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Spitfire (1942)
"The First of the Few" (original title)

Approved  |   |  Biography, Drama, War  |  14 September 1942 (UK)
7.0
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 983 users  
Reviews: 27 user | 5 critic

Aircraft designer/patriot R. J. Mitchell, alarmed at growing German militarism, works to perfect a defense against the German Messerschmidt at the cost of his health.

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(original story), (original story) (as Kay Strueby) , 2 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Rosamund John ...
Roland Culver ...
Anne Firth ...
David Horne ...
Mr. Higgins
J.H. Roberts ...
Sir Robert McLean (as J. H. Roberts)
Derrick De Marney ...
Squadron Leader Jefferson
Rosalyn Boulter ...
Mabel Lovesay
Herbert Cameron ...
MacPherson
Toni Edgar-Bruce ...
Lady Houston (as Toni Edgar Bruce)
Gordon McLeod ...
Major Buchan
George Skillan ...
Mr. Royce
Erik Freund ...
Messerschmitt
Fritz Wendhausen ...
Von Straben (as F. R. Wendhausen)
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Storyline

By the late 1920's aircraft designer R.J. Mitchell feels he has achieved all he wants with his revolutionary mono-planes winning trophy after trophy. But a holiday in Germany shortly after Hitler assumes power convinces him that it is vital to design a completely new type of fighter plane and that sooner or later Britain's very survival may depend on what he comes to call the Spitfire. Written by Jeremy Perkins <jwp@aber.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Biography | Drama | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

14 September 1942 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Spitfire  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Color:

(archive footage)|

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The "Merlin" is actually a kind of European Falcon; Rolls-Royce named a great many of their aircraft engines after birds of prey. See more »

Goofs

During the air race in Italy, the Supermarine flown by Niven is an open cockpit while in the air. After the race as Howard is standing by the plane it is shown with an open forward hinged canopy cover. See more »

Quotes

Reginald J. Mitchell: [Approaching Mitch] Well, how are you? Oh, I see you need a proper holiday.
Reginald J. Mitchell: Do I?
Reginald J. Mitchell: [Thinking about it] Yeah, I do. Hadn't thought of that'
Reginald J. Mitchell: [Yelling to his wife inside the cottage] Diama!
Geoffrey Crisp: Look, I'm going away next week. Both of you come with me.
Reginald J. Mitchell: No. Why didn't you tell me that before?
Reginald J. Mitchell: [Calling his wife inside the cottage again] Diana! And look who's here.
Diana Mitchell: Hello, Geoff.
Geoffrey Crisp: Hello, Diana.
Reginald J. Mitchell: Here, we're going to have a holiday.
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: Zero Day September 15th, 1940 See more »

Soundtracks

Landsturm
(uncredited)
Music by Johann Strauß
Arranged by Roy Douglas
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Howard at his charismatic best.
21 November 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

'The First of the Few' shows Leslie Howard at his most reflective, almost to the point of diffidence. His only show of assertiveness is when he informs the haughty bigwigs of 'Supermarine'that he will design aeroplanes HIS way, despite David Horne's salutary warning that he will 'come an almighty cropper'. Howard plays R.J. Mitchell, legendary designer of the Spitfire, the revolutionary fighter plane that was to take centre stage in the Battle of Britain.

Throughout the film it is Howard himself who takes centre stage and never really leaves it, his star quality and charisma embracing all manner of scenes, from cheeky one - liners, 'you're not a bird, but you can fly', as a retort to Tonie Edgar - Bruce's mercurial Lady Houston, or modestly basking in the reflected glory of yet another Schneider Trophy triumph (the annual seaplane contest between Great Britain, USA and Italy which has now passed into folklore). Perhaps he is even more compelling in the touching solo scenes, with little or no dialogue, where, to William Walton's evocative music, he is found by his colleagues overworking himself deep into the night, trying to design the Spitfire before the imminent spread of Germanic imperialism, or, later on, close to death, scanning the skies for a sign of David Niven leading the way on the famous fighter plane.

An impressive cast of character actors give him great support, including Roland Culver as the supportive and insightful head of Supermarine, Anne Firth as a petite but highly efficient secretary, and future film maker Filippo Del Giudice as a foppish, hilarious Bertorelli, the high ranking Italian official who relays the message from 'Il duce' Mussolini, to the effect that the winning British Schneider Trophy entry could only have achieved such a feat 'in our glorious Italian sky'.

Howard's introverted Mitchell is in contrast to David Niven's jaunty, red blooded senior pilot, who demonstrates in this film just why he will go on to be the top British star in Hollywood, his easy acting style and unbridled optimism making Crisp a lovable character without ever seeming arrogant. Perhaps his inexplicable crash in one of the Schneider Trophy contests has the effect of 'bringing him down to earth', both literally and in character.

The only downside of the film is an oddly mechanical performance from Rosamund John, as Mitchell's wife. Obviously she could not come over as a dominant figure to Howard's subtle Mitchell, but the attempt to make her appear even more introverted than the star produces an uncharacteristically robotic outcome from this fine actress.

Both Mitchell and Howard were soon to pass beyond earthly constraints into immortality, the latter disappearing in mysterious circumstances, ironically, in a plane, over Portugal, in June, 1943. There is no finer epitaph to both of them, than 'The First of the Few', Mitchell as the genius aeroplane designer, and Howard as the first English actor (albeit of Hungarian parents) to make it big in Hollywood. In this respect, Niven may be regarded as 'the second of the few'. A gem of a film, whose great star never shone more brightly than here.


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