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Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952)

The Sound Barrier (original title)
Fictionalized story of British aerospace engineers solving the problem of supersonic flight.



(story), (screenplay)

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 8 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Joseph Tomelty ...
Jack Allen ...
Ralph Michael ...


Tony successful fighter pilot during World War II marries into the family of a wealthy oil magnate who also designs airplanes. The movie traces the company's attempt to break the sound barrier, as well as tensions between father and daughter. Lots of footage of early 50s jet aviation in Great Britain as well as shots of the Comet airliner, world's first jet passenger plane. Written by Henry Brugsch <henry@g0gku.demon.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


THE SOUND BARRIER Tells Actual Story of Gripping Film and How SOUND BARRIER WAS BROKEN See more »


Drama | Romance | War


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Release Date:

21 December 1952 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Breaking Through the Sound Barrier  »


Box Office


£250,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


There are major aviation errors in this movie. The movie shows the Comet jetliner in testing before it went operational. By the time the Comet first flew, the breaking of the sound barrier was already several years in the past whereas, in the movie, it hasn't been done yet. The movie also implies that the Vampire jet that is flown from England to Egypt made the flight nonstop. The Vampire would have needed at least one refueling stop, and probably two if flying anywhere near its maximum speed. See more »


Garthwaite, having just alighted from a Comet airliner with his wife, is seen reading that evening's newspaper dated Saturday, 28th September 1946. The Comet didn't make its maiden flight until July1949 and didn't enter service until 1952. See more »


Tony Garthwaite: What's so ruddy peculiar about the speed of sound? We all know exactly what it is, don't we? 750 miles per hour at ground level. Now if we go slower than that we can hear ourselves going, and if we go faster we can hear ourselves coming. It's a mere matter of acoustics.
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Crazy Credits

In the opening credits, immediately after the human actors, are listed four British aircraft: The de Havilland COMET The Vickers-Supermarine ATTACKER The de Havilland VAMPIRE 113 The Vickers-Supermarine SWIFT Rolls-Royce 'Avon' Engine See more »


Referenced in The Bit Part (1987) See more »


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User Reviews

"He came to a sticky end, but the world got fire"
4 April 2008 | by See all my reviews

This mid-period David Lean picture is one of his most unusual – a drama woven out of a story of scientific exploration. Not an easy kind of picture to make, but one held together by Lean's refined direction, a great cast and a surprisingly good script by Terence Rattigan.

Although Lean was to make two small-scale pictures between this and Bridge on the River Kwai, this is perhaps more than any other a transition film between his early intimate dramas and the later massive epics he is now best known for. From the start Lean had always tried to photograph the psychological states of his characters, but The Sound Barrier is the first time he tells a bigger story through the personal experiences of individuals. This is the formula that has made Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia so popular and enduring. Like those later pictures, in the Sound Barrier the narrative switches to carry on the story through the eyes of other characters.

A story like this, concerning test pilots, engineering and scientific breakthroughs, will only work if there is a strong drama underlying it – otherwise it's only going to be of interest to techies. Lean seems totally aware of this and emphasises the human story behind the science. He directs with his editor's eye, composing action sequences with series of still shots, then throwing in the occasional sharp camera move to punctuate an emotional moment. He is moving away a little from the rather obvious expressionistic techniques of his earliest films towards a more straightforward yet effective style.

By the early 50s the golden age of British film was over, but there was still a good crop of acting talent on offer, and there are plenty of names to mention in The Sound Barrier. Ralph Richardson plays (as he often did) the overbearing father-in-law, and lends the film a touch of class. Ann Todd, who was Lean's wife and not an exceptional actress, here gives what is probably her best performance – she has the most difficult part in terms of emoting, but she carries it off brilliantly. This is also a great before-they-were-famous film, featuring a young Denholm Elliott (best known as Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films) and Leslie Phillips in his pre-Ding Dong days. The real acting treat here though is the rarely-seen John Justin, who failed to achieve stardom not through lack of talent, but through lack of interest on his part. His poignant final scene is one of the strongest in the whole picture.

Of course, it's not just the plot of The Sound Barrier that is a work of fiction – the science is complete nonsense as well, so don't go thinking that pilots really reverse their controls to get through the sound barrier. In many ways, this film reminds me of Dive Bomber, made ten years earlier with Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. That's also a test pilot drama, with a fair few plot similarities. One major difference though is that whereas Dive Bomber deliberately and bluntly disposes of any romantic angle, writing the female characters out of the story halfway through, in The Sound Barrier it is the pressures on the wives and sisters that is pushed to the fore. Ultimately, it is the way The Sound Barrier deals with loss and guilt that make it a strong and satisfying film.

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