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During the Allied Bombing offensive of World War II the public was often informed that "A raid took place last night over ..., One (or often more) of Our Aircraft Is Missing". Behind these sombre words hid tales of death, destruction and derring-do. This is the story of one such bomber crew who were shot down and the brave Dutch patriots who helped them home. Written by
Steve Crook <email@example.com>
Following up on their first three collaborative successes ("The Spy in Black," "Contraband," and "The 49th Parallel"), director Michael Powell and scenarist Emeric Pressburger formed their own production company, The Archers, and "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" (1942) was the firm's first project.
This World War II-drama is a clever reworking of "The 49th Parallel" (1941), a story of six German sailors marooned in Canada when their submarine is bombed by Allied pilots; the rest of the movie depicted their attempts to cross over into then-neutral U.S of A. This time around, in "One of Our Aircraft...," the heroes are six members of a British RAF bombing crew. We watch as they take off for the Continent one evening on a bombing raid and sample their conversation before they reach the target. After dropping their bombs on a Stuttgart industrial plant, their Wellington aircraft suffers a direct hit from German flak. The crippled airplane flies as far as Nazi-occupied Holland before the crew decide to bail. The rest of the film chronicles their efforts to return to England while avoiding capture, with the assistance of various Dutch civilians.
Just as "The 49th Parallel" was Powell's wartime love-letter to Canada, "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" serves the same purposes for his locale here the Netherlands. The film opens with a close-up of a document, signed by leaders of the Dutch government-in-exile, informing us of the names of a half-dozen Dutch citizens who were caught, tried, and executed for performing acts against Germany's Occupation Forces i.e., helping downed Allied fliers return to their bases in England. This visual device, the close-up of official paperwork, is repeated throughout the film. At certain intervals between episodes, Powell fills the screen with other documents and examples of bureaucratic red tape mostly applications to Nazi officialdom by the Dutch, asking permission for such mundane matters as attending churches, visiting relatives in other villages, viewing football(soccer) matches. Off- screen, we hear the rude commentary of a German Commandant as he stamps his reluctant approval on each application. The purpose of this motif is clear: to establish to British audiences what life in England would be, should it be overrun and occupied by an enemy who insist on running the world with "an orderly mind." The whole film is a wartime morale-poster: "Keep a Stiff Upper Lip" and "We Can Take It," etc. (This last slogan, we are clued by one of the movie's Dutch characters, was actually first used by Holland 150 years prior.)
The crew represents an interesting cross-section of England: Sir George Corbett (played by Godfrey Tearle, who was the treasonous villain in Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps"), the "old man" of the half-dozen, a WWI vet who wants to have another go at the Hun; Geof Hickman (Bernard Miles), the amiable Cockney; Frank Shelley (Hugh Williams), a tragedian who never passes up the chance to boast of his wife's impending BBC singing performance; Tom Earnshaw (Eric Portman), a Midlands farmer, gloating over pictures of his prize-winning sheep; Bob Ashley (Emrys Jones), the professional soccer-player who is temporarily separated from the other five and accidentally falls in with a Dutch football team after the crew's bailout; and the pilot, John Haggard (Hugh Burden), who bears a coincidental resemblance to a younger version of the film's director, Powell. (Powell himself appears early in the film as an air-traffic controller or "director" reciting such lines as "Q for Queenie, you are now clear for takeoff.")
The Dutch patriots are a fine, spirited lot: Pamela Brown and Googie Withers (a serious actress, despite the name, and a good one too) play two women who in large part are responsible for the downed fliers' safekeeping. Robert Helpmann, appears as a leering Nazi collaborator. And a very young Peter Ustinov has a small role as a Catholic priest.
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