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Director William A. Wellman adds another to his long line of salutes-to-aviation films in this bio of an aviation pioneer, John Montgomery (Glenn Ford.) In 1883 he built a practical glider despite the opposition of his friends, who thought he was crazy, and of his family, who were afraid that his dreams of flying would hurt his father's political ambitions. He pursues his education at Santa Clara University where the Jesuits lend a helping and understanding hand. An earthquake destroys what appears to be a working model for an airplane, but a gold-sorting machine Montgomery invented, and then neglected, promises to provide for his financial needs to keep working on his aircraft until he gets involved in costly lawsuits defending his invention. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It is amazing how little has appeared in motion pictures about early attempts at flight before the Wright Brothers. There are no films about Sir George Cayley (the founder of aeronautics), the Montgolfier Brothers, Otto Lilienthal, or Samuel Langley. Actually, except for a television film that starred Michael Moriarty as Wilbur Wright, there is no film about the Wright Brothers. Only two films (that I know of) deal with early aviation pioneers. One is a film with Don Ameche and Myrna Loy about the life of inventor Hiram Percy Maxim (inventor of the Maxim machine gun and the lawn sprinkler - he designed a cumbersome flying machine that almost flew a little in 1895). The other is this film, about John Montgomery.
John J. Montgomery was a professional acrobat who had an act concerning gliding in his own glider. It involved some degree of tightrope style balancing and looked very impressive. Less impressive than Montgomery and his fans have made it sound in the last century. To his fans, Montgomery almost flew a plane before the Wrights. Actually the glider he designed was basically stationary, and only went aloft due to a balloon above it. It would detach and drift (or be steered) to go softly to the ground. Otto Lillienthal and Percy Pilcher flew real gliders in the 1890s (both were killed eventually in their gliders), but they flew in the outside air. Montgomery never achieved the results of those two real pioneers*.
But he was a local boy from California, so he had a fan base. And William Wellman tapped it for this very good movie (alas, not shown as often as it should be shown), dealing with his career, up to his tragic death in 1911 (killed, ironically, when trying to fly an early motorized aircraft). It has a typically first rate performance by Ford. Catch it if it is offered on the Turner network.
*Since I originally put this on the Board I have looked a bit deeper into Montgomery's work. He apparently was more experimental than I credited him for, but still it doesn't convince me that he could have beaten the Wright Brothers to powered man-made flight.
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