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The efforts of test pilot John Mitchell to make a better life for his wife Mary and their two children seem doomed to failure and he blames himself. At the Conway Aero-Manufacturing Company of Wolverhampton, Mitchell is to take the company's new rocket-propulsion transport plane up for tests, fully loaded and carrying two important passengers - Ministry official Crabtree and buyer's representative Ashmore. Mitchell learns from his boss, Reg Conway, that if Ashmore does not recommend the plane, the company will be out of business and Mitchell out of a job, since the plane is not even insured as the firm's entire capital is tied up in the plane. Aloft, an engine catches fire and the passengers and other crew bail out, but Mitchell refuses to obey orders to jettison the plane in the Irish Sea. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
The aircraft featured was a TYPE 170 Mark 11A G-AIFV designed and produced by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Although the actual scenes were filmed at Wolverhampton, practice was carried out at Lydd Ferryfield in Kent (now London Ashford Airport). Filming was not without problems and on 15 May 1956 the aircraft overshot the runway, causing quite extensive damage to the nose and wing sections. Following repairs the aircraft returned to operations with Silver City Airways before being scrapped in May 1962. See more »
This is a very simple film, and it is not giving a thing away to reveal that it concerns a test pilot trying to cope with landing a damaged experimental plane. After the engine of his test plane catches fire and it becomes only marginally airworthy, he singlehandedly over-rides ground orders to bail out and ditch the plane and tries to save it. What happens next forms the core of the story. There are several things that make this film especially watchable, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
The best reason to watch the film is the fine performance by Jack Hawkins. He gives a wonderful portrayal of an ordinary man called on to go above and beyond the call of duty, and he manages to maintain a stiff upper lip throughout (call it what you will, that's a compliment, not a slur).
The film essentially is a character study, both of the Hawkins character and of the people flying with him and watching on the ground, and of his quite ordinary family. We get a range of emotional reactions, all rational but some diametrically opposed to each other. Everybody has a different interest in the outcome, some venal. I particularly liked how the children were handled, that is a tricky situation. And how do you tell your wife when you come home quite normally, to whom you have not spoken since breakfast, that you almost died today? The shots of the plane in the air are fabulous if you like classic airplanes, and the suspense is maintained until the very end of the flight.
The scene I like the best is one in which Hawkins makes a long, strained walk to the aviation office, barely maintaining his composure after all the stress he has faced. I know what that is like, and Hawkins does a fabulous job of showing how built-up pressure becomes hardest to control only after the difficult task is done. A very human way to react. A brilliant acting job.
Notable also for being one of Donald Pleasance's first film roles - he always looked basically the same throughout his long career! - and the fact that this is a purely British film, made at Ealing, featuring British actors who fit their roles nicely. No false Hollywood touches. Recommended.
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