keep our land ,darling ..we must keep our freedom .We must fight for the things we believe in ...Truth and Beauty ..and Kindness "
One especially compelling piece of documentary footage contrasts the bombastic Nuremeberg rallies with shots of the shy and diffident King George at a Boy Scout rally singing "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree"
The staged scenes of the attack on the Kiel canal are a bit phoney but overall the movie does a neat job of pointing out the contrast between militarism and democracy
The emphasis is too socially restricted with scenes of English life being confined to suburbia and the landed gentry but as a social document this has value .As a movie drama it is negligible
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although clearly listed on the credits as one of three co-directors you have to click 'more' on the IMDb credits to find the name of Michael Powell. Surprisingly he had turned out some twenty-some films already and this was hot on the heels of The Spy In Black. Produced in 1939 and released two months after War broke out this is, inevitably, a bit of a flag-waver and does indeed at one point take a proper gander at goose-stepping Nazis. Clearly Ralph Richardson and Merle Oberon were there just for their marquee value given that the film is virtually all documentary. As the first British film completed and released in wartime it will always have a curiosity value and it does capture a Utopian England that the Blairites have all but destroyed. Nostalgia buffs will have a field day.
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 "
One can understand why Alexander Korda and his entourage interrupted their work on the marvellous fantasy film "Thief of Bagdad" to construct this patriotic, morale-boosting quickie, "The Lion Has Wings." It's somewhat amusing to see the lovely June Duprez still with her 'vulcan' pointed eyebrows (to make her look more exotic for her princess role in "Thief of Bagdad"). Ralph Richardson and several other officers from "The Four Feathers" are also on hand here, but in then-contemporary uniforms. This is not an 'art' film by any stretch, but it fulfills its purpose and is certainly of interest to anyone who has seen the other two films (aforementioned) as a minor footnote.
Released in 1939 as Britain was engaging Hitler's war machine, this B&W
film cannot property be called a documentary. It is a dramatized
propaganda film that masquerades as a fact-based call to arms.
The film portrays Britain as an idyllic land of goodwill and happy citizens. In contrast, Germany is portrayed by shots of Nazi soldiers spurred into action by Hitler's hateful histrionics. This is not a film of unbiased observation, obviously. It is the kind of cinema that inflames the emotions and plays on the heartstrings with stirring speeches of patriotism and images of ruddy-cheeked children and self-sacrificing lovers.
Be sure to read the "Goofs" section for this film as the film does contain inaccuracies. Accuracy was not the primary concern of its makers. They wished to motivate British viewers while assuring them that Britain is prepared, just, and in the right. I wonder if viewing the film was considered a patriotic duty at the time?
This film is well worth seeing for its historic footage and as an artifact of its time. Note that--like almost all who go to war--they underestimate the duration of impending hostilities. They forecast the war in Europe to be a 3-year struggle. This is partly due to an overestimation of British power. The film assures one that British resources are superior and British craftsmanship is second to none.
The narrator, who often sounds like a broadcaster at a football match, invokes various examples from British history to create an impression of invincibility. And the film quaintly promises that British resolve will overcome the "frightfulness".
In 1939, American cinema was enjoying its greatest year. In just two years, America would be dragged into the worldwide conflict and its cinematic resources would also produce propaganda that now looks quaint, biased, and sometimes shameful. "The Lion Has Wings" was paving the way for an unfortunate chapter in cinema that can be illuminating and interesting.
I really wasn't expecting to see a documentary when I saw the names
Merle Oberon and Ralph Richardson, but a documentary it was. "The Lion
Has Wings" is a propaganda film produced by Alexander Korda, showing
the world as the Nazis begin to take over Europe.
If you know about England at this time in history, and I do, you perhaps won't be as interested in this as others.
The British really wanted to fight, but they were afraid that America wouldn't join them, and they really didn't know how they could stave off the Germans without the U.S.
Whether they could withstand the Germans or not, the Brits wanted to show that they were ready to fight.
Some interesting actual footage. Oberon and Richardson were just there to get people into the theaters. This is pretty dry stuff, although back then, a film of this type was important for morale.
While this movie is certainly a propaganda piece, Britain was most assuredly NOT "beaten down" and "cowering in their cellars". As I recall they won the Battle of Britain alone that very year of 1940. In fact, at the time , they were the only ones standing up to the Nazis. Visit the Museum of London and the section where you get to relive the Blitz. As we all know, the Nazis were ultimately defeated by the Red Army; the United states and the British Empire only helped relieve the pressure by attacking in the west, bombing their cities and winning the war against the U-boats. This movie was just about the same as all the other propaganda films made by all sides during the war.
I rate THE LION HAS WINGS (1939) a 7/10 on the strength of the
fascinating documentary footage that makes up much of the first half of
the film. (The scenes involving the actors are considerably less
THE LION HAS WINGS is a British propaganda film that seeks to stir up support for the war effort by appealing to a sense of British pride, with particular focus on Britain's air supremacy in its war with Germany.
The early portion of the film uses documentary footage to paint a picture of idyllic British life, in sharp contrast to the military state being run by Adolf Hitler. Hitler, surrounded by a sea of guards, is contrasted with Great Britain's King George VI, who walks openly among his people. The film succeeds in demonizing Hitler as an unscrupulous leader with an outdated hunger for conquest. The film even makes use of archival footage of one of Hitler's early speeches as it drives home the point that he's broken lots of promises by annexing neighboring lands. Excerpts are highlighted from "Mein Kampf" outlining the true ambitions of a man who does not want peace (at least until Germany rules Europe).
The movie is very interesting from a historical standpoint. It covers recent events in world history and also offers a look at British society in the 1930s, touching upon things like sports and recreation, hospital care, and housing improvements. There's footage from an air show, demonstrating the talents of British flyers, as well as some really cool looks at airplane and ammunition manufacture and the "balloon barrage" defense against air strikes. In addition to the archival footage of Hitler and King George VI, we get to hear British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's radio address informing the British people that war is declared. With the narrator guiding you along, the movie is quite educational.
The actors take over around the halfway point and the film becomes more of a dramatization of bombing raids abroad and the RAF's defense of the homeland. This may have been just the thing to arouse patriotism at the time, but it's rather hum-drum now. These dangerous and exciting missions have been brought to life much better in other films.
The main players are Ralph Richardson and the always lovely Merle Oberon, as a young couple who answer the call when their country needs them. What story is there is no great shakes, but it serves its purpose within the film. There are others in the cast, though most of the parts are minor. Flora Robson has a cameo as Queen Elizabeth I in a scene about England's defense against the Spanish Armada (a scene borrowed from the 1937 film FIRE OVER ENGLAND).
THE LION HAS WINGS ties England's proud naval heritage with Britain's more recent mastery of flight, comparing the ace pilots of the RAF with Sir Francis Drake and the other great English seamen. And the film makes it very clear that Great Britain had no choice but to go to war with Hitler's Germany, after repeated offenses on the continent and no effort to discuss a peaceful settlement. As the narrator puts it, the British people prefer to win sports matches, but they can win wars, too, if they must. It's also stressed that the highly skilled airmen of the RAF bomb only strategic military targets, not cities full of innocent civilians (another dig at the evil dictator).
Released at a time when Great Britain had just entered what would become World War II, THE LION HAS WINGS makes sure the British people know what they're fighting for and appeals to their nationalistic pride to win support for what may have been, at the time, an unpopular war.
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